Christianity 201

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 14, 2018

Sunday Worship

At the outset of this series, we said we wanted to focus on the broader meaning of the word worship and not limit it to music in the church. However, I found this article yesterday while spending much time in the archives of the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While it appears on the surface to apply only to those who lead us at weekend services, I believe there are some broader principles we can extract from this as we serve and honor God in various ways. The author is Dr. Scott Connell, Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.

Seven Essential Characteristics of an Effective Worship Leader

I have the privilege of training worship leaders. This means that I have the task of preparing musicians to lead their congregations in doing something that they will continue to do in eternity. Done well this act should help teach people how to live in faith and one day die with hope. Leading a task that engages a holy God with such eternal implications should not be handled tritely. It takes a substantive person to plan, prepare, and lead what should be a substantive act. Here is what I believe a worship leader must demonstrate in order to be effective for this significant task:

  1. Musical talent. This is the only characteristic on the list that must be present at birth. Some people have a gift for music and others do not. For those that do, that talent must be developed and refined. This takes time and work, but the combination of these two demonstrates the presence of talent. Effective worship leaders practice and get better.
    Psalm 33:3 (ESV) – “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully…”
  2. Teachability. Regardless of how talented a worship leader is, teachability is always required. Good worship leaders are continually learning and seeking instruction. A worship leader who resists instruction will be a poor teacher himself. Effective worship leaders strive to be teachable.
    Proverbs 13:18 – “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
  3. Biblical Knowledge. This is a characteristic that everyone begins life with a total absence of. It is necessary to create a lifelong appetite for God’s word. Every week worship leaders point people to God while also representing the character and works of God in song and speech. Too many do so out of theological and biblical ignorance. Effective worship leaders develop a reservoir of Biblical truth within them so they can speak and lead intelligently.
    2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
  4. Character. The hypocrisy of a duplicitous life on any platform will eventually be revealed. Standing on a platform to lead worship is essentially saying “Follow me while I follow Christ.” Perfection is unattainable for anyone, but sanctification is honest about sin and progressive in growth because it comes from following Christ intentionally. Unfortunately, talent has a way of taking musicians farther than their character can sustain them. Effective worship leaders grow in godliness.
    1 Samuel 16:17b – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
  5. Passion. Worship should have an appropriate and authentic emotional component. I am not referring to pep rally emotionalism, but neither should there be the appearance of apathy or disinterest. Worship should reflect deep-seated joy, true brokenness over sin, and authentic (even euphoric) gratefulness for the Savior. Effective worship leaders cultivate the capacity to be appropriately affected emotionally because worship is an unparalleled journey of enjoying ultimate fulfillment at Christ’s expense.
    Psalm 84:2b – “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
  6. Humility. This may be the most elusive characteristic on the list. Performing music can tend to make musicians arrogant. A musical skill can become a motive for boasting in an otherwise reserved individual. The types of thoughts that can come to mind while leading worship can be startling if evaluated honestly. Effective worship leaders pursue God’s glory over their own glory.
    James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  7. Love for the Church. This can often be the most forgotten item on the list. If allowed, love for music can eclipse love for the people. The true allegiance of our affections will be on display in numerous decisions that we make every week. Effective worship leaders examine their motives and advance strategies that make music a servant, not a master.
    Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Being a worship leader is a journey. Proper orientation in these things reflects one’s capability and fitness for being used in a role that none of us truly deserves to hold. We serve at God’s pleasure. Enter humbly, grow intentionally!

January 12, 2018

Fearing Man More than Fearing God

This is our first time visiting the wealth of articles at the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan. Today’s main text is linked in the 3rd paragraph and takes you to a parallel of the NIV and The Message for these twelve verses. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Paralysis of the Fear of Man

 By  
 “I do not know this Man that you are talking about” (Peter in Mark 14:71).

It’s easy for us to stand at a distance and throw stones at Peter for denying Christ, and to claim that we would do better than he. But have you ever squandered a clear opportunity to testify about Jesus? Truthfully, I can relate to Peter, because I too have confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, but at times, I am paralyzed by the fear of man.

The Bible has a lot to say about our fear of man, giving numerous examples of people (both believers and unbelievers) who at times were driven by this fear: Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Lot, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Samson, Saul, David, the Pharisees, Peter, Ananias and Sapphira, etc. Why is the fear of man such a strong motivation for us? Why are we driven by what other people think about us? Why are our choices motivated by the danger that might come from other people?

Jesus offers three answers in Luke 12:1-12. Before we consider the text, a definition of the fear of man might be helpful. Fear of man can be described as a heightened awareness of self that comes because of a possible threat. When we fear man, we are most worried about what someone may do to us.

In Luke 12:1-12, Jesus identifies the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes and exhorts believers to fear God most of all. Prior to His teaching, two important events set the context: 1) The Pharisees and Scribes attacked Jesus with their words, in an attempt to trap Him (cf. 11:53-54); 2) An ambitious crowd formed to hear Jesus speak (12:1).

It is in this setting that Jesus speaks to the crowd in order to calibrate their thinking regarding their fears. Jesus makes His point with 6 verbs that take the force of a command:

  • Watch out for hypocrisy, v. 1
  • Don’t fear man most of all, v. 4
  • Fear God most of all, v. 5 (2x)
  • Don’t fear that you’ll be forgotten, v. 7
  • Don’t fear that you’ll be abandoned, v. 11

These verbs can be summarized into three main reasons why we fear man more than God:

We Focus on the Temporal

The first reason that we fear man more than God is that we have our eyes fixed on that which is passing away (vv. 1-5). The hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes was motivated by their fear of man. They looked and acted as if they were strong, when in fact, they were weak. Consider John 12:41-44,

These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.

Their external piety covered the wickedness of their hearts (cf. Matt 23:27). The disciples would do well to avoid that same hypocrisy by being less concerned about what man could do to them, and more concerned about what God could do.

Specifically, in verses 1-3, disciples of Jesus must be motivated by God’s final judgment, There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and [nothing] hidden that will not be known (v. 2). The religious leaders lived as if this life was all that there were to live for. We disciples must not fall into the same trap. God will expose the sin of hypocrites.

Relatedly in verses 4-5, disciples of Jesus must recognize that there is a greater death than physical death. One of the reasons that we fail to testify about Jesus is because of what man can do to us. But Jesus wants us to consider these threats in their proper perspective. What is the worst that people can to do us when we testify about Jesus? They can kill our body. Anticipating that fear, Jesus says, “after that [they] have no more that they can do” (v. 4). In contrast, there is Someone whom we should fear more than man. There is a God who can destroy both our body and our soul in hell forever. Therefore, we should fear Him most of all, “Fear the One…yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (v. 5). Following Jesus demands that we have an eternal perspective.

We Ignore our Value Before God

The second reason that we fear man more than God is because we forget God’s care of us (vv. 6-7). God does not forget His children; they are precious in His sight (cf. 1 Pet 3:4; Isa 43:1-4). Jesus wants us to know that no one cares for us more than God. In order to prove this, Jesus uses an argument of lesser to greater. Humans sell sparrows for next to nothing. And yet God knows and cares about objects that we virtually discard. In comparison to sparrows, we are His image-bearers and the objects of His redemption. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, we can be certain that He knows and cares for us (cf. v. 7). Our heightened fear of man often rises out of our failure to remember our identity as a child of God. Following Jesus demands that we remember our value before God.

We Fundamentally Deny the Work of the Spirit

The third reason that we fear man more than God is because we fundamentally deny the work of the Spirit, either by mocking His work (vv. 8-10) or by ignoring His power to come to our aid (vv. 11-12). I would argue that these two promises are not meant for us directly. They were meant for Jesus’ immediate audience. However, we certainly can discern implications for how we should respond to the work of the Spirit.

Those who turn away from Jesus and mock the Spirit of God evidence the reality of their rejection. The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day had the very Son of God in their presence. They heard His teaching and saw His miracles, and yet they clearly denied His deity. In doing so, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit and abandoned every possibility of being forgiven by God. Jesus promised them that because of their clear rejection, they should not be surprised when the Son denies them before the Father. Like them, in the midst of persecution, we too are tempted to reject the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God will not be mocked.

Jesus also promised that the Spirit would help the disciples by giving them special revelation in the midst of persecution (vv. 11-12). Therefore, the disciples should not despair in those times. While this promise was not directed at believers today, we do have the guarantee of the Spirit’s abiding presence within us (Eph 1:13-14). And we must not ignore His power at work.

To reject the Son is to reject the Father. To mock the Spirit is to mock the Father. Following Jesus demands that we commit ourselves to Jesus and embrace the work of the Spirit.

So how will we do the next time that we are given the opportunity to testify about Jesus? Will we crumble under the pressure of our improperly placed fears (“I do not know this Man”)? Or will we consider ourselves in light of who God is and fear Him most of all? He is our final Judge, our loving Companion, and our immanent Helper.

The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Proverbs 29:25).

January 10, 2018

Results or No Results: Delighting When God is Honored

Today’s thoughts are from Sam Williamson, author of two books I’ve reviewed at Thinking Out Loud, Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids? and Hearing God in Conversation. His website is Beliefs of the Heart. Click the title below to read this at source.

An Unearthly Delight

Sometimes I hear God best in surprises. Seemingly unrelated circumstances suddenly unite, and their merger stirs something in my heart. Like a succession of waves on a beach, one last surge dissolves my sandcastles.

This last month I talked with:

  • A despairing man whose ministry seems stagnant, and all his work seem fruitless;
  • Another man who keeps a tally in the front of his Bible of all the souls he helped save;
  • A group of friends who mused on our all-absorbing attraction to superhero movies;

Each discussion hinted at some deep longing for significance, expressed in meaningful ministry, “souls I helped save,” or that desire to be superhero (ish) ourselves. Wanting a life that matters doesn’t contradict Scripture. We are made in God’s image, and he is the God of all glory.

And yet. Last week I read about the baptism of Jesus. A voice from heaven cries, “You are my beloved Son; I delight in you.” My first response (and probably my second and third) was: “That’s exactly what I want, to hear the Father say to me, ‘Well done. I am pleased with you.’”

Then a thought flashed through my mind: Is it possible to have as much joy when the Father affirms Jesus as I would have if He so affirmed me? Can I simply take joy in the joy of Jesus?

I’ve Been Looking in the Rear View Mirror

It’s a brand-new idea to me: of delighting so much in Jesus that his happiness overwhelms me, whatever happens in my own life. Familiar verses take on new meaning:

  • Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4). No longer to delight in God in order to get my “real” desire (a new house or better job), but that the desire of my heart is to see the Father overjoyed in Jesus.
  • Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble, the Lord delivers him (Ps. 41:1). To enjoy the blessedness bestowed on Jesus that he considered the poor …
  • The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Ps. 145:18). To rejoice in God’s nearness to Jesus who alone cried out to him with true purity.

My nature unconsciously looks to God to accomplish my own schemes: my ideas for happiness or a good name, or my plans for ministry or a retreat house. In John 15, Jesus says the branch that bears fruit abides in the vine. I find myself saying, “If I just do that, like abide a bit more, then I’ll get what I really want.”

Which means my heart really abides in the fruit and not the vine.

God is inviting me to abide in him a new way: simply to delight when he is honored, whether I see results I want or not. Joy in him is undermining my sandcastles.

All It Took Was a Trip to Lowes

On an errand to Lowe’s hardware store, a phrase from an old John Newton poem snuck into my thoughts on fixing a furnace humidifier. I googled the phrase in the parking lot. In it, God speaks to Newton, and through Newton, God spoke to me:

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may find thy all in Me.”

I keep thinking I need a home for retreats or to hear words of affirmation. Both fine things. I think, instead, God is breaking my “schemes of earthly joy,” all those fleeting castles of sand, because he is building a lasting home of unearthly joy.

There is a delight we can have simply in knowing him, in finding our “all” in him alone.

Sam

P. S. God often speaks to us in the moments we think he is silent. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

January 8, 2018

Conflict at Church

This is our third visit to Art Toombs Ministries, and today I read several great articles trying to decide which one to carry here. Be sure to check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts — he’s currently in the epistle of James — you never know when you might need it.  I also follow Art on Twitter. To read today’s item at source, and then look around the site, simply click the title below.

Resolving Church Conflict

James 4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (NKJV)

James is writing to first century Christian Jews who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. He specifically is writing to teachers of the Gospel. The current teaching is on the subject of resolving conflict in the church.

This passage begins with the word “therefore” (v.7a). This is a reference to the previous verse which states “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” The key to resolving conflict in the church is humility.

We see this humility lived out in six commands which if heeded will resolve conflict in the church. The six commands are listed in verses seven through nine:

(1) “Submit to God” (v. 7b). Submission to God requires obedience to His word. We do not know what to obey unless we know His word, the Bible. We should turn to the Bible for advice on all matters. Then we should be obedient to that Scripture.

(2) “Resist the devil” (v. 7c). The devil always hits at our weakness. For many of us Christians our weakness is pride. Pride is also the source of much church conflict. We must resist pride, and all other sin. When we do, the devil “will flee” (v. 7d).

(3) “Draw near to God” (v. 8a). When we do this, “He will draw near” to us (v. 8b).    We draw near to God through prayer. The more we fill ourselves with God, the less room there is for self. The closer we draw to God, the more we see things through God’s eyes and not our own. Our selfish desires then take a back seat to the will of God.

(4) “Cleanse your hands” (v. 8c). This is a reference to our actions. Sinful actions require confession, repentance and seeking forgiveness, from both God and from those we have offended. It is not enough to just confess our sin, if we intend to then repeat the sin. We must also turn from, repent of, that sin.

(5) “Purify your hearts” (v. 8d). This is a reference to motives. Our motives may be mixed, “double-minded” (v. 8d). We must be careful to keep our motives pure. Our motives may be what we perceive as what is best for us, instead of what is best for God’s kingdom.

(6) “Lament and mourn and weep“(v. 9a). Without getting too bogged down in the theology, let’s just say this has to do with our attitude. Our attitude needs to be one of sincerity. If we have wronged another, we should feel badly for our sin against our fellow Christian. We should feel so badly that we never want to return to the behavior or mindset that may have contributed to a problem. We should feel so badly that it is hard to laugh or have joy (v. 9b). Even if we are not the source of the problem, we should be upset with ourselves for letting things get to this point. We should not take the problem lightly, or pass off all the blame on others. We cannot control what others may say or do, but we can control our reaction. A poor reaction often escalates a slight, or an offense, into a problem.

So If you “humble” yourself in these ways, “He will lift you up”, (v. 10). God will provide a way to resolve the problem that will glorify God. Humble yourself, and then put your trust in God.

James then introduces what may be interpreted as a new subject. However, I believe that he stays on the subject of humility. He writes of criticism, specifically criticism of a “brother” (v. 11a), a fellow Christian. There is no place for criticism in a humble heart.

How can you be humble while criticizing another? The two do not go together. You are breaking the Golden Rule. You are not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. No one likes being criticized.

When you criticize “you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (v. 11b). God is the only “Lawgiver” (v. 12a), the only judge. He is the only one “who is able to save and to destroy”, able to judge (v. 12b). We are not “to judge another” (v. 12c).

Correction is another matter. It is Biblical to correct a fellow Christian who has gone astray. The correction, however, should always be offered in the form of kindness and love, not criticism.

So the key to resolving church conflict is humility. Humility does not escalate a slight into a problem. Humility, instead, allows God to lift up the situation. Stay humble and trust God to resolve the situation in His own way, and in His own time.

 

January 5, 2018

God Intervenes in Our Circumstances

NIV Ps. 18.32 It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
    my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
    and I destroyed my foes.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
    to the Lord, but he did not answer.

43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
    you have made me the head of nations.

47 He is the God who avenges me,
    who subdues nations under me,
48     who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
    from a violent man you rescued me.

Once again, we’re back with the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. This has been a great source of excellent articles for us over the years. Please click the link below to read this at source.

Praise God for His Intervention

In Psalm 18:30-50, David praises God for intervening in his circumstances and coming to his aid when he needed it the most. Today, God wants you to give thanks and praise for three specific ways He intervenes on your behalf.

Praise God for renewing you with strength (vv. 30-42).

David gave clear testimony as to the source of his strength. His strength did not originate within himself, but it was from the Lord. It was from the Lord whom Isaiah would later direct Israel to: the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary…He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

God was a shield in battle (v. 30) and equipped David with strength (vv. 32-34). God defended the glory of His name through His servant David (think Goliath). And David was able to be this courageous because He knew the Lord was with him and the Lord was his strength. Therefore, he testified “your right hand supported me” (v. 35), “you gave me a firm footing” (v. 36), and “you equipped me with strength” (v. 39). This is more than military strength, though. God gave David spiritual strength (fortitude, endurance) to persevere.

Are you tired? Is your spirit worn down? Go to the Lord for your strength. Know that His strength is made perfect in your weakness. Pray Ephesians 3:16 for yourself, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Trust the Holy Spirit to give you strong courage when you need it most.

Praise God for restoring you from (after) strife (vv. 43-45).

David praised God because He “delivered [him] from strife” (v. 43). God delivered David, making him head of nations, giving him military superiority. God certainly gave him the victory. Near the end of his life—in the last letter he wrote—the apostle Paul gave the same testimony of God’s intervention in his troubles and conflicts (2 Tim. 4:14-17). What Paul experienced is what Jesus had predicted in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

When you have been through severe conflict you don’t necessarily bounce back right away. Healing takes time. But know this: God is your healer. He will restore you in His time and according to His perfect plan. Some of you, I am sure, have been through very painful conflicts in the past. Perhaps you still feel wounded. By His grace, and through the love of the brethren, God will heal your hurts and restore you. Lean on Him. Lean into Him. He heals through the ministry of others. Don’t try to do it alone. As you receive His means of grace, the Lord will heal and restore you. You will not be the same; that is true. But you will be more like Christ because of having fellowship in His sufferings.

Praise God for recovering you in (through) salvation (vv. 46-50).

Verse 46 is a triumphant declaration. “The Lord lives! He has intervened for me!” Why? Because He is “the God of my salvation.” Verses 47-48 summarize the saving deliverance of God. The Lord “rescued” David (v. 48). I could have used the word “rescued,” but intentionally chose “recovered” instead. Our world likes to speak of people as always being in recovery. The recovering alcoholic. The recovering drug addict, etc., as if to imply that a person is always in the process of recovering to the healthy state. It implies that one never truly becomes a new, changed person.

But the hope of the gospel is greater. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to fully recover us for God. If you know Jesus Christ then your life has been recovered for God’s purposes. Yes, you may continue to battle certain temptations for your remaining years on earth, but that is not what defines you. In Christ, God has redeemed you from the slave market of sin. You now belong to Him. He has recovered you from a life wasted on sin and given you victory in Christ.

In Christ, Romans 6:10-11 is true of you: For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. As believers, our sins and weaknesses do not make up our identity. Our identity is bound up with who Jesus is. We should enthusiastically praise God for this great salvation!

The Lord is worthy of this praise “among the nations” as, together, we “sing” His praises (v. 49). And this praise will go on forever. Why? Because of Jesus, the Son of God, is also the son of David. Therefore, David’s “offspring” will forever sing praise to God.

January 4, 2018

The Future. Not In Your Hands?

by Clarke Dixon

You may be facing 2018 with the thought that it will be yet another year of things being beyond your control. The future is not in your hands. Some will say that you have a fatalistic way of looking at things and will call you a pessimist. You may respond that you are a realist. Or you may be facing 2018 with the determination to make it a good year, because, after all, it is in your hands. You have an empowered way of thinking of the future. Some people will call you naive and wonder how you could be so overly-optimistic. They think you are in need of a reality check.

Is the future in our hands or not? The Book of Ecclesiastes can help us find think about our attitude toward the future. Consider these verses:

1 For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NLT)

The tone in which we read these verses can tell us the kind of attitude we have toward the future. We should be aware that there is another way to look at it and read it. Let us take as an example the very last phrase; there is “a time for war and a time for peace”. If this were the Scripture Reading and Winston Churchill the reader for a Sunday worship service in 1940 following the return of British troops from France, would he have read it with a tone or resignation, or determination? Would his tone be dour, or defiant? Would he have read it in a way that says “we have no control over Hitler’s war machine which now stands poised to take on Britain, world events are not in our hands, and so unfortunately it is a time for war”? Or would he have read it in a manner that says “we have control over our destiny, the future is in our hands, so now is a time to buckle down and get ready for war”? We don’t need to guess. A famous speech delivered on 4th of June 1940 contained both a realistic assessment of what was out of British control, and a determination to take control of the situation. It contained a recognition of what was, and was not, in hand:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, . . . (source: Wikipedia)

This was a time for war, meaning that, yes, things have happened which are out of our control, but also meaning that, yes, things will happen which are. We may have no control over Hitler’s war machine. But we have control over our response. You may have no control over a frightening health diagnosis, or a tragic event in a loved one’s life, or an unfortunate decision made by your partner, and the list can go on. There are so many things that are not in our hands, these are the brute facts of life. But we can always control our response to the brute facts. We can fight, adapt, pray, encourage, admonish, forgive, there are so many possibilities to choose from.

Speaking of things we have no control over, here is something else that we have no control over; the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These are brute facts of history. And along with them comes the brute fact of God’s love. A rare person might take back a Christmas gift once given, but the gift of that first Christmas will never be taken back. God will never undo the events of Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost. Therefore, here is another brute fact that is not in our hands; 2018 will be a year of the LORD offering each day to walk in loving relationship with us. Our response is in our hands. There is a time for everything, including a time to resolve to walk more closely with our Lord and Saviour. You may feel like the future, and especially your future, is not in your hands, but it is in His.

I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. Ecclesiastes 3:14 (NRSV)


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

January 2, 2018

A Baby Was Born

by Russell Young

Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby and hope for humankind. He was born into the humble circumstances of a young mother and a new father. For them the stability of place and position had not yet been established.

That baby was as helpless as any new-born. He soiled himself, and required nursing and protection. He needed to be educated and allowed the right to develop and grow through play, discipline, and all forms of parental guidance. Although he was the Son of God, he was also the son of Mary. He was like you and me.  The writer of Hebrews states that “he [was] made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17 NIV) He had a body, soul, and spirit like all humankind.

The baby, Jesus, grew and became a man. He suffered the same bodily temptations as do all men. “[He] was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 5:15 NIV) His temptations were not easy to bear. He suffered through them. (Temptations are not temptations unless they have a draw and their resistance causes some form of suffering.) “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb2:18 NIV) He had come to earth as a baby to learn of the human condition and to provide victory over weaknesses and over the evil one.

The resoluteness and commitment of Jesus to his Father should not be underestimated. His heart was fully committed to overcoming the frailties of the flesh that cause destruction. To live without sin, to deny the temptations of the flesh and to resist the deceptions and lies of the evil one and all that the world allows requires a heart determined to live righteously. We have been told, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) No escape had been provided from the consequence of sin even for Jesus, the Christ. Sin would have brought about his own death. His Father did not interfere to make his earthly passage any different from our own concerning the issues of life. It was the heart of Christ devoted to pleasing his Father that allowed him to overcome the world.

There was a savior. The sinless man, through obedience to his Father’s will, became the source of eternal salvation for all people who would obediently follow him. (Jn 10:27)  “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) He was not sent to remove the consequences of the devil’s work, but to destroy it.

Confusion remains concerning the manner in which Jesus accomplished the provision of hope for a lost people. He bore the sin of the world and through his sinless life, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (for himself).” (Heb 9:12) His sinless life was the result of victory over Satan, over the flesh, and over the world. His propitiation for sin applies to those who “confess with [their] mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in [their] heart that God raised him from the dead.” (Rom 10:9 NIV) Those who would enjoy the hope offered by Christ must confess that “Jesus is Lord.” Confession is assenting to his lordship, promising it, covenanting it. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) “He died as a ransom to set [people] free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15 NIV), and to provide eternal salvation through his resurrected life. He requires that those who he has freed and who have made the pledge of his lordship, follow him.

The sacrifice of the sinless Christ on the cross does not provide eternal salvation but release from the consequence of the confessor’s past sins and those repented and confessed following confession. (1 Jn 1:9) Just as the Lord lived without sin in the body that the Father had given him in the womb of Mary, he is prepared to live that sinless life in the body of the believer. “Christ in you is your hope of glory.” (Col 1:27; see also Gal 2:20 and 4:6) The saving ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ was not completed at the cross; he is the Spirit — “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18 NIV, italics added.) The Lord must be permitted to live his life through the believer. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 Jn 3:7─8 NIV) “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV)

 There is a judge. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10 NIV) The baby who became a sinless man, made provision for the Holy Spirit, and will be the judge of all. He dwells in us and knows the degree of our commitment to him. He holds the keys (Rev 1:18) and will decide each person’s eternal fate.

The baby born of Mary experienced the world and the flesh and overcame all the temptations that would have defeated him, and which would have provided victory for Satan. This baby grown into man victoriously fought the fight which has defeated all humankind. He knows the struggles and temptations of people and desires to be their helper and the source of their eternal salvation, but they must repent and allow him lordship of their lives so that they can become an offering acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16) Jesus the baby has become the light and hope of the world.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

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


 

January 1, 2018

Why Does the Apostle Paul Say There’s Nothing Good Within Him?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This fall, we ran eight articles in a weekly series of devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. We’re just doing one this season, but I encourage you to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings.

Nothing Good Within

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:18 ESV

We might be tempted to think there is not all that much in us Jesus needs to forgive. Even if we have recognized we are sinners and asked Jesus for forgiveness, we might still think we are fairly good people on the whole. We might even be excited for God to use some of the inherent goodness we think we have to do His work. This is what makes Paul’s words in the opening verse difficult for many to understand. We like to think our ability to love, our artistic talents, the charity work we do are good things God can use for His glory. How then can Paul say nothing good dwells within us?

As Paul reminds us in Philippians 3, if there was anyone who could boast about his goodness before coming to know Christ, it was him. Paul was a perfect Jew, “a Hebrew of Hebrews” who was so faithful to God’s commands and the sacrifices required of him that he could be considered “faultless” before the law (Philippians 3:5-6). But Paul goes on to say he considers all of these good things “loss” and “garbage” for the sake of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Despite our attempts at goodness, they will always be marred by sin. We grew up being taught there are certain things that are good and certain things that are bad, and our natural selves apart from God will always be drawn to the latter. No matter how hard we try, how many charities we support, or how many promises we make to God that we will be good, we are deluding ourselves if we think we are anything but corrupt people apart from Christ.

To flaunt our claims to goodness is to be like a brand new car with all the bells and whistles, but no engine. We might attract attention from the people around us, but there is nothing good within us to make us function the way we are supposed to. For that, we need Christ. Any good deeds we do on our own is like trying to push that car without an engine up a hill, but a relationship with Jesus Christ gives us exactly what we need to do God’s work: Jesus Himself.

One day, we will all stand before God and have to account for our deeds. When that day comes, our good deeds and character will mean nothing if we do not have Christ. He alone makes the forgiveness of our sins possible, and it is only through His work in our lives that we come to have something good dwell within us to accomplish good in this world.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, You alone are good. I give up my claims to any goodness of my own and depend instead on Your sufficiency to conform me to Your likeness. Thank You, Lord.


It’s the start of a new year, and a good time to review the basics:

  • 201 means a little deeper than what’s found in many devotional books; and we tend to skip illustrations and go directly to the text. But we do appreciate the ministry of the organizations which distribute those resources.
  • On first time author appearances we try to check website statements about reuse, or send an email for permission to include material. Then we often repeat authors after six months or after one year. As of today, 2830 posts and only two take-down requests.
  • When you break a twig or branch off a tree, if it’s green inside the tree is alive. (I know you’re thinking, ‘Isn’t that an illustration?’ Oops) For that reason we print scripture verses in green to show that while all the content is helpful, the scriptures quotations contain life.
  • Not everyone presented here agrees with everybody else on everything. The site is a devotional mosaic; or if you prefer, a devotional potpourri. We do however try to check the compendium of a writer’s thoughts so we’re not steering you to any blog or website that might be problematic.
  • Submissions are welcomed. Click the submission page and use the form there to make contact. If you’ve never written devotional or study material before, here’s your opportunity. Start with a passage about which you’re passionate, but please, nothing deliberately provocative or controversial.
  • Christian music videos are often added if they relate to the theme of the devotional. There’s an index (see under ‘Pages’) listing all of the songs if that helps you locate a particular piece of writing.
  • Regular contributors aren’t bound by the six month rule; Clarke Dixon, Russell Young, and myself, Paul Wilkinson appear more frequently.
  • Topical articles, humor pieces, short stories, Christian news and current issues relating to faith are covered at our associate blog, Thinking Out Loud (see button in upper right).

December 28, 2017

Herod’s Messed Up Christmas

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas Story as told by Matthew does not end like it does in the more sentimental telling of it we are used to. It ends in tragedy.

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Matthew 2:16

Technically speaking, the magi were likely not present with Jesus along with the shepherds as commonly portrayed in manger scenes. They arrived later. In fact the Church calendar encourages us to reflect on the arrival of the magi at the end of Christmas, on January 6th, with a celebration called Epiphany. Nevertheless, in the popular and sentimental celebrations of Christmas the magi are there at the manger scene and everyone is happy but Herod. However, in the Biblical account Christmas ends up going horribly wrong. What are we to make of Herod’s messy Christmas?

First, the unhappy ending of the Christmas story is a reminder from the get-go that we need a rescue.  While we tend to think Herod was a particularly evil person, the fact is that any one of us could have ended up being a Herod. People we think of as evil are usually ordinary people who have been swept up in evil. It could have been us. Hitler may have been particularly evil, but many regular folk committed evil deeds because they were too easily swept up with his evil. Charles Manson may have been particularly evil, but those who committed murder for him would likely have had very different lives had they become involved with a better crowd. That could have been us and not them being swept up in evil. Humanity has a sin problem. Even the most “naturally nice” of us have the potential for great evil. Therefore the sad ending of the Christmas story found at the beginning of the New Testament is a reminder of something we learned from the Old Testament, namely that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The massacre at Bethlehem reminds us that we need a rescue.

Second, the unhappy ending of the Christmas story is not the end of the story. Matthew goes on to tell us about the teaching of Jesus, pointing us toward a righteousness that is far better than that of the rule-focused Pharisees. There is a God-given and Spirit-driven righteousness ahead. Matthew goes on to tell us about the miracles of Jesus, reversing the effects of sin and curse we know about from Genesis chapter three. Matthew goes on to tell us about the death of Jesus. We learn early on that Mary “will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) The death of Jesus deals with sin in a way neither we, nor anything nor anyone else, ever could. God Himself brought His grace and justice together in rescuing us from the end result of sin. Matthew goes on to tell us about the resurrection of Jesus. Where Herod failed, the religious and political leaders finally seemed to succeed when Jesus was put to death at the cross. Only that didn’t last very long. Death could not hold him and the story goes on! Matthew goes on to tell us about the great commission of Jesus:

18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:18-20

Here is a new beginning, a revolution! The implication is that the Herods of the world, if they become obedient disciples of Jesus, could not commit the kind of atrocities that we find in the Christmas story. Instead of being people who are swept up in evil, we are to become people swept up in goodness and godliness, a people swept up in God Himself.

Matthew goes on to tell us, in the final words of his book, some final words of Jesus before his ascension: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) There is an age to come after this age. In other words the ending of the Christmas story is not the end of the story. Far from it! The Christmas story is the beginning of a new beginning which will lead to a new beginning. The story goes on and it ends well! While Christmas has a sad ending, the story of Jesus ends well. In Christ your story can have a happy ending too!

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 26, 2017

“Go and Buy Swords”

I thought it was interesting that yesterday’s post was titled The Gift of Peace, and today we’re looking at the scripture where Jesus talks about buying weapons.

Keith Giles is an author, podcast host, Patheos blogger, and house church pastor. This is the first time we’ve featured his writing at Christianity 201. Click the title below to read at source and leave comments.

Why We Misunderstand Verses Like “Go And Buy A Sword”

In the dialog between Christians about whether or not following Jesus entails embracing a non-violent lifestyle, there are certain verses in the New Testament that have to be addressed.

For example, whenever non-violent Christians quote Jesus saying, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26: 52), there are pro-war Christians who will respond by saying, “[Jesus] said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’” (Luke 22:36)

In other words, some Christians believe that Jesus fully endorsed owning and using weapons for self-defense (or for use in war), and other Christians believe that Jesus categorically prohibited His followers from using violence. What’s the real story?

Well, those verses where Jesus forbid violence are numerous and they are not difficult to understand. In addition to the one quoted above, we also hear Jesus declare that we should love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, turn the other cheek, and forgive those who seek to harm us. These are not figurative passages and taken together they paint (in my mind at least) a pretty straightforward picture of Jesus’ expectation that his disciples would not do violence.

In addition to Jesus’ commands we also have His example of forgiving those who crucified him, healing the ear of the soldier who came to arrest him in the Garden, restraining the Legions of angel soldiers at his command, and telling Pontius Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this Earth, and if it was his disciples would fight, begging the question, “If His disciples do fight then are they not part of Christ’s Kingdom?” (see John 18:36)

But this one verse where Jesus tells his disciples to go out and buy a sword is right there in the Bible, isn’t it? What’s it there for? If Jesus didn’t intend for us to own or use swords then why did he say this? Especially if, later on, he was going to contradict himself and rebuke Peter for using the sword he told him to go out and buy?

Well, here’s what I think is going on. First of all we need to look closely at this passage in Luke. Notice that right after Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword he goes on to say, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38 ESV)

Right away we can see that Jesus’ statement about the swords is directly related to prophecy (“…this Scripture must be fulfilled in me”) and what is the prophecy that must be fulfilled? The one in Isaiah that says, “And he was numbered with the transgressors”.

Was the statement about buying a sword about self-defense? Probably not. Why? Because first of all, two swords are not “enough” to defend 13 guys against a legion of Roman soldiers. Also, because when Peter uses his sword in self-defense (or to protect Jesus from the soldiers) he is harshly rebuked with the verse we’ve already looked at, “Put it away! Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”.

Clearly, Jesus is not a fan of self-defense here. At least, not according to the overall context in this passage. However, he does tell the disciples that he wants them to have those two swords with them so that the prophecy about the Messiah being numbered with the transgressors may be fulfilled in Him. That’s why two swords are “enough” for Jesus; to fulfill the scriptures, not to endorse war or physical violence.

Are we sure that Jesus only meant this in light of fulfilling the prophecies about Himself? Yes. How? Because after Peter cuts off the soldiers ear, listen to what Jesus has to say, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54)

See? Jesus tells them to get a few swords so that the prophecy in Isaiah will be fulfilled. Then, once it’s fulfilled in the Garden he makes a point of saying that this is what he had in mind in the first place. So, it’s all about fulfilling the prophecies, not a statement from Jesus endorsing violence.

As sincere followers of Jesus we must take into account all the many other teachings of Jesus regarding turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, and not resisting an evil man. We must also be careful to interpret the Old Testament scriptures in light of Jesus, not the other way around (i.e. – trying to fit Jesus into the Old Testament context).

Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant, and He accomplished this in full. The Old Covenant is obsolete. (see Hebrews 8:13) We don’t need to refer back to it again when it comes to guiding our daily lives. We have Christ. We have the Living Word of God who has come to make His home in us. Jesus gave us a New Covenant and He lived a better example for us to follow.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6.27-28)

December 22, 2017

The Four Mysteries of the New Testament

This a rare encore presentation here at C201. This original devotional first appeared here in December, 2013.


Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

There are some things that are just neatly tied up with a bow. Unlike a sitcom where all the subplots are resolved in 30 minutes, the realm of trust, faith, and belief is a realm of mystery.

The NIV translates Greek into English as “mystery” four times in the New Testament. The first has to do with the relationship between Gentiles who become followers of Christ (spiritual Israel) to those who originally carried God’s promise (ethnic Israel or national Israel). Not surprisingly, the passage is in Romans:

11.24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

The transfer of God’s favor to such a broader, wider number that occurs with the coming of The Messiah (and the subsequent revelation to Peter that Gentiles are to be part of the Messianic promise) is really much of the major theme of Romans, and while it is relatively easy to be a partaker of such grace, it is relatively challenging to begin to understand it in the context of God’s master plan. “‘Tis mystery all.”

The second instance, also in Romans occurs in the book’s closing chapter and reiterates this aspect of its theme:

16.25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The third instance occurs in I Cor. 2 and also refers to a widening or a broadening of God’s disclosure to His people through the Holy Spirit:

2.6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Some brief comments from Matthew Henry are helpful in this passage:

  • Though what we preach is foolishness to the world, it is wisdom to them. They are made wise by it, and can discern wisdom in it.
  • [T]he wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom of God—what he had a long time kept to himself, and concealed from the world, and the depth of which, now it is revealed, none but himself can fathom. It is the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, though now made manifest to the saints (Col. 1:26), hid in a manner entirely from the heathen world, and made mysterious to the Jews, by being wrapped up in dark types and distant prophecies, but revealed and made known to us by the Spirit of God.
  • [H]e had determined long ago to reveal and make it known, from many ages past, from the beginning, nay, from eternity; and that to our glory, the glory of us, either us apostles or us Christians. It was a great honor put upon the apostles, to be entrusted with the revelation of this wisdom. It was a great and honorable privilege for Christians to have this glorious wisdom discovered in the gospel…

The fourth and final use of the word in the NIV is in relationship to days to come, what some call the afterlife as found in I Cor. 15:

15.50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.


Related Song: You are Mystical (audio only in 50px window; click arrow button in center to play)

December 21, 2017

The Rescuer Has Come! Don’t Be Surprised By Weeds

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Some people can’t wait for Christmas to come. Others can wait for it to be over. Unfortunately there are many in the world who are waiting for something much deeper. Many are waiting for something good to happen. Many are waiting for something bad to stop happening. Many are waiting for a rescue. Having recently watched the latest Star Wars movie I couldn’t help but wonder if its release was timed for Advent. The theme of waiting for a rescue during a time of struggle is key to the season of Advent, and is also the theme of Isaiah 61:

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. Isaiah 61:1-3

While the news is good, the situation leading up to announcement has not been. The words describing the desperation of God’s people pile up; “oppressed . . . brokenhearted . . . captives . . . prisoners . . . mourning . . . faint spirit.” Perhaps some of these describe how you might feel sometimes. Further,

4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations. Isaiah 61:4

“Ruins” and “devastations”. Perhaps there are moments that it feels like your life, health, finances, or relationships are in ruins. Or that your experiences have been devastating. Like God’s people in the prophecy, significant changes are needed. You need a rescue.

Good news does come. And the coming of Jesus into the world is good news indeed. In the first teaching of Jesus that Luke focused on, Jesus read the words quoted above from Isaiah 61:1. What happens next is significant:

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:20-21

God’s people were waiting for the Messiah, and here is Jesus saying “your wait is over, Here I am!” Good news indeed, and as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus would teach us, this is not just good news regarding the relationship between God’s people and the Romans, but good news regarding the relationship between all peoples and God. This was not just release from captivity to a stronger nation, but release from something darker and more sinister, release from the captivity of sin itself. The waiting of Advent is over, the good news has been announced. The Messiah has come! This is a large part of what we are celebrating at Christmas. The Rescuer has been born!

However, when we come down from all our Christmas celebrations, life goes on, and we still find ourselves waiting. Waiting for bad things to stop happening, and good things to start happening. If Jesus came to rescue us, then why do we find ourselves in the same boat as God’s people waiting for a rescue? Part of the answer lay in the fact that while the Rescuer has come, the rescue itself is still underway. Let me illustrate with a story:

When I was younger I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong. Now Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming unless you go for a swim in the middle where it is not so weedy. So I would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake. On one particular day I took a young lady sailing (no, not the young lady who would become my wife – that is another story!). Being a very gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried, and I tried to help, but to no avail. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What to do? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in. Now you remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I was telling you about? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds.

What has this to do with our rescue? God’s people in waiting for the Messiah, were like people stuck in the middle of the lake with the promise of a rescue. Advent is about waiting for the Rescuer. We live in a moment of time where the Rescuer has come. Jesus’ hand is stretched out to us. Don’t hesitate to take hold of his hand, for He will grasp your arm and not let go. However, we are still in the water so don’t be surprised by the weeds. The rescue is underway, we will get to the shore, but there are still weeds. Peter has a word of encouragement for us when we get to the weeds:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9

While some people can’t wait for Christmas and others can’t wait for it to be over, the Christian is waiting for Jesus. But we don’t just wait, we make progress, we point others to the outreached hand of the Rescuer, we encourage those who are feeling overwhelmed by the weeds. The rescue has come, but don’t be surprised by the weeds. May you have a Merry Christmas, and a hope filled Advent no matter how weedy life gets.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.WordPress.com

December 20, 2017

It Wasn’t Time that He Lacked, but Thoroughness

Today we’re paying our second visit to Colin Sedgwick is a lifelong Baptist minister who writes at Welcome to Sedgonline. I wrestled long and hard over which of several to present here; I might even return one more before the month is over. Click the title below to read at source.

A big bad “But”…

In the twentieth year of King Jeroboam of Israel, Asa began to reign over Judah; he reigned for forty-one years in Jerusalem… Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord… But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was true to the Lord all his days. 1 Kings 15:9-14

Do you know Robert Louis Stevenson’s story Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? It’s about a man who, for reasons we needn’t bother with here, has two totally distinct personalities, one polite, courteous and essentially good, the other demonically evil.

Even people who have never read the book (or seen any of the films made of it) will know what you mean if you talk about someone with a “Jekyll and Hyde personality;” it’s a person who is an incompatible mixture of light and darkness, someone who is a walking civil war.

Well, the truth is that we are all a bit like that, even those of us who sincerely want to follow Jesus. Outwardly we are probably all sweetness and light; but inwardly… ah, that, sadly, is a different story.

King Asa of Judah reminds me of Jekyll and Hyde. If you read the short account of him in 1 Kings 15 your heart warms to him straight away. He started a vigorous reform in Judah to do away with false worship and false gods. He even stood against his own mother because of her idolatry. His heart, we are told, “was true to the Lord all his days”.

But go then to 2 Chronicles 14-16. Here you get a much longer account of King Asa – and one which shows him up in far less rosy terms. (This, by the way, highlights the importance of not just picking bits out of the Bible, as we were thinking last time: we need, in the case of Asa, both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles.)

Towards the end of his long reign it seems Asa badly lost his way. Instead of trusting whole-heartedly in God he makes an alliance with the pagan King Ben-hadad of Aram in order to gain victory in battle. When he is taken to task by the prophet Hanani he gets into a rage and “puts him in the stocks, in prison”.  Even worse, “Asa inflicted cruelties on some of the people” (2 Chronicles 16:10). A sorry story.

Probably the comparison with Jekyll and Hyde isn’t really accurate, for you get the impression that Asa was fundamentally good at heart, but as he grew older it all went wrong. I suspect that by the end of his life he was a tormented soul, still knowing deep down what was right and good, and still wanting to do it, but unable to maintain his earlier trust in God and God alone.

I think there may be a tiny but very significant clue to his tragedy in 1 Kings 15:14: the little word “but” – “But the high places were not taken away.” In spite of all the good things he did, something vital was missing.  The “high places” were sites dotted round Judah where people went to offer prayer and sacrifices. That may sound fine; but because they were not under the supervision of the God-appointed priests in Jerusalem they easily became places of false, corrupt worship; which is exactly what happened.

The question arises, “Why weren’t the high places taken away?” You might answer, “Well, there was lot to be done, and with the best will in the world Asa just never quite got round to it”. But wait a minute – Asa reigned for forty-one years! Did he really lack time?

I suspect that it wasn’t time that he lacked, but thoroughness. His heart was sound, all right; but, for whatever reason, he simply lacked the drive to carry through everything he knew he should.

And, I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

I’ve focused on Jekyll and Hyde. But perhaps the idea of an “Achilles’ heel” fits even better. Never mind the origin of this expression; what it means is “a weakness in spite of overall strength, which can lead to downfall” (to quote one dictionary).

I think that fits Asa almost perfectly. And the question is: Does it fit you and me too?

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen.

December 19, 2017

The Nature of “Gift” Concerning Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Communication between people in any language is difficult. Everyone interprets the written and spoken word according to his or her understanding and experiences. It is even more difficult to translate from one language to another. Many words have more than one meaning so the nuance of the original intention must be as carefully preserved as possible. Unfortunately, many translators have become interpreters. That is, they apply their understanding as ideas are processed from one language to the next. In the procedure many concepts may not maintain the thought that the original speaker had intended.

Consider the Greek word “charisma.” It was in common Greek usage before being adopted and understood in the English language. It is a noun having the idea of “personal charm or magnetism,” “the ability to influence without the use of logic,” or in Christian context alone, “extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit.” (English-Ancient Greek (to 1453) Dictionary) It is worth noting that “charisma” referred to an ability that a person had to influence another without logic but according to his or her personal charm or magnetism. Of course, common usage of charisma has the same meaning today.  Not all people have the same ability of persuasion; hence, it might be accepted that a person has been gifted with the ability to persuade others.

Biblical writers have also used “charisma” to convey understanding. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift (charisma) of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Rom 6:23 KJV) Translators have used “gift” for charisma to convey an idea. In staying with the Greek understanding the passage might have been written, ‘the influence of God without logic but according to his persuasion or personal attributes is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.’ Or, ‘through the extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit is eternal life through Jesus, our Lord.” That is, it is through the attributes of God, his ability to attract and persuade that through using his Son he provides eternal life.  The “persuasion” and “influence” of God comes through the Holy Spirit. ‘Charisma’ does not possess the idea of a gift or something that was handed over to be received other than the Holy Spirit. The word “charisma” is used today. We do not say that we give ‘charisma’ at Christmas.

When the wise men visited Christ at his birth, they brought “gifts.” The Greek for “gifts,” used in this case, was doron, which according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary means “a present; specially a sacrifice: –gift or offering.” (#1435) When Christ spoke of the fact that fathers give good gifts to their children, the Greek word doma was used, meaning gift or present. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” (1 Cor 12:1 NIV) The Greek does not include the word “gifts” but reads, “about [the] spiritual, I do not want you to be ignorant.” Young’s literal translation reads, “about spiritual things.” A few verses later he presents, “There are different kinds of gifts” In this case he uses charisma, but it can be translated as endowments or qualifications again referring to attributes.

Regardless of how “charisma” is represented, eternal life comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord; he is the source. The writer might have omitted “our Lord” in his writing but its presence is significant.  “Lord” means “supreme authority” or “master.” Although some might restrict “Lord” merely to a title of respect, it is more significant in its proclamation. The persuasive power of Christ as lord, master, and supreme authority is the means of eternal life. Such thinking contrasts with the idea that the ’package’ of eternal life has been handed over as in the presentation of a gift. The writer of Hebrews has confirmed that Christ is “the source of eternal salvation” for all who obey him. (Heb 5:9). The writer does not allow that the Lord’s crucifixion provided eternal salvation but that it comes through his life –Christ as Spirit, (2 Cor 3:17, 18; Col 1:27; Rom 5:9─10) — lived obediently through the believer. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “[F]rom the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13 NIV)

Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship (masterpiece NLT)…” (Eph 2:8─10 NIV) In this case “gift” is translated from the Greek doron  meaning a gift or present. This might be considered a summative statement. Since the ministry of Christ is the “source” of salvation, and because his incarnation, sacrifice and life were through provision by God alone, eternal salvation can be considered a gift, but this is so because the believer has become God’s masterpiece, conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) People cannot achieve their salvation by their own works or practices due to their evil natures; they cannot overcome their death sentence, nor can they transform themselves into becoming an acceptable offering. (Rom 15:16) The intervention of God through his provision is required. “Everything we need for life and godliness” has been provided (2 Pet 1:3), but not life and godliness. A proper response to God’s charisma is needed for the person who seeks God’s kingdom.


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

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

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