Christianity 201

August 20, 2019

Natural Abilities versus God-Given Strength

Today we’re back again at Biblical Diagnosis. I chose to go back a few months for this one which is a reminder of something we know but often forget. If you are married, I’ve included a link to this excellent article; for today’s reading here, click the header below.

No Confidence in the Flesh

Friends, it is astonishing to see just how anti-biblical some of the deeply held beliefs in our societies are. And it is even more troubling when we see that they are deeply held even by our own Christian brothers.

Take for instance, the notion that we need to believe in ourselves.

This commonly accepted belief takes many forms: We need to have faith in ourselves. We can do anything that we put our minds to. We have amazing potential that just needs to be unleashed. These are just some of the ways this belief is expressed.

We see this belief applied in every domain of our lives, all geared toward some “betterment” of ourselves, our loved ones or our community, whether it be physical fitness, career advancement, or wealth generation.

But look at how the Apostle Paul expresses one of the defining characteristics of Christ’s followers:

Philippians 3:3 – …we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh

The statement…do not put confidence in the flesh…refers to the fact that Christians should believe that they are incapable of doing anything worthy of anything by themselves, through some form of inner ability that – as being widely believed today – all of us may possess (what the Scripture calls the flesh).

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

This statement is perhaps even more troubling and echoes the sentiment of Philippians 3. Paul said that nothing good lives in him. It is incongruent to both believe that nothing good lives in you and at the same time believe that you have within you what it takes to accomplish anything worthy.

Now, you may at this point read these and call to mind the countless stories of success (your own, or of others) which attest to the contrary: Evidences which prove that indeed we have within ourselves the ability to accomplish whatever we put our minds into.

Romans 3:4…Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar

Man does indeed have an inner ability, but it is not to do anything good

How we do reconcile what the scripture says with the countless evidences which seem to affirm the opposite of what God says?

I submit to you that one may find the answer – among other places – in Romans 7:18 we just read.

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

Whatever we can accomplish through the strength of our will, our inner strength (however that ability is labeled) is not good.

But what is “good”?

GOD defines what is good (unless we want to define for ourselves what is good, at which point we have made of ourselves our own God). And only things that can be accomplished through Him and Him alone are considered good. Everything else is not good.

Hence we may say, that if one desires to satisfy the passions of his flesh, he indeed has the ability to do so within himself, for his flesh is inside him. But the one who desires to do anything that is good – and hence, pleasing to God – is incapable to do so but with the help of God Himself.

Should we therefore hold onto the belief that we can do anything we put our minds to?

No, we run away from it, for that mentality only promotes the flesh, and its sinful desires, no matter holy those desires may portray themselves. Just think of the Galatians who thought it a good thing to circumcise themselves (Galatians 3:1-5).

And this applies to ALL of our aspirations in life. No matter how noble and right they might appear. If we are able to attain to them through our own strength, then we ought to know that they were nothing more than the sinful desires of our flesh.

In me dwells no good thing. I place no confidence in my flesh. I am incapable of doing anything that is good, for myself, my children or my community. I am wretched and miserable, destitute.  

Romans 7:24What a wretched man I am!

We should truly believe in our utter destitution so that we may truly believe in our utter dependence on God.

Only with the profound belief that we are destitute and incapable of doing anything good for ourselves or anyone will we cherish and hold onto our dependence on GOD, THROUGH WHOM WE CAN DO EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD.

Philippians 4:13I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

May the Spirit of Christ ministers to you the Word of Truth, for the glory of His own Name.


Again, if you are married, be sure to check out this article. I know we have readers who are single, separated, widowed, etc., and I don’t like to exclude people in what’s presented here, so I try not to include too many marriage-themed items.

August 6, 2019

“Just Believe In Yourself” — Really?

Today I returned to visit the website title Biblical Diagnosis and while it’s been inactive since April, this article, the most recent posted, resonated with much of what we often hear these days.

No Confidence in the Flesh

…Friends, it is astonishing to see just how anti-biblical some of the deeply held beliefs in our societies are. And it is even more troubling when we see that they are deeply held even by our own Christian brothers.

Take for instance, the notion that we need to believe in ourselves.

This commonly accepted belief takes many forms: We need to have faith in ourselves. We can do anything that we put our minds to. We have amazing potential that just needs to be unleashed. These are just some of the ways this belief is expressed.

We see this belief applied in every domain of our lives, all geared toward some “betterment” of ourselves, our loved ones or our community, whether it be physical fitness, career advancement, or wealth generation.

But look at how the Apostle Paul expresses one of the defining characteristics of Christ’s followers:

Philippians 3:3 – we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh

The statement…do not put confidence in the flesh…refers to the fact that Christians should believe that they are incapable of doing anything worthy of anything by themselves, through some form of inner ability that – as being widely believed today – all of us may possess (what the Scripture calls the flesh).

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

This statement is perhaps even more troubling and echoes the sentiment of Philippians 3. Paul said that nothing good lives in him. It is incongruent to both believe that nothing good lives in you and at the same time believe that you have within you what it takes to accomplish anything worthy.

Now, you may at this point read these and call to mind the countless stories of success (your own, or of others) which attest to the contrary: Evidences which prove that indeed we have within ourselves the ability to accomplish whatever we put our minds into.

Romans 3:4…Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar

Man does indeed have an inner ability, but it is not to do anything good

How we do reconcile what the scripture says with the countless evidences which seem to affirm the opposite of what God says?

I submit to you that one may find the answer – among other places – in Romans 7:18 we just read.

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

Whatever we can accomplish through the strength of our will, our inner strength (however that ability is labeled) is not good.

But what is “good”?

GOD defines what is good (unless we want to define for ourselves what is good, at which point we have made of ourselves our own God). And only things that can be accomplished through Him and Him alone are considered good. Everything else is not good.

Hence we may say, that if one desires to satisfy the passions of his flesh, he indeed has the ability to do so within himself, for his flesh is inside him. But the one who desires to do anything that is good – and hence, pleasing to God – is incapable to do so but with the help of God Himself.

Should we therefore hold onto the belief that we can do anything we put our minds to?

No, we run away from it, for that mentality only promotes the flesh, and its sinful desires, no matter how holy those desires may portray themselves. Just think of the Galatians who thought it a good thing to circumcise themselves (Galatians 3:1-5).

And this applies to ALL of our aspirations in life. No matter how noble and right they might appear. If we are able to attain to them through our own strength, then we ought to know that they were nothing more than the sinful desires of our flesh.

In me dwells no good thing. I place no confidence in my flesh. I am incapable of doing anything that is good, for myself, my children or my community. I am wretched and miserable, destitute.  

Romans 7:24What a wretched man I am!

We should truly believe in our utter destitution so that we may truly believe in our utter dependence on God.

Only with the profound belief that we are destitute and incapable of doing anything good for ourselves or anyone will we cherish and hold onto our dependence on GOD, THROUGH WHOM WE CAN DO EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD.

Philippians 4:13I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

May the Spirit of Christ ministers to you the Word of Truth, for the glory of His own Name.

July 31, 2019

The Opposite of Humility

If you have read this website for any length of time, you know that I often return to the “hymn” in Philippians 2. The one that begins, “Let this mindset [attitude] be in you that was also found in Christ;” and then goes a few sentences before defining that mindset, “He humbled himself.”

The cross is the place where we changed.
Above all fruit of that change is the fruit of love.
The attitude we then adopt is humility.

So what is the opposite of humility? What is the thing we have to “put off” before we can “put on” a humble, gentle spirit?

If you asked me that question 24 hours ago, I would have said pride. Pride and humility are opposites, right?

But this morning, after starting in Philippians 2, I kept reading to the end, and then decided I should backtrack to chapter 1 so could say I had read the whole book this morning. (Maybe that was pride!!)

Anyway, midway through that chapter I think Paul gives us a clue as to what feeds humility’s counter-attitude. It just so happened I was reading in The Message translation.

15-17 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

18-21 So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul is in prison at this point, hence the reference to “out of the way.” He has apparently gained some popularity at this point and obviously that is enviable to the point where others would like to step into the limelight. In the above translation they are called “greedy” as having “bad motives.” In the NIV it reads,

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

adding the extra dimension that perhaps they simply want to cause trouble for Paul while he is not at liberty to respond. Imagine though, someone preaching the gospel, the good news about Jesus to make someone else look bad.

Some of this is human nature. Paul was not part of the original group of apostles that Jesus taught or among the early disciples who were present on the day of Pentecost. As Saul, he greatly opposed the movement Jesus had begun. Then, in a very short period, he becomes Paul the Apostle. Can you see the problem some might have with this?

Sometimes someone new will come into one of our churches and be given a ministry position and the church’s “old guard,” the “elder brothers” can get very irate. I know. I was the new person in a rural church. A woman got up at the annual meeting and asked, “So what’s the deal here? Can anybody just walk in off the street and get a job?” If I had doctrinal quirks or theological errors it might have been a valid question. But clearly, her question wasn’t rooted in that concern, it was rooted in envy. Just a few short months later she left the church.

But I think The Message translation gets more clearly at the humility’s opposite in chapter one, with chapter two in view.

The opposite of humility is ambition.

Being driven, taking proactive steps, or being a type-A personality is not a bad thing. But to be consumed with ambition strikes at the very heart of the humble attitudes we are supposed to reflect. The Voice translation reflects this in Psalm 75:

6 There is no one on earth who can raise up another to grant honor,
not from the east or the west, not from the desert.
There is no one. God is the only One.
7 God is the only Judge.
He is the only One who can ruin or redeem a man.

It is God who grants promotions and give raises. We shouldn’t seek these things; we shouldn’t strive to get somewhere that isn’t in God’s plans or not currently in God’s timing.

We can’t even claim that healthy ambition in doing things for God, because there is a flaw if we think we do things for God. (This becomes especially vital in a church culture where pastors are preoccupied with metrics and church growth.)

Above, verses 18-21 reveal that Paul doesn’t allow himself to get perturbed at whatever motivates such people. As long as the gospel is presented clearly, he actually rejoices. The messenger may be flawed, but the message is what matters. As I replied to a comment last week, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while we should consider the source, we shouldn’t discount everything the source writes or says.

Right now, even as you read this, there are people using the ministry to build their own empires. Yes, that concerns me, but it doesn’t concern Paul if the message is being clearly transmitted. Of course, in a social media and internet world, everybody knows everybody else’s backstory. That is unfortunate, but it doesn’t minimize the power of the message itself.

Response: God, I know I need to guard my heart. Help me to see things I’m doing for wrong reasons; wrong motives. Help me not to be consumed with ambition.


Previously on C201:

July 7, 2019

Worshiping God vs. Worshiping Government

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Last Sunday, my wife, myself, and each of our two sons were at four different worship services; four different churches. Though the following day was Canada Day, the national anthem was not sung at any of them this year, which is especially interesting when you consider that the Canadian national anthem is a prayer. (“God keep our land, glorious and free…”)

In the U.S., where statistically, most of the people will be reading this, it’s highly probable that your Sunday morning worship service contained some mention of the 4th of July or some other element involving nation, government, the President, etc. You probably have a U.S. flag at the front of your worship space. I’m not here to say whether that’s right or wrong, it simply is.

So this week I was especially struck by this verse:

“So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours”
~ 1 Corinthians 3:21

I might be reading something into the verse that readers even a few decades ago would not recognize. Still, let’s look at the larger principles.

At the web forum ebible.com the answer given juxtaposes different spiritual leaders; not the conflict between spiritual and civic/federal leaders:

This is not an easy passage to understand simply by looking at v. 21 alone. We need to look at the context of Paul’s argument and how “all things are yours” fit in it.

The larger context is Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian church’s division between those who claim to follow Paul or Apollos (v. 4-6). This is natural considering the prominent roles both men play in the life of the Corinthian church. Paul uses the building analogy, more specifically temple, to remind the believers that the foundation is Christ and they are the temple. Paul reminds them of the futility of the worldly wisdom in v. 18 and the foolishness of men’s wisdom since the division is the result of boasting on certain man’s wisdom. So Paul writes, “Let no one boast in men.” The underlying reason is “All things are yours.” Starting with teachers, Paul, Apollos, and Cephas. They are “yours.” They are in the ministry to help the believers to grow in Christ. The believers do not belong to these teachers but rather they do. Paul then goes on to include everything in all sense (world, life, death, present and future) ringing with the truths in Romans 8 where all things work together for our good. The crux of the argument is that all these are ours because we belong to Christ who belongs to the Father. All this to say, therefore, there is no boasting anything but in Christ with whom we are co-heirs. Their ownership of everything should quiet all boasting based on to whom they owe their allegiance.

At VerseByVerseCommentary.com, the emphasis is the similar, but could be read in terms of different people in the same congregation having different opinions politically. (But of course that would never happen, would it?)

No Christian should put ultimate truth in the authority of man. This always causes divisions in the local church. All of God’s revelation is at our disposal so why should we get caught up in the wisdom of men?

Human wisdom is not permanent but temporal. There are two essential approaches to truth today: the natural and the supernatural. The one believes that all that one can know is bound within nature; the other believes that there is a God and that He has spoken. The person who believes that the natural is all that there is can never come to an ultimate certainty about anything, for he has delimited himself to finiteness. The believer who knows this can claim his status and assets to live the Christian life.

At Ellicott’s Bible Commentary at BibleHub.com, the emphasis is also on the danger of following spiritual teacher “A” or spiritual teacher “B”, but again, look at the language used in the first sentence:

Let party-spirit cease. Do not degrade yourselves by calling yourselves after the names of any man, for everything is yours—then teachers only exist for you. The enthusiasm of the Apostle, as he speaks of the privileges of Christians, leads him on beyond the bare assertion necessary to the logical conclusion of the argument, and enlarging the idea he dwells, in a few brief and impressive utterances, on the limitless possessions—in life and in death, in the present life and that which is future—which belong to those who are united with Christ. But they must remember that all this is theirs because they “are Christ’s.” They are possessors because possessed by Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage, at Christianity.com, shows a different emphasis.

All this should teach us to be humble, and make us willing to be taught of God, so as not to be led away, by pretenses to human wisdom and skill, from the simple truths revealed by Christ. Mankind are very apt to oppose the design of the mercies of God.

But where Henry expresses the key in terms of humility, the Reformation Study Bible at BibleGateway.com looks at the phrase “all things are yours” in terms of jealousy:

This principle demonstrates the pettiness and absurdity of the Corinthians’ quarreling. If we belong to Christ, then because of Him all things belong to us (Rom. 8:17, 38, 39; Heb. 1:2), and jealousy can have no place in our lives.

Conclusion

Commentators over the years have found different applications in this verse, even looking contextually at the larger passage.

  • worldly vs. human wisdom
  • quarreling vs. peace
  • unity vs. division
  • identification with a “party” vs. identification “in Christ”
  • humility vs. reliance on human skills and abilities

They could not have anticipated political discussions and divisions in the church lobby, or coming from the pulpit. Those writers could not have anticipated the climate of our day, especially in the United States, where political opinion overshadows everything including our fellowship at church.

Is it time for a spiritual reset in our local churches and denominations in terms of how everything is polarized and everything is either black or white?

 

 

July 5, 2019

Was Jesus Caucasian?

NIV.Gal.3.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

I thought we’d end the work week with a topic which may seem trivial to many of you, but often arises unforseen in discussions. This is one of many interesting topics at GotQuestions.org. and I try to highlight them here every six months. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Was Jesus White?

In much of Western art, Jesus is portrayed as having white skin and light hair. Is that what Jesus really looked like? If not, why is He so often portrayed that way?

First, it is important to remember that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description of Jesus. The Bible does not say anything about Jesus’ height, weight, skin color, hair color, or eye color. Such things are not important to understanding who Jesus is. The closest the Bible comes to describing what Jesus looked like is a non-detailed sketch of what Jesus was not like in Isaiah 53:2: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (ESV). Essentially, Isaiah 53:2 is saying that Jesus was ordinary-looking. The description of the glorified Jesus having white hair and bronze skin in Revelation 1:14–15 should not be understood literally unless you also believe Jesus has seven stars in his right hand, a sword in His mouth, and a face as bright as the sun (Revelation 1:16).

According to the Bible, Jesus was a Jew, a.k.a., a Hebrew or Israelite. Jesus lived in the Middle East and was of Semitic descent. As a result, He very likely would have had light- to medium-brown skin, brown eyes, and dark-brown to black hair. While Middle Easterners occasionally have light skin, comparable to that of Europeans, such skin tones are rare in that part of the world. Was Jesus white? The answer is that He was very likely not white.

So, if Jesus likely was not white, why is He so often portrayed that way? If you examine artists’ portrayals of Jesus from around the world, you find that they often portray Jesus in a way similar to what people look like in that particular culture. Europeans portray Jesus as a European. Africans paint Jesus as an African. Asians illustrate Jesus in a way that makes Him look Asian. People prefer to picture Jesus as looking somewhat like them, or at least like people they are familiar with.

Is it wrong to do this? Not necessarily. As long as we do not allow our preferred image of Jesus to become an idol, there is nothing in the Bible that speaks against imagining Jesus looking a certain way. Jesus is the Savior for “all nations” (Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:8). No matter a person’s skin color, race, ethnicity, or nationality, he or she can experience forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God through the crucified and risen Christ. The love of Jesus transcends skin color. Having no physical description of Jesus, people naturally imagine the Son of Man to be like themselves.

So, we should not be dogmatic in our preferred image of Jesus. The fact that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description should serve as a caution against arrogance and presumption on this subject. What Jesus looked like does not really matter. His physical appearance has absolutely nothing to do with His being the Savior of the world (John 3:16).

Please also read our article on “Was Jesus black?
 

July 2, 2019

Eternal Salvation Comes Through the Fullness of God’s Grace

by Russell Young

God’s grace is any act of his goodness or graciousness to humankind, especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude. It can be provision of a comfort as the Lord’s provision of the plant provided to shelter Jonah from the sun’s heat or the bread provided to Elijah by the ravens, and it can be implicit in the attainment of his eternal kingdom. His grace was seen many times in the life of the Israelites on the Exodus. The waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan were parted so they could cross on dry ground, their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out, they were provided with manna and even water from a rock. His grace was evidenced in the miraculous acts of Jesus and by his sacrificial offering on the cross for the justification of a sinful people. The provision of the Holy Spirit and of the Word that informs men of God, of his plans, and of the means of salvation are acts of grace. Any blessing of God’s goodness expressed in the life of a person is an act of grace.

When the Word says that people are saved by grace, it is presenting that God’s goodness and graciousness as expressed in the lives of people delivers them from a danger that would have brought destruction. When addressing God’s grace, it is important to identify the act that has met a particular need. What is the act and what is the outcome?

“Work” is the opposite of grace. Work is human centered and is often a person’s effort to please a holy God. The Israelites had been required to honor God through keeping the covenant law. When it is reported that salvation is by the grace of God, it means that a person’s deliverance is achieved by the God’s merciful and gracious intervention in that person’s life so that he or she can avoid danger and loss. His grace for eternal salvation is not necessarily specific to a single act but through the fullness of his provision or through many acts. In fact, a person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by a single act of the Lord, but by the fullness of his love and mercy and that over time.

  1. The Lord’s visitation to humankind, the incarnation of God in the form of a human being, to reveal God and to appreciate the trials of the flesh were by their gracious provision.
  2. The Lord’s sacrificial death in the place of people so that they could be justified and redeemed from their death penalty and provided a better hope through the New Covenant were acts of grace.
  3. The Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit so that the sinful nature that brings death could be defeated is an act of grace.
  4. The life of Christ as Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower for righteous living is an act of grace.
  5. The Lord’s mediation of his own blood in the role of High Priest for the forgiveness of sins is also an act of grace

Salvation is by God’s grace and it must not be considered otherwise; however, it is not achieved by a single act of his goodness. The real need of people is to be conformed to the likeness of the Son of God becoming an offering acceptable to him (Rom 15:16) and should not be limited to the forgiveness of sin in the believer’s life. The Lord’s gracious ministry and intervention in the life of believers is extravagant and goes well beyond his death on the cross. His grace and love are much more expansive.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11−14) In this reference the grace of God is our teacher.

On leaving Ephesus, Paul committed the elders to God and to the word of his grace, which could build them up and give them an inheritance among those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32) The word of his righteous requirements was to “build them up” so that they could become “sanctified” and participate in the inheritance of the sanctified. These were the “elders.” They had made a confession of faith; however, the sacrificial offering of Christ was not enough to meet the fullness of their requirements because they still had to be built up by working out their own salvation through the sanctification that comes by the word and the Spirit. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Rom 14:17−18)

The opportunity for salvation has appeared to all peoples. The grace of God that brings salvation teaches them to live properly. God’s grace comes through the Word, which is Christ himself (Rev 19:13), who has revealed God and the words of salvation, and it requires the Holy Spirit who brings God’s words to remembrance as well as empowering the obedient to live righteously, to be sanctified. The fullness of God’s grace needs to be appreciated and honored.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

June 26, 2019

Heart Cries of Perplexity, Not Rebellion

This is our sixth time with Colin Sedgwick at the site, Welcome to Sedgonline. I hope you find this article challenging as I did. It originally appeared under the title and link below.

Talking back to God

The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. Esther 9:6

The Jewish festival of Purim (Esther 9:26) celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people in Persia, some 500 years before Christ, from the evil plans of Haman. I’ve never experienced it myself, but I read that in synagogues even today “every time Haman’s name is mentioned in the Purim liturgy congregations respond with loud banging, shouting and stamping of feet, and ‘Haman’s hats’ (triangular cakes) are eaten…”.

Great fun, I’m sure. And nothing wrong with that.

But the reality at the time was pretty grim. Esther 9:6 tells us of the deaths of five hundred men in Susa. And a few verses further on (9:16) we read that, outside Susa, some seventy-five thousand people were killed. Hmm… this was a big-scale massacre, and it’s hard to read about it without something of the gloss coming off the story.

Two questions come to my mind…

First, how is this kind of whole-scale vengeance compatible with the spirit of Jesus?

The simple answer is: it isn’t. Jesus, the “prince of peace”, told his followers to “love your enemies”, and prayed “Father, forgive them” for the people who crucified him. So from a Christian perspective, the aftermath of the Haman plot leaves a slightly nasty taste in one’s mouth.

It’s true, of course, that if this hadn’t happened, the bulk of God’s Old Testament people would have been wiped out: it was a dog-eat-dog world, and even God’s chosen people couldn’t help but be a part of it. The coming of Jesus was still a long way off. But still…

It’s not for us to judge or condemn the Jews of Esther’s day – we must bow to the justice of God, trusting that he knows what he is doing throughout history, and be thankful that we live in the days since the earthly life of Jesus.

Thanks be to God, though, for the clear-cut command, Do not take revenge… but leave room for God’s wrath… (Romans 12:19).

(Is that text a direct word to someone reading this?)

How radically and wonderfully Jesus changes everything!

The second question puts a rather different slant on the Esther story: if God could raise up an Esther to influence King Xerxes, why not another “Esther” to influence Hitler and his people?

That question rattles around in my mind because I have recently been reading various books about the Nazi horror – and there’s no doubt that the more you learn the worse it gets.

There are those who would say that we shouldn’t even ask the question. You may be one of them – and, indeed, there’s a large part of me that feels the same way. Paul’s challenge haunts me: “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God…?” (Romans 9:20). Who indeed?

And yet there is an honorable Bible record of people who did “talk back to God”. The “Why?” question crops up repeatedly in the psalms – for example, 10:1, 22:1 and 88:14. The remarkable book of Job is full of it. So is the little book of Habakkuk: “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (1:3); “Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:13).

Supremely, of course, we have Jesus himself, who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

It seems that God respects and honors those who, out of genuine anguish of heart, cry out to him in this way – always assuming, of course, that our hearts are humble and that our questioning reflects honest perplexity rather than rebellion.

We need to accept, too, that we’re not likely to receive an answer in any theoretical, intellectual sense. No, God does not offer to satisfy our curiosity, however genuine.

But the great thing is this: the honest questioner may very well get something far, far better than that – a whole new experience of the glory of God. Just contrast the endings of Job and Habakkuk with their beginnings! – in both cases a journey is made from confusion, frustration – even anger? – to radiant faith. Above all, contrast the glory of resurrection morning with the darkness of the crucifixion!

No, I don’t know why God acts in one way at one time, and in another way at another. I don’t know why he seems, from our perspective, to stand by while terrible things happen. But I do know this: that his ultimate purpose is to banish all evil from this beautiful world that he has made.

And when that day comes I suspect we will all want to say with Job: “I am unworthy. How can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (40:4).

Not a bad place for it, I think.

Lord God, your ways are shrouded in mystery, and the question “Why?” is often on our lips. Help me to be humble even if indignant, and submissive even if angry. And so bring me to that day when all my questionings will fade on my lips. Amen.

June 18, 2019

Christ, the Bread of Life

by Russell Young

Some Jews tried to entice Jesus into performing a miraculous act asking him what sign he would give so that they might believe and offered that their fathers had eaten manna from heaven. Christ responded that it was not Moses who had given the manna but his heavenly Father. He followed that by asserting that the true bread from heaven gives life to the world (Jn 6:33) and declared that he is the bread of life. It is easy to skip over this pronouncement without further reflection. However, later in the passage he presents, “For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.” (Jn 6:55−56)

The requirement to eat his flesh and to drink his blood caused many disciples to leave him. He is not talking about literally eating his body of drinking his blood. Such a thought is certainly repulsive; his words are metaphorical. As well, “eats” and “drinks” should be understood as “is eating” and “is drinking”; they do not represent a single act, but a continuous one.

Christ, the rider on the white horse of Revelation, is referred to as “the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13) That is, to eat his flesh is to be feeding on the Word. Matthew has recorded, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4) Eating his flesh is continuously feeding on his Word.

Likewise, the blood refers to that which is life, or the Spirit. The LORD admonished the Israelites, “But be sure that you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life.” (Deut 12:23) Paul has written that the last Adam (Christ), is “a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), and the Lord stated, “the Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63) While life exists in the blood of a living body, it is the Holy Spirit who gives life to the body of death by cleansing it from its misdeeds. (Rom 8:13)

When Christ said that you must eat his body and drink his blood, he is presenting that you must feed on his Word and allow the Spirit to quicken or to give life to the body that loves sin. This though is born out in Revelation. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) These believers had overcome Satan by the blood of Christ which provided atonement for sin and by the words that their life-testimony spoke; they way they had lived. In speaking to the woman at the well, Christ reported, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Paul wrote: “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth (his Word).” (2 Thess 2:13)

It is unfortunate that communion services have limited understanding to the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine as emblems of Christ’s offering on the cross. He also commanded people to eat and to drink of those emblems, to take them in, for he is both the Word and the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18). Communion is to be a reminder of what Christ has accomplished and of what he is still accomplishing and needs to be completed through his Spirit, the redemption or sanctification of the body. It is a reminder of that which believers must do to complete or to finish their salvation. (Phil 2:12)

John has recorded the Lord’s words of admonishment that people should “remain” in him and that they could be cut out. He stated, “Remain in me and I will remain in you” (Jn 15:4) and “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) and in John 6:56 it is recorded, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” The one who would remain in Christ and who would enjoy fellowship with him must feed on his Word and practices the life-giving power of the Spirit.

The person who would avoid God’s wrath and seek his eternal kingdom cannot gain his or her hope through easy-believism; the truth of God’s Word must be honored, and the Spirit must be obeyed. Christ is to be the bread of life and the Spirit must give life through the defeat of temptations as the believer is conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) and made into an offering acceptable to him, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:16)



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

June 17, 2019

The Early Church Moment Where Fear Overtook Love

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. He is the author of several books, including Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God; and the best-seller, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure. Click the title below to read this at his Patheos blog and check out other articles.

Great Love or Great Fear?

It’s one of the weirdest things in the book of Acts. One minute you’re reading about how love filled the community of Christ; how everyone shared what they had in common with people who only days before were total strangers; selling land and property to buy food for their hungry brothers and sisters in Christ, meeting daily in homes, breaking bread together; they “ate together with glad and sincere hearts,” and devoted themselves to the fellowship of the Saints and the Way of Christ,….and then…

Well, then we read the very next chapter about how two people are struck down dead for not giving as much money to the community as they said they were giving, and then we read this:

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events…(and) no one else dared join them…” [Acts 5:11-13]

So, in just one chapter, the early Christian community went from being filled with great love to being seized with great fear.

What is it that we’ve learned about fear and love? They cancel one another out.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” [1 John 4:18]

Sadly, just at the moment when the love of Christ had broken through the darkness; when the light of Christ had filled their hearts and opened their fists to share all that they had with one another, when the unconditional love of Christ had just started to blossom in their hearts, this great fear seized them and crushed the flow of unity and trust.

Now, people were afraid – both within the Body of Christ, and outside the Church. Love was not the driving force. Fear was.

Maybe it was this flash of fear that cast out the perfect love of Christ and prevented the Apostles from remembering what Jesus had told them the night he was betrayed; when he took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and knelt down to wash their feet, exactly as a slave would have done.

Maybe it was momentary lapse of love the kept them from recalling the words of Jesus as he asked them,

“Do you know what I have done for you? I am your Teacher and your Lord, and yet I knelt down to wash your feet. I have set you an example that you should was one another’s feet.”

Instead of remembering this essential lesson from Jesus, the Apostles in Acts are seen coming to the conclusion that they are too important to wait tables and feed widows and orphans. Instead, they decide to elect some lowly people to do this menial task so that they can devote themselves to the Gospel – forgetting that, to Jesus, this serving of the widows and orphans; waiting tables; WAS the Gospel in vivid, vibrant 3-D.

I think this is why one of those lowly servants they selected to wait tables – a job the Apostles were too important to keep doing – is suddenly filled with the Spirit of God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to speak powerfully to preach the Gospel – even greater than the Apostles themselves. We read that whenever engaged with those who opposed the Gospel of Christ, …they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke,” [Acts 6:10] and that when he is taken before the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy, “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” [v.15]

And then Stephen gives one of the most moving [and one of the longest] testimonies of Christ to the Jewish leaders and onlookers, and at the end of it, he is martyred for his witness and stoned to death. Yet even as he is dying, he forgives his murders – just as Jesus had done – and his eyes are opened to see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.

It’s a glorious and troubling testimony, and yet I can’t help but feel that it’s the Holy Spirit’s attempt to remind those Apostles what their mission is really all about. See, up to that point, we read that Peter had become a local celebrity and that his fame had spread through the land; that even those who were pagans would lay their sick out on the street whenever the Apostles walked by in hopes that their shadows might heal them.

But then came Stephen. Not an Apostle. Not one who walked with Jesus for three years. Not one whose feet had been washed in that room by Jesus. Not one who was too proud and important to wash feet. But one who was humble, willing to serve, and even willing to die – with joy – for the Lord Jesus he loved so much.

Stephen is not only the first martyr of the Church, he’s not one of the Twelve. He’s no one. And yet, that seems to be the point: God loves to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.

Love – not fear – is what drives us.

Humility – not fame – is where our true strength is found.

Service to one another, and to those in need around us IS the ministry of the Word of God, who is Christ.

Christ is revealed in us when we are like Christ: Humble, loving, compassionate and willing to wait tables in obscurity for the rest of our lives without ever seeking, or needing, any other recognition from anyone.

This challenges me. It makes me pause and rethink my own life, and my own mindset.

Sometimes we have to take a few steps backwards to move forward.

 

June 16, 2019

God’s Picture of Father Love

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Six years ago, for Father’s Day our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

At church that Sunday, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross…

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

June 5, 2019

On People Coming and Going from Death

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Graham and Amaryllis, a retired couple living in Trimsaran, West Wales, UK who have worked in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Yesterday I revisited their blog and found this article on a topic we had been discussing the day before. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Once to Die!

There is a most interesting verse in Matt 27:52, 53 – The earth shook, and rocks split apart.  Graves opened, and many of God’s people were raised to life. Then after Jesus had risen to life, they came out of their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many people – but I have never heard anyone explain this satisfactorily.

The sequence is important, at the Friday earthquake when Jesus died and the veil was torn in half, these ‘many’ Old Testament saints were raised up and must have been with Jesus in spirit until Sunday.  On Sunday, these people were seen in Jerusalem by many people, so, we must assume that they then were united with their bodies.  But what happened to them afterwards?

This is a fascinating and again we can assume that the purpose of it was two-fold, encouragement for God’s people in Jerusalem and also a demonstration of power against the Dark Kingdom – death, hell and the grave were thoroughly defeated.  But was there something more?

Now, another interesting verse – As the Scriptures say, “When he went up to the highest place, he led away many prisoners and gave gifts to people. Eph 4:8 – who were the prisoners Jesus ‘led away’ at the ascension?  Can we put these verses together?  We cannot be dogmatic about this, for there is too little information given, but we can read between the lines, as long as we don’t contradict any other verses.

So, were the prisoners that were ‘led away’, the risen Old Testament saints of Matt 27:52?  Their bodies had been prisoners in the grave and the spirits had been ‘in heaven’ waiting for resurrection, [Abraham’s bosom, paradise, sheol, where-ever!  There’s no need to get into a debate over those terms, they all suggest shades of meaning of the same thing for various people.  Every righteous person in any age who dies, goes to be with God in spirit!  They had passed their test and God would reward them, with His presence at the very least].

It is unthinkable to me that these raised people could die again, in any circumstances, besides the important verse – it is appointed to man once to die, after that the judgment, Heb 9:27 – those saints had been at the Judgment Seat of Christ as one cannot be in God’s presence without that; I’m sure there was something similar for Old Testament saints.  So, is it impossible that any one should go through death twice?  Certainly not judgment twice!

If this blessedness was for those Old Testament saints of being with Jesus as He ascended back to heaven, could it also be the same for Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son?  Surely, God would not want them to go through the horrors of death twice?  Could Heb 9:27 refer to them as well as the Old Testament saints?

There might be one difference, especially for Jairus’ daughter who had not long died, perhaps her spirit had been held ‘in limbo’; even science is now aware of ‘out of body experiences’ where people were clinically dead, but revived once their spirit returned to the body.  American doctors researched this and are convinced these experiences are real and that the term ‘clinically dead’ has limitations!  Even the widow’s son, it might be reasonable to think that his spirit could be in limbo for a few hours, but surely it is stretching it for 4 days, for Lazarus.  These 3 are rather speculative, so I would be inclined to discount it, but it remains a problem, does God really want people to die twice which is contrary to Heb 9:27?

There is one more possible ‘candidate’ for this ‘captive ascension’, the dying Thief, who was told by Jesus – today, you will be with me in paradise – it is possible that he too enjoyed being one of the ‘prisoners led away’, a border line case?

Now, with Eph 4:8, also think of Col 2:15 – having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them – we assume this to be the Ascension of Jesus.  Now imagine the Risen and glorified Christ taking that band of risen Old Testament saints, at least, and going up slowly through the skies, right through Satan’s new sphere of authority.  Remember, in the Old Testament, he was the Ruler of this World, but Calvary’s victory demoted him to be Prince and Power of the Air and ex-occultists state that there is a dark spiritual cloud completely encircling the world like a mantle.  Jesus and His ‘new’ friends broke right through that mantle and -the Ascension was the final scene of Satan’s defeat!

Some claim that it was defeated demons that were ‘led away captive’, but I don’t think that is the sense.  Why should only some be led away, and where to, and what about the gifts distributed?  All demons were defeated along with Satan and they all still await their final judgment; dreading it.

Can you imagine the great joy of those saints as they rose up through Satan’s territory?  I’m sure the demons slunk away as far as possible!  It was yet another reminder for Satan that he is a defeated foe and the day is surely coming when the full harvest that those ‘firstfruits’ are a promise of, will be completely gathered in, the Rapture!

There is another ponderable, fascinating issue – the risen saints in Jerusalem the 50 days up the resurrection!  Amazing what God will do!

I hope this is helpful for you; to me it is very encouraging.  We must always remember that God always seeks ways to bless people and to demonstrate to Satan that he is a defeated foe, think of Job 1&2; after all – Jesus Christ was manifest to defeat the works of Satan, 1Jn 3:8 – this is our challenge today, the Dark Kingdom is rampant and causing so much suffering, globally; our hospitals can’t cope, in most areas of life are now, there is much angst, stress and pressure that are intolerable so that mental health is the huge problem and doctors cannot deal with it; for it is a spiritual problem.  Many preachers also appear not to have the answers, they can’t even help themselves so how can they help others?  We need to understand that, even for God’s people, even we are perishing if we are not in the enjoyment of the abundant life, not walking that Narrow Way.

So, the Kingdom of God is diminished for want of more Overcomers to walk that wonderful pathway; these few are the disciples of Jesus, the worshippers Father seeks; the problem being is that there are very few that find that Straight Gate to the Narrow Way that is the Life Abundant, Mat 7:13,14, Jn 10:10.

Pray dear friends that our churches will be led, by faithful men, real overseers, elders full of the Spirit, into great fruitfulness so that the Dark Kingdom can be set back until after the Rapture; that is what God wants to do!  Yes, that pre-Rapture Revival is coming, let’s hasten it with our passionate intercession.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian sites and blogs. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

May 29, 2019

Misreading Paul’s “Keeping of Special Days”

I have a birthday coming up in the next few days. Over the years I have had discussions with people who feel very strongly that we’re not to celebrate birthdays. Much of this is based on a passage in Galatians:

8 Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. 9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.
NLT – emphasis added

Two things are evident here:

  • Paul sees the keeping of special days — and it’s the Old Covenant feast days he has partly in view — as going back or reverting to a series of rituals they had been freed from.
  • The Galatians were doing this to try to please God. They were adding to what Christ’s death and resurrection had made no longer necessary. They were wanting the structure of religion with its dos and don’ts.
  • Others of Paul’s converts may have come from pagan religions which each had their own feast days. Old habits die hard. Imagine if you had a family tradition that had been practiced for generations that was suddenly stripped away. These pagan feasts day were incompatible with Christian faith and could not be retained in a Christ-following life.

Happy BirthdayBut clearly, Paul is not speaking of wishing someone a happy birthday. In celebrating my birthday over the years, I trust that my family had these aims:

  • I’m not being venerated. Their purpose isn’t sacred. Their actions are not sacramental. Some people argue that we can’t separate life into the sacred and the secular, but some things we do are merely perfunctory, like getting dressed, brushing our teeth, checking the mail, etc. A birthday serves no spiritual purpose.
  • Recognizing and celebrating the encouragement that someone’s life brings you is scriptural. Over and over we are told to encourage one another, to build one another up. A sincere expression of thanks and appreciation — personal, not what the greeting card writer came up with — should really be an everyday occurrence, not a yearly thing; but we we do need prompting to do this.
  • We are reminded of the passing of time. Our lives are “but a breath;” we are “here today and gone tomorrow.” We live sometimes in the “myth of continuity;” believing that things will always be as they are, but in fact, age will eventually catch up with us, it will happen quickly or when we are not looking. It’s good to be reminded of the fragility of life. That may seem to make a birthday bittersweet, but as you get older, it really is.
  • It’s not wrong to buy people things. We are to be good stewards of the resources that God gave us. Going to a dollar store (or for my UK readers, a poundshop) to buy something that will be broken a week later is not wise stewardship. (Perhaps the earth’s resources should never have been used to manufacture the item in the first place.) But there are things people both need and desire, and having an excuse at least provides a context to nudge someone to acquire something that might be beneficial to their hobbies and interests, but that they might hesitate to purchase for themselves.
  • Children need to identify and celebrate friendships. If you can do a birthday party without excluding anyone, and at the same time not incurring great expense, it’s nice for kids to gather their friends around them. You can also do a party where instead of gifts, people make a contribution to a charity of the child’s choice. (Try Compassion International, Partners International, Christian Blind Mission, etc.)

Some of the same people also do not believe in celebrating Christmas or Easter. While this needs to be the subject of a different discussion, my short answer would be that our family does not celebrate Christmas or Easter, we recognize and stand in awe of incarnation and atonement.

I don’t like birthdays. The thought of another year passing scares me, but only because I realize that there are things I have wanted to accomplish that have not happened, and in fact may not happen. But I don’t want to over-spiritualize this and make it seem that I am being pious or devout by asking my family to skip this year’s birthday observance. We should never let tastes and preferences appear to be deeply spiritual principles.

Including birthdays and anniversaries in the “special days” category Paul is referring to here is to miss the context of the passage, and really amounts to poor Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics).

When your turn rolls around, I do, with all sincerity and with all intention, wish you a Happy Birthday!

May 27, 2019

Samson Was Not Akin to a Greek or Roman God

Today we return to the writing of Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. There are more good articles on his devotional page.

Samson: The Lord, the Man, and the Myth

Judges 13:4-5 [God to Samson’s mother] “Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”

Judges 16:17 [Samson to Delilah] “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”

Judges 16:19-20 Then [Delilah] lulled [Samson] to sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.

The story of Samson has somehow slipped from out of the Bible and into legend. Samson has become a kind of ancient Greek or Roman god, who has super-human strength and abilities, and gets defeated by his own hubris. Part of the “myth” of Samson (as opposed to the Bible story about him] is that his strength was in his hair. If we believe that, we’re making the same mistake Delilah and the Philistines made.

Numbers 6:1-20 tells about the Nazarite vow. In brief, it says no wine, no cutting of hair, no contamination through contact with dead things, and a call to holy living. If we read Samson’s story in Judges 13-16, we see that Samson did the opposite of all these things, breaking every last condition of the vow and more.

Yet as with most stories about Bible characters, the story is really more about the Lord. First, it was the Lord’s strength and the Lord’s presence with Samson that accounted for his strength, not something as random as the follicles on his head. Notice Judges 16:20, when Delilah cut his hair and the Philistines captured him: “But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” How regrettable for Samson that he didn’t realize this, and how foolish for us not to see that the arm of the Lord is greater than any aspect of a person’s physical body.

Secondly, a wrong understanding of where Samson’s strength came from can make God seem arbitrary, or the story like a fairy tale. Let’s not be confused. God didn’t invest Samson’s hair with anything. The Lord “left him” when he broke the last condition of his vow. God still gave Samson strength when he drank, caroused with prostitutes, and touched dead things, contaminating himself spiritually. No, the Lord waited until every condition was broken before taking His strength away. And then we see how gracious the Lord is to restore His strength when nature simply took its course, and Samson’s life began to reverse the pattern of his sin.

How patient God is! How slow to anger! How gracious He is to keep working with us, demonstrating His faithfulness to us by His mercies toward Samson. Let’s leave the myth of Samson behind, and embrace the story of God’s great faithfulness, patience and love that we find there.

Prayer: You were so patient with Samson, not bringing any kind of judgment against him until he violated the last part of the covenant. Help me to be encouraged to keep loyal to my covenant with You, thanking you with my obedience to Your word.

 

May 18, 2019

Truth, Time, Talent, Treasure

In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
 – I Cor. 4:2 NASB

Once again we’ve returned to Lightsource, but this time with an older devotional (Aug., 2018) which was used to introduce a one hour sermon on video by Dr. David Jeremiah. Clicking the link in the header below allows to read both the content posted here, plus watch the video.

4 Priorities for Living: How to Glorify God with Our Days & Talents

The word “steward” has gone misunderstood, especially in a biblical sense. Commonly the term refers to flight attendants or volunteers helping us find our way in a museum. We are aware of stewards, but we may not be living out the term properly as Christians.

Perhaps you encountered a stewardess who served you on your flight to that latest mission trip overseas. Maybe you went to a baseball game or theater and a steward helped you to find your seats. These are people who are helping to manage something that is not their own. So what does this mean biblically?

A proper way of defining stewardship for a christian should begin with acknowledging that God is the owner of everything. We are stewards of the things we have in this world, not owners. All that we have is from God, our money, our possessions, our family, and notably our time and talents.

In school, children are taught how to manage their money efficiently. Books have been published teaching readers how to manage their finances in a biblical manner. But it is less-likely that you will find a class about managing our days and talents to bless others. Unless of course you open the teachings of scripture. Below we have outlined four priorities of stewardship spoken from David Jeremiah.

Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12

The Priorities of Stewardship

Be a steward of truth…

God has entrusted to us as followers of Christ to be managers of the Truth that is the Gospel, among believers and non-believers alike. “On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4

Be a steward of time…

This may be the most important aspect of stewardship. Time is more valuable than money, gold, or possessions. Time cannot be replaced like money or things. The Lord expects us to make the most of our time and will reward that. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

Be a steward of talent…

You might be thinking you have no talent. But it isn’t true. God has made you from His image and useful to the body of Christ by word or by strength. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:10-11

Be a steward of treasure…
David Jeremiah says that, “Giving will never work if it’s random.” We should plan to set some money aside on the first day of the week. Which in our time, we know as each Sunday. Believe that God will allow you to prosper. “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” 1 Corinthians 16:2

 

May 1, 2019

Emerging as Solid Gold

NIV.1Peter.17 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

NIV.Rev.3.14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

One of the longest running sources for material we’ve used here at Christianity 201 has been John Fischer who writes at The Catch. Today’s blog post is actually by his wife Marti who has been experiencing some health challenges lately. I ask you to join with us in praying for her. (More details on the blog; click the link in this paragraph.) Otherwise click the title below to read this piece, with an introduction from John that’s not seen here.

Guaranteed Gold

by Marti Fischer

One of the more important messages for us today as believers can be found in the words of Jesus to the seven churches that take up the first few chapters of the book of Revelation. They are words of warning and instruction.

One of the churches, the one in Laodicea, Jesus describes as being “warm,” meaning comfortable — a comfortable state of mind with false securities. And Jesus warns that since these believers are neither hot nor cold, He will “spew” them out of His mouth. What a harsh description of rejection and abandonment.

Jesus goes on to explain why He says this. He is basically saying this body thinks it doesn’t need Him. They are doing just find on their own.  These people are lukewarm and very comfortable in their walk with the Lord. They have food to eat, places to stay, and clothes to wear. Life is good. And Jesus says that their thinking is a lie. He says the truth is that these people are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. They are people who think they are doing good in their own lives and for the Lord.  Jesus says they have it all backwards.

Jesus goes on to make a few recommendations for these Laodicean believers:  I counsel you to be gold tried in the fire.”  And then He offers them a new outfit. They will no longer be living in the shame of their nakedness … and then, He says, they will be able to see.

I thought to myself, “Hurray! At last. Jesus is encouraging prosperity thinking. I am going to be gold.  I always wanted to believe in prosperity. I love pretty things. Too bad for me — He is not talking about having the financial means to have what it takes to buy lots of gold. He is talking about gold as referenced in 1 Peter 1:7 — a faith being more precious than gold that is tried with fire. Jesus is telling us He wants to make our faith perfect – tried by the fire of trials – the faith that is far more precious than gold. For this reason, He warns us not to seek what makes us comfortable.  Rather He suggests that those He loves He corrects and causes suffering; anything to make us pursue Him and His desire to purify our faith. He will do just about anything to get us out of our comfort zone.

Jesus then tells us that He is at the door knocking (He’s been there all along), and if we open the door, he will come in and sit down to dinner with us. You might remember He did this with the disciples and at that dinner he also told the disciples that they, too, would indeed drink from His cup — the cup of suffering and death Jesus was ordained to drink from.  Soon thereafter, Jesus was begging the Father to take that very cup from Him, “but either way your will not mine be done.” This is a beautiful demonstration of Jesus relating to the most horrific moments in our lives, when we ask the Lord to remove us from a situation and deliver us from having to walk through troubles and pain, and instead, He asks to submit to His will and not the will we would prefer to hold so closely to our chest. His will is to follow Jesus Christ, which is the complete opposite of our comfort driven will.

He ends this message by delivering a promise to those in this church who “overcome” comfort to follow His will. The promise is knowing Him and believing with the kind of evidence that moves mountains in not only our lives but in the lives of many others … and there’s nothing comfortable about that.

So like the Laodiceans, Jesus wants us to wake up.  We are insisting on making ourselves comfortable and warm (the kind of warm that is like a dog peeing on your leg). We are not hot or even cold.

We have many Catch Citizens [Ed. note: readers of their blog] who are affected and suffering from very difficult circumstances that are causing their hearts to cry out to God.  They do not know why. Did they do something wrong? They are seeking His presence, wanting to receive His revelation and understand what on earth He is up to.

And for those of us Laodiceans who are stepping out of our places of comfort on a daily basis, they are asking us to pray with them as we both seek His strength, His  truth — the truth that can only be known when He opens our eyes and causes us to surrender to Him and all of His ways that our minds can’t grasp.  No longer warm, we are very hot indeed.


NIV.Rev.3.20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

 

 

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