Christianity 201

August 4, 2021

Making a Difference by Being Different

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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In the last few days, I’ve been reading a short book by Michael Frost, titled Keep Christianity Weird: Embracing the Discipline of Being Different (NavPress, 2018). My wife and I have been influenced by Frost’s writings and got to hear him in person twice in the early 2000s.

As you might guess from the title, there’s a lot of energy in this book, but for our purposes today I shared one of the more tame sections! Earlier in the chapter he’s been examining Nicodemus having a late evening Q&A with Jesus.

Renewing the Mind

The renewal of your mind is more than the appropriation of more information about certain matters. And it’s more than the abandonment of certain social inhibitions. It is a supernatural work that can only be done by the Holy Spirit.

When Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (italics added), he uses a Greek term only rarely found in the New Testament. It appears only two other times in the Bible. One of those usages was also by Paul, where he says in Titus 3:5, “[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (italics added). Being saved by God involves this curious combination of washing and renewal. But then it makes sense when we consider Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:5: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

Conversion or salvation is accepted as a free gift from God and experienced as both outward washing and inward renewal. Compare Jesus’ and Paul’s words in this beautiful passage in Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

Clearly, Jesus fulfills this prophecy from Ezekiel. It is only through Jesus we can be washed clean and given a new spirit. What Paul does in Romans 12 is take this idea of renewal or regeneration by the Holy Spirit and apply it to our minds. According to Paul, the Spirit renews the mind.

And, as Ezekiel says, the Spirit will enable us “to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Paul echoes this belief in Titus 3. After referring to the renewal by the Holy Spirit, he goes on to say, “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:8).

Remember, in Paul’s understanding, doing what is good wasn’t the same as doing what is conventional. Doing good, according to Paul, involved bizarre behaviour (for the time), like temperance, respect, self-control, loyalty, love, honesty, and trustworthiness (see the full list in Titus 2). This was a time when drunkenness, misogyny, theft, disrespect, dishonesty, and worse was the norm. The only way the earliest Christians could avoid conforming to the patterns of their world–where men treated women as property, where masters mistreated slaves, where slaves stole from masters, where drunkenness and debauchery were commonplace–was to submit to the renewal of their minds by the Holy Spirit.

How does the Spirit do this? It’s a mystery, really. When Nicodemus expressed surprise and confusion about Jesus’ insistence that he must be born again, Jesus admitted he was speaking of “heavenly things” beyond the Pharisee’s ability to understand.

April 6, 2021

There’s Never Been a More Last-Minute Conversion Than This

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Again this year we return to the writing of Matt Tullos and an item he posted in March which seems very appropriate for the days following Easter. Encourage the ministry of authors we feature by clicking on the headers like the one which follows to read on the original source site. Follow Matt on Twitter @mtullos.

Today, You Will Be With ME

Listen to this meditation on the Scattered Feast Podcast!

The mystery of salvation is never more astounding than this moment.

A few feet away from Jesus another man languished under the brutal hand of the Romans.

Just another man whose life would seemingly melt into the thin pages of history…

This was his day to die and be forgotten. And then He spoke these words

“Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.”

One sentence… a declaration, a cry into the bleak chasm of unworthiness.

“Remember me…”

This convicted rebel could do nothing.

He couldn’t earn his way into right standing.

He couldn’t grow into righteousness and worthiness of grace

His time was up.

He had no hands for service.

No feet for walking

Few words left to say in this brief and consequential day

Remember me…

It was almost like a shot in the dark, a wing and a prayer, a last desperate plea to the mercy of a Messiah

Remember me.

Jesus replied to this unnamed vagabond.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There’s never been a more outrageous last minute, death’s door, Hail Mary conversion that this.

And today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise-  such perfect word.

It’s a reference to the Garden of Eden before the fall.

Before hiding, shame, war, and death…

Eden, when all was right with the world and Jesus said, today everything will be made right with you.

The same is truth for all of us. The second declaration on the cross reminds us that it’s not about our nice tidy lives and good living that will usher us into the second Eden when he makes all things new.

It has nothing to do with us.

It’s not about the perfection of the man. It’s about the man of perfection. It’s not about one’s glory. It’s about the glory of one. It not about the greatness of your labor. It’s about the labor of his greatness. The gospel isn’t about your story. His story is the gospel. And that’s why they call it GOOD news

And one we’ll see the one who got there first, the one who walked, arm in arm, with Jesus into grand opening of the Father’s house. Because of the words that brought the ugly edifice of self-attained righteousness and works based acceptance crumbing down.

Today you will be with Me in paradise.

February 3, 2021

Growth Through Conversion Means Welcoming New People

Yes, this article has a similar title to yesterday’s, because after reading about the church welcoming Cornelius yesterday, I found myself thinking similar things after reading a devotional based on a story that takes place earlier in Acts where the church welcomed one of its greatest foes, Saul of Tarsus. (Though this process took some people longer than others!)

But first I need to apologize. We do have a six month rule, and I see it’s only been eight weeks since we last borrowed some material from Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement (and that one followed another by only 3 months) but I felt this was well-written and worth our consideration today. So pleeeeze, click the title below and read this at Daily Encouragement.

The House Of Judas

Message summary: Are you willing to take risks when God leads? I find this a probing question that I’m very uncomfortable with!  I’m really not sure that I always am. (I would stumble over the thought, “Is this REALLY God leading?”)  If you were approached by a former ISIS member, newly converted to Christ, who needed a place to stay, would you open your home to him?

►►Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias’. And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord’. And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying'” (Acts 9:10,11).

Have you ever considered or studied about the “bad” people in the Bible? Brooksyne used to have a book called “Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them”.

Probably near the top of any list of “bad” people in the Bible would be Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord. That may tend to give the name Judas a bad ring. There are many Bible-based names commonly used such as David, Paul, John, Peter and my own, Stephen! But I don’t recall ever meeting anyone named Judas. However there were several men of good character in the Bible named Judas and today we want to consider the most obscure. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising if most of our readers have never even considered this particular Judas.

If we were to ask you to name the first named person Saul met after his dramatic conversion experience you would probably answer, Ananias, who had the special call to pray for Saul.

Well, as you can see from the text, the correct answer is a man by the name of Judas. “The Lord told him,Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying‘”.

Immediately following his conversion it appears that Saul stayed in Judas’ house. This must have been a strange call to Judas to provide hospitality to Saul. We have no idea how Saul got to his house or what depth of faith Judas had.

We are also not told how the message of Christ initially reached Damascus, but clearly God had a people in this city and Saul’s goal, when he journeyed there on the road to Damascus, had been to wipe them out.  Perhaps “the Way”, as Christ’s followers were then called, was a result of returning pilgrims who had been among those saved on the day of Pentecost. Or perhaps it was a result of the scattering of the believers following Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7,8).

Damascus is to this day the capital of Syria and, since the time of the New Testament, there has been a remnant of Christians in Damascus and throughout Syria as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East. Based on my understanding of history; Christians, Jews, Muslims and various other groups such as the Yasidi have lived in relative harmony up to the present time.

But with the rise of militant Islam in the last 50 years this has all changed. In our own day ISIS is attempting to complete the same mission of persecuting and destroying followers of Christ that Saul had abandoned in exchange for preaching Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God (Acts 9:20) to the utter amazement of those who heard him. They responded, Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose that he might bring them bound to the chief priests? (9:21).

However, reports are coming out of situations similar to Saul’s conversion such as an ISIS member BEING converted to Christianity due to having dreams of a man who appeared to him in white who said, “You are killing my people”; remarkably similar to the message that Saul heard!!! (Acts 9:4).

Interestingly, God had a special job for this Judas and, although the Biblical record gives us very little information about him, we can be thankful for his willingness to invite Saul into his home; to partake of his food, to lodge in his sleeping quarters, and to be among his own family members.

Are you willing to take risks when God leads? I find this a probing question that I’m very uncomfortable with! I’m really not sure that I always am. (I would stumble over the thought, “Is this REALLY God leading?”)

The writer of Hebrews reminds us: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). To have some sense of what Judas’ choice was like, what would it be like for you to welcome Saul into your home? If you were approached by a former ISIS member, newly converted to Christ, who needed a place to stay, would you open your home to him?

Daily prayer: Father, You have a work for all of us to do, we, who claim to be Your followers. Sometimes it’s going, sometimes it’s doing, and sometimes it’s just making ourselves available to Your leading. However You choose to use us, it requires our faith and trust to be firmly rooted in who You are, in Your commands, and in our hearing Your voice, most especially in uncharted territory when we are asked to step out of our comfort zone. Help us to be among those with whom You could say to Your Son, Jesus, “This is my child with whom I am very pleased.” Your commendation is our incentive to be listening, obeying and trusting in You as we journey here below. Amen.

The other men named Judas in the New Testament:
Actually there are several other men named Judas in the New Testament:

1) A half brother to Jesus:Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?”  (Matthew 13:55).

2) Another disciple with the same name:Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22) This apparently was Judas, son of James (see Acts 1:13)

3) An early church leader:Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. (Acts 15:2). This may have been the same Judas as referenced in Matthew 13:55.

 

 

 

January 28, 2021

Stuck As We Are? (Starting Over with Jesus)

by Clarke Dixon

We can feel quite stuck, with ourselves, as ourselves. We may lament our personality quirks, our habits and addictions, and our situations. Of course some of us may feel quite happy with ourselves, and perhaps we shouldn’t. What are we like to live with, be friends with, be married to, be a child of, or be a parent of? Whether our own self-perception, or how others perceive us, we may be stuck.

We often blame it on our past. “If you only knew what I have been through you would understand why I am the way I am!” We look to the past and we see events, and people, who have had a big influence on what we have become and what we are like. Having had such big influences and influencers on our lives, is there any hope for change?

There is good news. Jesus speaks of a change in us, a change so big he uses the idea of birth to refer to it:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

John 3:3 (NLT)

In speaking with Nicodemus Jesus speaks about being “born again,” or as the phrase also means, “born from above.” Whichever way you translate it, and I think both meanings are in view here, Jesus is speaking of being in relationship with God in terms of being born. In other words, it is a big change. It is like a night and day difference. It is like coming out into the light having been stuck in the dark. It is like seeing things for the first time. It is like starting over.

Let’s take a look at what this means for us.

First, there is a big change in what influences us.

The family we grow up in, the society we grow up in, and the experiences we live through, all have a huge influence on us. In being a relationship with God through Jesus, in being a member of His Kingdom, we are born again, born from above. We start over, but this time God is to be our main influence and Influencer. It is starting over with God’s nurture.

We can think of some examples of how this can make a difference:

  • If growing up you were constantly put down, now you start over with God telling you that you are created in His image, that he went to the cross for you in Jesus, that He has called, and is calling you, to follow Him.
  • If you grew up with parents who were not there for you, you start over with God who is always there and always just a prayer away.
  • If you grew up learning that you respond to the hatred with even more hatred, you now start over with a God who responds to hatred with love and grace in Jesus and calls us to do the same.
  • If you grew up learning that it is every man, woman, and child for themselves, you now start over with a God who is for us and not against us, a Saviour who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
  • If you grew up with an alcoholic parent, now you start over with God Who is always level-headed, always responsible, always wise.

These are just some examples of what it looks like to have a fresh start, I’m sure you can think of others.

Who we have been is not who we are becoming in Jesus. We have been born again. We have a new influence that is forming us. We are born from above. We are under the influence of the teaching and example of Jesus, we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Second, while there is a big change, there is more change to come.

When a baby is born, there is a big change for the baby. None of us can remember the day of our birth and personally, I am glad for that. I’m sure the experience was traumatic! But if we could experience birth and think about it, we might think, “wow this is all new! I can see!” Except that it is not all new. “These wee arms and legs still don’t work that great, and I’m so small compared to everyone else in the room.” There is a lot of growth to come.

Birth is a great analogy for the change God brings to us. There is a huge change, yet there is so much more change to come. Some people experience big changes in very specific ways. I can think of a friend who lost all desire to drink or do drugs the very day he turned to Jesus. Others still struggle. This should lead us to have patience with ourselves, and with others. Do we expect everyone to become a mature Christian the day of their rebirth? I’ve been born again for many years now and still have much growing up to do!

Third, the change in us will make us stand out as different.

When we are born again, we start over with a different upbringing in a very different culture. I grew up in British and Canadian culture, but in being born again, I’m now growing up in the Kingdom of God.

Where we grow up can cause us to; speak with a different accent, have different habits, customs, and tastes, plus hold a different perspective.

I spent my the first 6 years of my life in Scotland, but even when we came to Canada, we were still a very British family. That made me stick out like a sore thumb in grade 2. I was quite a bit more Canadianish by grade 3, but in grade 2 I was a wee bit different from everyone else.

If we have a fresh start with God as the main influence on us, we will end up being different. But where I was glad to change over the years to become more and more like a typical Canadian, in being born again we want to become more and more like a typical Kingdom person, to stand out as being odd in this world. While Canada was to become my home, likely for the rest of my life, the Kingdom of God is to become my home forevermore. That is were we want to fit in!

Which brings us to our last point.

Fourth, there is, and will be, a big change in our situation.

We may think, great, so far all the change spoken of is in me, but look at my situation. Yes, I have a fresh start in many ways, but I’m still facing financial ruin, or a difficult marriage, or loneliness, or mental illness or whatever challenge we might be living with. Perhaps we feel like we are changing, but our situation isn’t. We are still stuck.

Consider again a newborn baby. There are big changes upon birth, yes. But very often when that baby leaves the hospital they go back to the same home, to be with with the same people the baby has been with for the last nine months or so. The situation has changed drastically, except that it hasn’t. But it will. Usually, and eventually, the baby grows up and moves on.

So too with us. We may be born again, but we still face the same situations. We do grow. And as we do, some situations will begin to change because we are learning to handle things in a different manner. For example big changes may come to our relationships, beginning with small steps in learning to forgive, or developing a servant heart. But not only do our current circumstances often change while we grow, some day we will move on. Even if the immediate situation is dire, and getting worse each day, the prevailing situation is not. We are sitting pretty. We live as Kingdom people now, as family of the king. The Kingdom is our future. Big changes are on the way.

There is something else we should note here. For some people the current situation is life with mental illness. We might assume that when we are born from above, with a fresh start, that mental illness is cleared away. We might put it in the same category as something we have picked up growing up, something learned from our experiences in the past. So a fresh start clears it, right? So, for example, if someone struggles with depression, being born again makes it go away, right?

Not necessarily. And this is important, because it might lead us to look down on those with mental illness as somehow failing at following Jesus. Perhaps we may think of ourselves as failures. Paul speaks about a “thorn in the flesh” that God would not take away:

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NLT)

Thistles in the mind are no different than thorns in the flesh. When we speak of a fresh start we are talking about growth in our character, not a perfection of our health.

Mental illness may be the reality on the ground for many Christians. If that is you, be patient with yourself and seek the appropriate help. There will be healing for all illness, including mental illness. In the meantime, we do the best we can with the level of health we’ve got.

In conclusion.

If we find ourselves really stuck, that “I am the way I am because of my upbringing or early experiences in life,” perhaps we have not let the words of Jesus sink in. Jesus uses the strongest possible language to describe what happens to us when we are in relationship with him. We are born again, we get a fresh start with a much better influence and the greatest possible Influencer in our lives. We are born from above, God is working in us through His Holy Spirit.

Let’s not let the past dictate who we are and what we are like. Let’s let the One Who is Lord over the past, present and future shape us into who we are becoming.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. You can watch the video for this message or watch it in the context of this online service presentation. This was our second devotional from Clarke this week, if you missed it, the other appeared yesterday.

November 22, 2020

Radical, Dramatic Change Can Occur When Least Expected

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Can people change? Of course they can. The why and how is often more predictable than the when and where.

Today we’re featuring a writer here for the first time. writes at Our Living Hope. If you’ve got the time, click the link to the blog and spend some time with some really well-written devotions. Click the title below to read this one at source.

U-Turn

“As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day”. 1 Samuel 10:9.

An instantaneous change in a person’s life is possible with God. Many people in the Bible experienced a U- turn in their lives, when they least expected it, because God intervened in their paths. King Saul was searching for his father’s donkey when he was anointed the king of Israel by Prophet Samuel. When he left him, God changed Saul’s heart to become a new person. A new purpose was given to his life. We might be be searching and going after things which doesn’t cause transformation in our lives. We got to turn to God.

God intervenes in a person’s life, in the most unexpected ways. Even in our ordinary days God can work in extraordinary ways, since he always seeks to change us, transform us, make his own, and fulfill his plans through us. Sometimes the transformation is gradual, but a turn towards the right direction starts the change. When a person turns to God, their Saviour, everything is possible in that person’s life.

The following lines were written about George Muller, the man of great faith, who impacted many for Christ through his life and service,

His own brief account of his boyhood shows a very bad boy and he attempts no disguise. Before he was ten years old he was a habitual thief and an expert at cheating. In time, card-playing and even strong drink got hold of him. The night when his mother lay dying, her boy of fourteen was reeling through the streets, drunk; and even her death failed to arrest his wicked course or to arouse his sleeping conscience. And—as must always be the case when such solemn reminders make one no better—he only grew worse”.

“Of course a man that had been so profligate and prodigal must at least begin at conversion to live a changed life. Not that all at once the old sins were abandoned, for such total transformation demands deeper knowledge of the word and will of God than George Müller yet had. But within him a new separating and sanctifying Power was at work. There was a distaste for wicked joys and former companions; the frequenting of taverns entirely ceased, and a lying tongue felt new and strange bands around it.”

At private meetings at Halle University, God touched George Muller’s life and caused a complete turn around. Everything that was holding his life for the bad came to an end when he decided to hold on to God. He went on to change the life of others through the Gospel of Jesus. If he can do to him, he change your life too!

In the Bible, Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, Zaccheus on a sycamore tree, the other thief on the cross, Moses before the burning bush, and Peter by the seashore everyone experienced this U-turn when they met God personally, he changed their hearts and gave a new direction and purpose to their lives. Even today Jesus is able to change your life upside down, he is able to give you a new start, new heart, a spirit, a new direction and purpose, so that you will live for him. There is nothing impossible with God.

Do you believe an U-turn is possible in your life?

Confess your sins, and ask God to change your life today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I seek a change, and only you can provide it. I turn to you. In your Name. Amen.

Bible Reading: Isaiah 9.


Second Helping:

…We all have experienced this in our school or college days, when the teacher or professor enters the classroom there will be a different atmosphere. Till then there will be noise, and a continuous buzz because of much chatter , but when they enter, suddenly the class would become silent. Yes, the presence of the teacher can make a difference.

God’s presence in our life should make a difference to our nature and actions…

By the same author, click to read He Watches Over.

April 24, 2020

The Apostle Paul’s Personal Circumstances as Apologetic

…”I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee…”
– Paul in Philippians 3:4-6 NIV

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished…”
– Paul in Acts 22:3-5 NLT

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
– Paul in 2 Cor. 5:17 NLT

After the Gospels, the New Testament proceeds to give us a glimpse of what following Christ will look like after He ascended and after He sent the Holy Spirit. Much of this was written by Saul/Paul who is personally completely absent from the gospel accounts.

What we know about his life can be instructive.

The Apostle Paul:

Shows us what following Jesus means when you didn’t see it firsthand.

In a way, Paul is a stand-in for all of us. There’s nothing in either the gospels or Paul’s own writing to suggest he was part of the crowd when he taught in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany or performed miracles in those places. There is a natural skepticism when you didn’t see something extraordinary up close and personal. Even Thomas doubted after following Jesus for three years. Paul would be in this category. Because he never met or conversed with Jesus, in I Cor. 15:8 he goes so far as to call himself “one abnormally born.”

Shows us what following Jesus means when you follow an other religion.

Paul is an example of what it means to convert (verb) or become a convert (noun.) Here was no nominal Jew, but a man steeped in religious training who knew his faith inside-out and would go on to boast about this aspect of his life even after committing to Christ. He in effect becomes the poster boy for conversion; his life allows the possibility for anyone to walk away from their spiritual past into a new chapter.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are an intellectual.

Even if Paul had never boasted about his training, the grammar and sentence structure of his writing betray his thorough education. I personally believe that the “Philippian hymn” which is set off as poetry citation in most of our Bibles could be an example of Paul quoting a popular early Church song written by someone else or it could be Paul quoting Paul, since training in music was part of that classical education. Today we see objections from people who think they are ‘too smart’ to believe the Gospel, but Paul showed that formal education doesn’t make one too sophisticated an intellectual to reject the simple concepts of faith.

Shows us what following Jesus means if you were formerly opposed to Christianity.

It’s one thing to be atheist or agnostic, or to follow another faith, but if you’ve been particularly vocal about it, you have to be willing to swallow your pride and say you were wrong. Most biographers of Paul characterize what happens to him in the wake of the Damascus Road encounter as being a dramatic, 180-degree turnaround. This is the simplest definition of repentance: ‘My life was going in one direction and then, in a moment, I changed trajectory and started walking toward a completely different objective.’

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are being spiritually formed.

None of any of the significant events in Paul’s post-conversion life happens until after he has been inactive while undergoing a time of discipleship and spiritual formation and simply considering the claims of Christ in a world about to be turned upside down by the life of Jesus. Some put this as a three-year period, while others have it as high as 14 years, though the latter number might have some overlap with early ministry. This might have been a tough period of Paul who would have been anxious to share his post-Damascus testimony, and it shows us that just because people aren’t entering into high-profile Christian service right away, it doesn’t mean their life hasn’t been dramatically changed.

Shows us what following Jesus means while you are suffering.

We can only speculate as to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” though some commentators are more certain than others. There can be little doubt that it dogged Paul continually, three times bringing him to a point where he either enlisted the fervent prayers of other or spent time apart crying out to God to take the condition away. If anyone had time to wrestle with the question as to why God allows suffering, it was him. And let’s not even talk about being hungry or shipwrecked. He is convinced that when we are weak we are made strong.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are now the one facing opposition.

From a literary perspective, the story comes full circle; the man who opposes the teaching of Jesus ends up facing the same type of opponents; the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. Many of the epistles are called “Paul’s prison letters” because he spends a section of his life under house arrest. A faith in Christ needs to be anchored firmly and be resilient in the face of challenge.

Shows us what following Jesus means … period.

From Paul’s famous love chapter, to the fruit of the spirit, to his message of economic, ethnic and gender egalitarianism, to his imagery of living the Christian life as one running a race, to his theological treatise in his letter to the Romans; in all these things Paul shows us what it means to live the Christian life.

 

-PW

 

 

September 2, 2019

Changing Your Convictions: The Positive Side

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re back with Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. Their online ministry reaches around the world (probably several times around!) and they do this full time along with being workplace chaplains in Pennsylvania. I want to start with a few lines from the devotional which appeared the day before the one we’re featuring.

“Thus He showed me, and behold, the Lord was standing by a vertical wall with a plumb line in His hand. The Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Behold I am about to put a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel'” (Amos 7:7,8).

…The plumb line is an ancient tool dating back to biblical times used to determine vertical accuracy. Several Bible texts refer to the plumb line and Jesus very likely used a plumb line when he worked as a carpenter.

Everyone needs a standard that will keep them on the right track in life. Everyone needs a plumb line. The Word of God is a timeless plumb line for determining a center line in life…

…Indeed, for so many, truth is like an ocean wave. Paul used the wave as an illustration in Ephesians 4 writing of those who are tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine

From there, let’s jump into today’s reading.

Changed Convictions

Listen to our message on your audio player.

I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:14).

Earlier this summer a prominent writer and one time pastor announced that he had switched sides, abandoning his faith in Christ and joining the forces of the world. This made the news due to his prominence. This causes distress to some and it’s always sad to see this happen. But people have been abandoning the faith ever since Jesus walked on this earth (John 6:66) and the time of the apostles (2 Timothy 4:10).

That’s why there are so many calls to faithfulness in the Bible such as an early message from the apostolic church planters summed up as “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith” (Acts 14:22). Hebrews 10:23 states, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering“.

In yesterday’s message we shared concerning convictions and the need to hold firmly to what we believe. Our convictions are our deeply held beliefs. But is changing our convictions ever virtuous?

Certainly! After all, when we are converted we change our convictions!

Saul, in his former way of life, had a deep conviction that he was serving God. In his testimony to the Galatian believers he speaks of his zeal, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13,14). At that time Saul surely was absolutely convinced he was on the right side.

But at his conversion to Christ on the Damascus Road Saul became a changed man. His convictions had a radical overhaul and even his name changed. We know him not as Saul but as the Apostle Paul. I find it interesting that a possible basis for this name change goes back to the Greek word “pauo”, a verb meaning to stop, restrain, quit, desist, come to an end. (We get the English word “pause” from this word.) The one who had been extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers had a transformation in his convictions.

Yes, our deepest convictions can change both for good and bad. The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson was co-founder of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, one of the most ardent pro-abortion organizations in the country. For many years he was both an abortionist and a national spokesman for the pro-abortion cause, convinced that he was on the right side.

However in a widely reported 1974 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Deeper into Abortion,” Dr. Nathanson described his growing moral and medical qualms about abortion. “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.”

He eventually made an about face and shared of his change of viewpoint in his book “Aborting America”. He became an articulate voice for the pro-life cause and went on to produce a video titled “The Silent Scream”, which powerfully demonstrates the horror of an early abortion. He states, “the other side, those who advocate abortion, have never successfully challenged the validity of the film”. Dr. Nathanson could clearly explain what led to the change in his convictions!

More recently Abby Johnson, the main character behind the movie “Unplanned”, made a similar change. She was the youngest clinic director in the history of Planned Parenthood, then a life-changing experience turned her into a pro-life activist. She eventually came to see the utter evil of abortion during her time at Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas where 22,000 murders took place over her eight year involvement with that clinic.

People’s convictions can change, both from the wrong side to the right such as Paul, Dr Nathanson and Abby Johnson, but also from the right side to the wrong such as the man mentioned in our lead paragraph. I consider politicians who once expressed a very strong pro-life stand but who have changed to the opposite side primarily due to political expediency. The same is true for other moral issues such as the constitution of marriage. Many of us can remember not that long ago when many politicians expressed their “deep personal conviction” that marriage was between a man and a woman only to make an about face.

Here’s the point. What is the underlying basis for a change in a conviction? Is there a principled basis for this change? Are you holding true to your convictions? If you do at some point change your view on a deep personal conviction can you provide a sound, principled, Bible-based defense on why you changed?

Be encouraged today.

May 3, 2019

Things You Must Believe to be a Christian

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We tend to couch our Christianity in terms of propositional statements. But we don’t necessarily see that in the ministry of Jesus. We don’t see him teaching an apologetics seminar.

Andy Stanley often says that “you don’t have to believe everything to believe something.” In other words, there isn’t a package of doctrinal beliefs that requires you to check each line before you are welcomed by God into His family. On initial approach to faith, there’s some truth in that, but I am quite sure that even Andy would say it only applies to the early days of faith investigation.

On the other hand, for some belief in the deity of Christ is a deal-breaker. Take that away, and there’s nothing left; you’ve sacrificed the gospel itself. Does a Jesus who isn’t divine have anything substantial to offer?

I thought today’s article would get us thinking along these lines. Statistically, many readers here don’t have evangelistic discussions ongoing. They don’t have friends, family, neighbors or co-workers who are asking them, ‘What do I need to do to become a Christian?’ It’s easy to pontificate about these matters when there no real person involved in the discussion. For some of us however, we interact with people who are drawn to the person of Jesus without knowing (or knowing about) any of the theological underpinnings. Again, I thought the topic was worth considering…

…Today we’re again at Done With Religion only this time with a different writer, Mike Edwards. Click the header below to read this at their site. Do you agree with the spirit of this approach? Are there some items listed below with to which you would take exception? Feel free to leave a comment here or on their blog.

I don’t have to convince anyone that God does or doesn’t exist. God can speak to the hearts of individuals on their own. That billions are convinced there is a loving God cannot be declared definitely irrational or delusional. It is not irrational either to ask if God is real, why doesn’t God clinch the argument by making their Presence obvious? I would encourage those who believe in a relational God to not stand in the way of others and speak for God declaring any beliefs are required by God to consider a relationship.

God doesn’t require any belief!  

I am convinced God only wishes for all to consider the possibility of a loving God who desires to help you in your journey of becoming the person deep down you want to become. Loving, human parents don’t require certain beliefs from their children before hoping they will consider if they love them. Are we better lovers than God? 

You certainly don’t have to believe in magical trees and talking snakes.

No one was there with Adam or Eve to know literally what took place. Genesis isn’t necessarily a scientific explanation about Creation but about a relationship with the Creator. Flood stories appeared in ancient literature before Genesis. The global flood story could describe a regional flood in hyperbolic terms to convey moral, spiritual food for thought. God doesn’t require literal belief in any event in the Bible or else! Now if God physically appears raising your friend from the dead, you may want to consider!

You don’t have to believe Jesus resurrected from the dead.

I know the above statement is extremely offensive to many, but I care more about those who want to believe in a God but struggle with certain requirements as opposed to those who are already convinced a loving God is real. Jesus told followers He was coming back from the dead and they didn’t believe Him. And they supposedly witnessed miracles beforehand to have less doubts such a claim was possible.

I would like to think more of us if we witness a man or woman coming back from the grave after being killed that we would think their message such as claiming to be the son of God would be believed. But, none of us lived during biblical times so we will not have such an opportunity. I happen to believe the historical evidence is credible that Jesus rose from the grave, but God can handle doubts or skepticism.

You don’t have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Many insist that Jesus was both God and man. Some can’t logically wrap their heads around Jesus being both man and God. Exactly how does one do that chromosomally? Isn’t it logically impossible to be God and not God? Some may be willing to accept that Jesus was an extraordinary man who epitomized who God was. Why can’t we begin there as a discussion as to what teachings and actions of Jesus seem to represent what a loving God is like?

Doesn’t God at least require the Law of Love?

I have written before that the only belief God requires is love. I would say that differently now. God doesn’t demand love but only seeks to encourage unselfish love which leads to personal freedom. God know what we know – the road traveled of learning, reflecting, and freely choosing convictions over time is what leads to genuine, lasting love.

Didn’t Jesus require belief for eternal life?

When Jesus was asked directly by a religious expert how to have eternal life, Jesus didn’t talk about escaping torture after death. Please see here that the Bible says nothing about the traditional understanding of Hell. Jesus replied to simply love God and your neighbor (Lk.10:25-37). Jesus’ focus wasn’t on quantity of life after death but about a life worth living here on earth. Jesus’ message wasn’t about requiring certain beliefs but avoiding consequences in life here on earth through destructive choices. This is the message of any loving parent!

What beliefs about God are worth insisting upon to others?  

There is no belief about God you should impose upon others. You could be wrong. God is big enough to prove themselves to those interested. You don’t even have to insist God is loving. A tyrannical God isn’t worth believe in. I surely am not as perfect or loving of a parent as God is, but even I don’t require my children accept any of my beliefs or else. Even I understand controlling through fear than proving my love doesn’t lead to true change and intimacy.


What do you think?

October 16, 2018

The Evils and Mistakes of the Past

Once again, we’re featuring Joe Waller who writes at As I Learn to Walk and is a PhD candidate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Click the title below to read this at the original page.

Ghosts and Gospel

People love ghost stories. People hate ghost stories. But no matter the response, ghost stories have crept into our lives and our cultures, and they don’t appear to be leaving.

I live in New Orleans, a city full of history and culture and, according to some, ghosts. You can take tours of buildings with haunted pasts, visit multiple haunting cemeteries, and hear stories of the haunted people (or their ghosts) who live on in legend. And the more I learn about the world, the more I find that most places have similar tales of hauntings. The world, it seems, is filled with ghosts.

To some extent, an abundance of ghost stories makes sense. Ghost stories speak to our fears of the past. We hear stories of tortured souls that still walk the grounds where they were lost years before, stories of homes where tragic deaths still stain the walls, stories of abandoned hospitals or asylums where unspeakable acts still echo in the hallways, and we feel a chill, a tinge of dread that the past might still affect the present. More specifically, our fear of haunted places may stem from our fear of the evils and mistakes of the past, from fear that we can’t truly escape what’s gone before us. And I know few who are immune to such fear. As we learn about history and discover the depths of human depravity, we rightfully fear what humans can become – nay, what humans are. Paul, stringing together a number of Old Testament texts to describe the state of sinful humanity, pointedly writes,

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:10-18

Elsewhere, after describing the unrighteousness that keeps people from God, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that such words describe their own state before they came to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). No matter the greatness of our present faith, we each share the same past record: unrighteous, unworthy, and unable to right our wrongs.

Yet Paul does not stop with a description of sin in either passage referenced above. In 1 Corinthians, he reminds the believers that “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Similarly, in Romans, Paul transitions from the hopeless state of sinful humanity to the hope found in Jesus Christ, writing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:23-25). Note that last part especially. God, in his patience and mercy, graciously gave time for us to turn back to him through the redemption found in his Son. Though we had earned his wrath, through Christ he shows us his love.

As Paul so eloquently explains elsewhere, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And now, by grace, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). To quote Paul again, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Ghost stories remind us of the past. They employ the evils of history to threaten the present. And those who walk in the way of this world may rightfully fear, for, as the past has been, so the present and future may be. Thankfully, God has provided a rescue from the evils of sin. In Christ, the past turns from a haunting record of wrongs to a testimony of what God can do. Paul knew this well, his life in Christ serving as a shining example of the power of God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16-17 and 1 Timothy 1:15-17). Christian, do not fear the ghosts of the past. Walk in the newness of life, freed for the glory of God and for the good of the world. And let hope fill your every step.

 

March 24, 2018

Damascus Road, or Emmaus Road: You Need to Have the Experience

This is our fourth time with Canadian Presbyterian pastor Jeff Loach who writes at Passionately His. Because Jeff has been a longtime friend of Thinking Out Loud, I’m taking the liberty of running back-to-back articles from him today and tomorrow.  His title below for this article emphasizes a different aspect of his article than the title we chose, but both are things to consider as you read. Click the title below to read this at source.

Don’t be ashamed of the Name

I’m going to talk about a term that gets tossed around a lot – often with scorn attached – in the church and in the world.  It’s the term “born again”.

In the sense in which Christians use it, the term appears just in one place in the New Testament:  the story of Jesus’ encounter at night with Nicodemus in John 3.  Nicodemus confides that everybody who has been eyeing his ministry knows he has come from God.  Then Jesus tells him,

I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3.3, NLT).

Well, that kind of came out of left field, didn’t it, Jesus?  After receiving such a high compliment from such a high-ranking Jewish official, one would think he would demurely blush and say, “Aw, shucks” or something.  But not Jesus.  He jumps right into the challenge of the Kingdom:  to see it, you must be born again.

What did he mean by that?

As I noted, the term is fraught with baggage both inside and outside the church, and it’s often negative.  But the term that John uses for “again” in John 3.3 – anōthen – has a couple of similar meanings.  It can mean ‘again’, ‘from the very beginning’, or ‘for a long time’; or, as John tends to use it most, ‘from above’.  Some translations of the Bible have started using ‘from above’, because it is a correct translation, and perhaps also to try to steer away from the negative baggage that ‘again’ has caused over the year.

But they really all point to the same thing:

There must be some sort of new, supernatural birth that takes place in our lives before we can see the Kingdom of God.

Many well-meaning followers of Jesus have hammered away at this verse over the years as an antidote to the milquetoast teaching (or lack thereof) that suggests, “All you have to do is be good, and God will have you.”

I’m still not sure, after 30 years in this business, where people came up with that notion, but it sure wasn’t from the Bible, that’s for sure.

No, at some point in our lives – and it’s never too late! – each of us needs to come to terms with the reality that Jesus’ death and resurrection were not just historical events, but that they were accomplished for me.  For each of us.  And when God pours down his grace on us to enable us to make that confession of faith, something new happens inside us, and we experience new birth.  We are born from above.  We are born again.

It doesn’t have to have a dramatic testimony attached to it.  Instead of a Damascus Road experience, it can be an Emmaus Road experience.  Each must lead to the same conclusion, though:  at some point, we ceased living under our own strength and gave over the throne of our hearts to Jesus.  When you do, some people will label you as “one of those born again Christians.”  And when they do, you can give humble praise to the One who died and rose again for you, and who changes you within by the Holy Spirit.

It’s not about pride – far from it.  But you don’t need to be ashamed of the Name.

January 20, 2018

Born of Water and the Spirit

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

Many of you are familiar with this phrase, found in a statement Jesus makes to Nicodemus in John 3. We found these comments on this at Biblical Hermeneutics. We’ve included the first two answers, but you may click on the title below to read more. The first answer is reiterated in #5 below.

What does it mean to be “born of water”?

In John 3:5, Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom one must be “born of water and the Spirit”. How is this phrase understood? Is it a single construct (i.e. one birth of both water and Spirit)? Or are two births in view (one of water and one of Spirit)? And what does it mean to be born of water?


“Born of water” does not stand alone here, but rather inseparably collocated with “and spirit”. Just as “raining cats and dogs” refers to one rain, or “this item is our bread and butter” refers to one mainstay item, “water and the spirit” refers to one birth.

In other words, we are not to take this is “first you must be born of water and then of spirit”; rather, “unless one is born of water and spirit” in v5 is parallel to “unless one is born again” in v3.

Although the phrase “born of water and of the spirit” is not found in the Old Testament, we do see water and spirit both tied to personal and covenantal renewal, notably in Ezekiel 36:25-27:

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from fall your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

Here water is used to explicitly symbolize cleansing from impurity, and spirit for the transformation of the heart to full obedience. All that Jesus has done here is add the concept of birth to further explain what he had said in v3.


Actually, after researching this more, there are multiple possible translations of this

1. Christian Baptism

C. H. Dodd reflects this interpretation when he asserts that

“the instructed Christian reader would immediately recognize a reference to Baptism, as the sacrament through which the Spirit was given to believers, and by which they were initiated into that new order of life described as the Kingdom of God, which was historically embodied in the Church.”
Dodd, Interpretation, p. 311.

Essentially, the idea is being “born of water” would have been immediate recognizable as meaning baptism. And since Jesus had been baptizing, it could be understood as this baptism.

2. John’s Baptism

The argument here is that when Nicodemus heard “born of water”, he would immediately think of John’s baptisms, since he had been causing a stir throughout Israel. Support from this comes from here:

John 1:23 (NIV)
I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit’

The argument is that John baptized with water but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

3. Natural (Flesh) Birth

This popular and well-thought out argument is supported by the quote from Nicodemus himself as well as later parallelism of Jesus.

John 3:4 (NIV)
How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

The parallels can be drawn directly from Jesus two contiguous sentences:

John 3:5-6 (NIV)
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Clearly, being “born of water and the spirit” relates directly to bineg born of “flesh” and “spirit” in verse 6.

Finally, it gains biblical support in that the term “water” has been used in reference to female organs in Song of Songs 4:12-15.

4. Word of God

This theory maintains that there are two elements required for a person to be “born again”: the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

Support for this theory are found in the following two verses:

James 1:18 (NIV)
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

1 Peter 1:23 (NIV)
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

5. Double metaphor

Proponents of this theory state that Being “born of the water and of the spirit” are actually two ways to say the same thing. The argument is that Jesus said that you must be “born again” in previous verses and then “born of water and the spirit” in later verses. These two parallels, the argument goes, shows that being “born of water” is simply another way to say being “born again”.

6. Purification

This idea states that water and spirit are purification that must take place in order to be born again. This can be illustrated by the use of water in purification rituals. Furthermore, support for this can be found in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV)
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

This verse shows the connection between water and the spirit in purification and the new birth.

Summary

There are six traditional views of how to view this. Two views stand out as the most likely: The natural birth (#3) and the Purificaiton (#6). These two views have the strongest support for them, both biblically and traditionally. The other views each have strong problems with their views. (I add them solely for completeness.)


The answers which follow are also worth considering. Nobody said Biblical interpretation was easy! If you have time, especially consider the one which followed these. Once again, here’s the link.

January 8, 2016

A Different Type of Fishing

ESV Matt. 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

ESV Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Today we pay a return visit to Georgia pastor Clark Bunch (who we tend to interact with more at Thinking Out Loud) sourcing today from his church website at Unity Baptist Church. Click the title below to read at source.

Things Change After Jesus

Fishers of Men

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan. After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness he began preaching in Galilee and almost immediately called the first disciples. Mark 1 and Matthew 4 share an almost identical account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew by saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke 5 records the miraculous catch of fish and a very similar statement (from now on you will catch men). Things changed for Peter when Jesus got on his boat and called him to follow.

They used to fish with nets. All of the fishermen in the New Testament fished with nets. They cast the nets off the side of the boat, drug them through the water and then hauled up whatever was caught up along the way. Many of us have never fished that way but you’ve probably seen it. Tuna are caught by the hundreds as nets drag them up from the sea. It was a big deal in the late 80’s, early 90’s because dolphins were being trapped in the tuna nets and drowned. In the Luke 5 account the nets were so filled with fish they were breaking and they had to call for backup. Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” and taught them how to cast the net of the Gospel. Some days you don’t catch anything; Peter and company had just had a bad night the first time they met Jesus. But our call as believers is to cast the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does to draw people to Jesus. Don’t worry about the days you don’t seem to be catching anything; our calling is to love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, and keep casting the net.

Peter did not fish with bait. I learned from my grandfather how to bait a hook. Most of us here today cast a hook with a rod and reel and catch one fish at a time; catfish, bluegill, trout, that’s how it’s done. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” he was talking to fishermen that cast net which they traded in for casting the Gospel. We are not to fish for men with bait. See where I’m going with this? The prosperity gospel, the health and wealth preachers, are baiting people they hope to hook and do not cast the Gospel net. When praise and worship hymns we sing together are replaced by a rock concert, and when preaching the Word is replaced by a guy promising you will have everything you ever wished for and be richly blessed beyond your wildest dreams, then we’ve quit casting the net. You can fill a stadium with people that have itching ears and are willing to take the bait. People show up for the show. We must not replace authentic worship with worshiptainment.

Peter never stopped fishing. After the resurrection, in John 21:3, Peter says to about half a dozen other disciples “I am going fishing” and they went with him. They weren’t taking a new bass boat out to the lake for the first time or going on a fishing trip to get away from everything a few days. They had spent the past several years with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing miracles and learning to do those same things themselves.  They most likely had no clue what to do next. Things changed when Jesus came, how would they change again when he left them? Peter said “I am going fishing” because that’s what he knew how to do. If the Jesus movement was over there were still bills to pay and food would have to be put on the table. Many of the disciples had been fishermen by trade and when Peter announced he was going back to work Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee and two other unnamed disciples went with him. Jesus appeared to them, the miraculous catch of fish was repeated, and Peter found out that his work and ministry were not over yet. In fact that work was just beginning.

Things change after Jesus. Your life may not change as dramatically as Peter’s did but our goals in life are reshaped as we redefine what is important. One of the things believers do is share with others. Think about intentionally casting the Gospel net this week and we’ll continue next with considering things that change after Jesus comes.

January 5, 2016

The Sauls Around Us

NIV Acts 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17a Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.

Sometimes we return to a blog that we’ve sourced content from before, only to find that the author is no longer posting new material. Still, some of what is there is so good, we want to keep it alive through sharing it with our audience here. That’s the case at the blog Commissionary (Great Commission + Missionary).

This appears to be the second-last post from Greg Wilton on the blog, from May, 2014. Click the title to read at source.

Can God Save Anyone?

The Conversion of Ananias – Acts 9:1-18

The story of the conversion of Saul tests our faith because it causes us to wonder if we really believe that God can save anyone. Saul, the one who watched people’s garments while they stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58) and the one who was breathing threats against believers (Acts 9:1), was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus. When we read this in Acts 9, we are immediately confronted with our own faith. God radically saved Saul, but can God radically do the same for my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my neighbors? All of us know people who are very worldly, very apathetic, or very devoted to another faith. All of us have been guilty of thinking that God couldn’t save that person. We sometimes think, “They just don’t care about spiritual matters…there’s no way,” “She’s too devoted to her own religion…there’s no way,” “He loves living like the world so much…there’s no way.” Our preconceived or initial judgments condemn us. Our spirit testifies to this because we know there are times when we don’t speak to someone about Jesus because we have already convinced ourselves that they wouldn’t believe in Jesus regardless. We are very quick to affirm cognitively that God can save anyone, but we are very reluctant to affirm that God can save anyone through our obedience in bringing God’s good news to that person. This is why Ananias is so important to those of us who struggle with this. Acts 9 describes the conversion of Saul, but equally important is how Acts 9 describes the conversion of Ananias.

Who is Ananias? Scripture only speaks about Ananias in reference to the conversion of Saul. Ananias is a disciple in Damascus (Acts 9:10), a devout man according to the law (Acts 22:12), and is well spoken of by all the Jews who lived in Damascus (Acts 22:12). This is an honorable description that most believers strive for. We all want to be known as a follower of Jesus in our community. We want to be known as people who are guided by a moral code. We all want to have a good reputation in our community because we know that a good reputation is a good witness for Christ. How Ananias is described is how most of us want to be described. As a relatively obscure, moral, reputable disciple of Jesus, Ananias represents us in this story of Saul’s conversion.

AnaniasBut why does Ananias need to be converted? He does not need a salvation conversion, but rather Ananias needed a belief conversion about salvation. Just like us, Ananias doubted if God could really save anyone. In a vision, God tells Ananias to go find Saul of Tarsus. Ananias’ response reveals his doubts about Saul, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name’” (Acts 9:13,14). Notice the doubt, the fear, and the apprehension in his reply. This does not sound like a man who believes that God can save anyone. Ananias sounds like most of us, believing in our heads that God can save anyone but doubting that in our hearts. Despite his doubts about Saul, Ananias obeys the Lord and goes to visit Saul. His fear of God was greater than his fear of Saul, and for this reason we witness in Acts a very important kind of conversion. Ananias was converted from believing in “a God of possibilities” to believing in “a God of impossibilities.” Saul’s conversion challenged Ananias faith because Ananias had to decide if he truly believed that God could save anyone.

Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus said this because his disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” This popular phrase, “All things are possible with God” was initially related to Jesus’ statement about who can be saved. Jesus himself wanted his followers to believe that no one is beyond hope. Without question, the most impossible task we will ever face in life is trying to save ourselves. On our own, salvation cannot be obtained through being good or doing good. Be absolutely certain about this: apart from God salvation is impossible. Yet this most impossible task becomes possible because of Jesus Christ. He alone makes the impossible possible. Jesus lived perfectly, sacrificed himself for us by dying on the cross, and defeated Satan, sin, and death by resurrecting three days later. Because of this, we can have confidence that God did the impossible. Jesus saved us when we could not save ourselves. Ananias came to believe this through his involvement in the conversion of Saul. Ananias too was dramatically converted.

So what can we learn from Ananias’ example? Knowing that we want to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, and knowing that we struggle at times to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, what can we learn from Ananias?

  1. Say, “Here I am Lord.” Ananias responded to God by saying, “Here I am Lord.” This is reminiscent of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am Lord, send me.” It’s a simple response, but it’s always the right response. Do you want to live your life as though you truly believe that God can save anyone that you might encounter today? Don’t get caught up in the details. Let it be sufficient to start by saying, “Here I am Lord.”
  2. Acknowledge your fears, but don’t embrace them. Ananias admitted his fears to God about Saul. He was aware of the evil Saul had already done and was capable of doing. Be honest with the Lord. In prayer, tell the Lord why you struggle with believing this person can be saved. But don’t embrace that doubt, that fear. Never. Leave the impossible to God.
  3. Embrace obedience. After Ananias confessed his concerns to the Lord, he listened to the Lord’s reply and responded in obedience. Go when God says go.
  4. Lay your hands on Saul. Ananias didn’t just pray for Saul from a distance. He got personal. He got involved. Ananias obeyed God and got so close to notorious Saul that he put his hands of him. If you believe God can save anyone, don’t be a witness from a distance. Have them in your home. Go to their home. Become friends with them. Learn what it means to rub shoulders with the people you once thought were beyond hope. You’ll likely be surprised how they have been crying out for truth, grace, and people from God all along.
  5. Speak Jesus to Saul. Ananias came to Saul as an ambassador of Jesus. He shared Jesus with Saul. That’s what people need to hear. Give them Jesus. No matter what, make sure you give them Jesus because Jesus is their only hope.
  6. Disciple Saul. Ananias played a role in baptizing Saul. We must not only be ready to believe that God can save anyone, we must be prepared for that reality. Be ready to disciple. Believe that God can save them, and be ready to show them the Christ-filled life.

There are Sauls all around us, people we thought would never believe, yet God disagrees. God is asking us to be Ananias. We must go get God’s Sauls. Believe that God can save anyone.

January 3, 2016

Jonah Feared Success, Not Failure in Mission Nineveh

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV-Jonah 1:1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord…

One time when the kids were younger, for our Bible study we studied the story of Jonah for an entire week. Since by that point this was very familiar territory, we were looking for new insights into the story, and with scripture, you’ll always find them. We came up with a few, with a little help from the ESV Study Bible.

Chapter One
There is a great deal of bigotry that plays into this story, but not in the way we often think. We tend to assume that Jonah simply didn’t like the people of Nineveh and simply didn’t want to go on that basis. But it’s more accurate to say that Jonah was afraid of the success of his mission. He certainly wasn’t seeing them through God’s eyes. Do we do that?

  • What if that terrible family down the street become Christians and start going to our church?
  • What if that guy where I work became a believer and started expecting me to mentor him in his faith journey?
  • What if so-and-so in our extended family got serious about reading the Bible and started asking me why, if I’m also a Christ-follower, have I done some of the things I’ve done?
  • What if those poor people I prayed with downtown and left my phone number expect us to help them out?
  • What if all the people who put up their hands at the movie our church showed start coming ever week… there would be more of them than us?
  • Everybody knows the terrible things that _____ did; now that he’s been a believer for two years, is he going to expect a leadership position?
  • That’s the woman who hit our car in the hardware store parking lot last Christmas. What’s she doing at our small group meeting?

Chapter Two
The ESV Study describes the four chapters of Jonah as containing seven episodes, with the first three paralleling the second three. Jonah speaks to two similar audiences in the story. The crew on the boat heading for Tarshish were each praying to their own God, but then after Jonah explained to them what was causing the terrible storm, they prayed to Jonah’s God. Success! Just as he will experience in Nineveh. His ministry as a prophet was constantly bearing fruit. But inside the great fish, Jonah’s prayer is mostly thankfulness for his own safety and deliverance. There’s no mention of the sailors or the people who he was originally sent to. A rather egocentric prophet, don’t you think?

Chapter Three
Jonah shows up several days (or weeks) late for his assignment and delivers his message, albeit halfheartedly. Today we have preachers who read powerful scriptures and then deliver messages containing great truths — even if ‘borrowed’ from the internet — and yet don’t realize the power of the Word they are handling. It’s just a job. The people of Ninevah may matter to God but don’t matter to Jonah. He’s apparently quite disappointed that God doesn’t destroy the city. Perhaps that would be more fun to watch.

Chapter Four
Maybe God will destroy the city after all. He’s already changed his mind once. So instead of taking the first train, boat or great fish out of town, Jonah hangs around to see if anything develops. The closing phrase of the story shows how out-to-lunch his priorities are, as God’s final appeal is basically, “If I destroy the city, think of all the animals that would perish.” Since Jonah has a thing for houseplants, God figures he’ll appeal to Jonah’s sense of nature. Not a good ending for Jonah really. Final score: Ship passengers and crew – 1; People of Nineveh – 1; Jonah – 0.

We ended our week reading the story from The Street Bible by Rob Lacey, known in North America as The Word on The Street. He devotes almost half of his writing to Chapter Four. Maybe someone should re-tell this story for kids, using the last chapter as the basis for the story, and then recreate the opening scenes backwards in light of the closing. Call it “Jonah and the Plant;” or “Jonah and the Worm.” Or instead of pitching this story for kids, it should really be part of Church Leadership Lessons 101.

The 4th chapter — the entire book actually — ends with a question, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh…?” (NIV) to which Lacey adds, “Hard question to someone convinced God’s only interested in the Jewish nation. It’s tough admitting you’re wrong.”

Often our evangelism efforts are focused on people who, if converted, will look like us and talk like us — people who blend into our local church culture — but the command of Jesus to go into the world means the whole world.

 

June 26, 2015

Perfection Bore Our Penalty

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today’s thoughts are from a first-time source here, the Living By Faith blog written by Steve Fuller. You are, as always, encouraged to click the title link below to read this at source and then visit the rest of the site. As you’ll see, the video below is part of today’s meditation.

How Worship Transformed Me (“Grace so Glorious”)

Longing for More

We are seeing God work in amazing ways here in Abu Dhabi.

But at the same time, I’ve been longing for God to do in me what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:16-17 

… that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

It’s true that Christ dwells in every believer.  So why does Paul pray that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith?

Doesn’t Christ already dwell in our hearts?  Yes.  That happened at conversion, as we see, for example, in Romans 8:9-10.

But it’s also true that God can give us a greater heart-experience of this indwelling.

Which means that it’s possible for us to know and feel more of Christ’s love, majesty, and glory.

That’s what Paul is praying for the Ephesians believers.

And that’s what I’ve been lacking — and longing for.

“Grace so Glorious”

So tonight I came home and watched a YouTube of “Grace so Glorious” by Elevation Worship (included below).

And as I listened, by His mercy, God gave me a greater taste of Jesus’ glory than I have had in weeks.

Here are the lines God used to help me see more of Jesus —

Perfection bore our penalty.

Jesus was morally perfect.  But because of his great love and mercy, he bore our penalty.

Oh, the glory of a Savior’s love.

He loved us while we were his enemies.  That’s a glorious love.

To know, forever we are welcomed home.

Not condemnation, but a loving welcome home. Forever.

Worthy is the Lord of all the glory forever.

He is worthy.  And at this point in the song I was deeply seeing and feeling how worthy he is to be glorified forever.

O wondrous day when I will see the face of Him who ransomed me.

That day is coming.  And He is, and will be, worth it all.

Here’s the YouTube

I pray that God will touch your heart as he has touched mine.


Christianity 201 brings together the best of Bible Study and Devotional content from the internet. While authors on consecutive days may not agree on every last detail of Biblical interpretation, articles are chosen because they either begin with, end with, or have scripture in the middle. Be sure to link through… some the writers featured here may become part of your daily online routine.

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