Christianity 201

March 5, 2020

Surpassing Righteousness in Spiritual Disciplines

by Clarke Dixon

People who pray are righteous, right? People who give to people in need are good people, correct? We will be considered righteous if people see us fasting, worshipping in church every Sunday, reading the Bible regularly, and practicing all the spiritual disciplines, correct? According to Jesus, not necessarily:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1 ESV

We have previously considered a deeper kind of righteousness, a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness Jesus saw in the scribes and Pharisees:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NIV

We do not reach this deeper righteousness by merely being meticulous about the rules, a skill the scribes and Pharisees excelled at, but through a transformation of our character.  It is not so much “do this, don’t do that,” but rather “become the kind of person who . . .” Previously, we looked at examples Jesus used for morality and love in Matthew 5:21-46, which we might summarize as; become the kind of person who does not harm others, gives their spouse and marriage their best effort, is honest and has integrity, handles offence with grace, and who extends grace and love to everyone. Whereas in these things Jesus was teaching about the kind of people we should become in our ethics, in Chapter 6 Jesus is now speaking to the kind of people we should become in our spiritual disciplines:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingc in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-6 NIV

Jesus is not giving us new rules here to get all legalistic about. We are not to be Christian versions of the scribes and Pharisees and so apply these rules in a legalistic manner. If we did there should be no more prayers during church services, and prayer meetings would all be cancelled. I think we would benefit from more prayer in worship, not less, more prayer meetings, not fewer! Instead, we are to become “the kind of people” who do spiritual and religious activities in a way that honours God. What is that way which honours God?

Jesus calls us to be a people who engage in spiritual disciplines for the right reasons. Drawing attention to ourselves is not the right reason and does not honour God! Jesus calls those who do this “hypocrites” which is a term for “actors” who put on masks in order to appear to be one thing while actually being another. Jesus is picking on the scribes and Pharisees here who were the prime examples of those who loved to flaunt their righteous activity in front of others to be seen and praised by them. Jesus calls us to have a righteousness that surpasses theirs. According to Jesus, their reward was the praise they received from others. They did not look forward to reward from God. In contrast, God rewards those whose religious activity is done in secret.

What about the idea of reward? Isn’t reward still the wrong reason to practice spiritual disciplines? For example, should we not give alms for the sake of people in need rather than for our own reward? Perhaps we don’t have the best idea of reward here. Our minds may jump to a final judgement-seat scenario when we hear the word “reward.” However, the idea here is more “wages” for your work, the consequence of your efforts. If our purpose in practicing spiritual disciplines is to receive praise from others, we will get that. If our is purpose is to draw closer to God and grow in character, that will happen. If our focus is on God, the practice of spiritual disciplines will be rewarding indeed and we will be happy to practice them quietly without drawing attention to ourselves. Others may not be impressed, but will benefit.

In conclusion, let’s not be that guy; the person who has a need to appear religious, spiritual, righteous, or better than everyone else. That person is like the scribes and Pharisees who often put on a good show. We are to be a people who practice a better kind of righteousness in our spiritual disciplines. The spiritual life in Christ is not a show, it is an opportunity to grow in Christ and become a difference maker in the world.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

March 4, 2020

Altars Powerfully Mark the Movements of God

Today we’re back once again highlighting Seedbed, and an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt. This one falls in the middle of a series title, “People who Say Such Things,” and I can’t encourage you strongly enough to click through and read several of these. You might even want to subscribe!  Click the title below to read this at source.

People Who Say Such Things: Show Us How to Build an Altar

Genesis 32:22-28 (NIV)

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

CONSIDER THIS

When is the last time you built an altar?

We will say goodbye to Jacob today but not before he completes the God cycle. What is the God cycle? Thanks for asking. It is the movement from promise to struggle to blessing to worship.  Remember, it was at Bethel where God first revealed himself to Jacob through a dream. As Jacob ran from the consequences of his broken life, God met him in a dream, revealing to him the Covenant Promise given Abraham and Isaac would also determine his destiny.

Yay God! Right? Yes, . . . but. Perhaps the biggest lesson of the Bible so far is how the promises of God necessarily mean struggle. Something in us wants to believe the presence and promises of God mean an easier path. It does not. God’s promises mean an infinitely and eternally better life, but they almost guarantee a harder path. The way of the Cross is the way of blessing and yet struggle.

After the promising dream in Bethel, the next twenty years delivered the struggle for Rachel, the struggle of Leah, the onerous yoke of Laban, and more than a dozen children who would define the legacy—and all of this under the impending cloud of doom from an angry older brother bent on revenge.

Remember, through it all . . . God. Promise. Struggle. Blessing. God blessed Jacob. God prospered Jacob. God favored Jacob. God delivered Jacob. Following the miraculous change of heart of older brother, Esau, and the happy reunion on the far side of the River Jabok, God instructed Jacob to complete the cycle. The time had come to worship.

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

Promise. Struggle. Blessing. Worship. Certainly we worship our way through it all and yet there is something to be said for building a new altar from time to time to mark significant God moments and faith milestones. They call for something more than the usual.

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

People who say such things show us what building an altar requires. First, it’s a community affair: “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him.” Second, it means a personal and community call to repentance: “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you.” Third, it means a call to a renewed heart level consecration to God: “Purify yourselves.” Fourth, it calls for an outward sign of the inward reality: “Change your clothes.” Finally, it means sharing the testimony that it might become the shared witness of all: “Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Altars powerfully mark the movements of God while extending them forward for all who will kneel. So let me ask you again, when is the last time you built an altar? It’s been too long for me. I see one coming on the horizon. You too?

 THE PRAYER

Father, I want to be a person who says such things. Help me become this kind of person in my deep heart and this kind of leader in my relationships with others. You don’t so much need this from me as you want it for me. Guide me in the who, what, where, when and how of building an altar to mark your movement in my life, to complete the cycle of promise, struggle, and blessing with worship. Come Holy Spirit, and train me be such a person of faith. I pray in Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

So when is the last time you built an altar? What was that like? How did it go? What might the altar on the horizon look like in your life, family, church, community?


Get J. D. Walt’s latest book, THE FIRST REAL CHRISTIAN, or his new church-wide Lenten Study, LISTEN TO HIM. Subscribe to get devotionals like this in your email inbox here.

February 17, 2020

When Did Judas Go (Really) Bad?

He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
(John 12:6)

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
(John 13:27)

Judas is an interesting character, to say the very least. Like the thief on the cross, he is one of a number of exceptions to the rule, and many speculate as to what might have been if his betrayal had worked out like Peter’s denial and he had been restored. One writer suggests:

I do think that Judas was one of the very few in the Bible who did not have a free will, and was destined to betray Jesus actually from before the foundation of the world.

Another writes,

To summarize, be careful where you place Judas. He did the will of the Father and fulfilled the Scriptures. Peter, who we all love, tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion and was called “Satan” by our Lord. Peter, who was not mindful of the will of God, was restored. Was it not Jesus who said, “”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Be careful about placing Jesus’s brother, Judas, in Christendom’s “hell.” One day you may have to look up to Judas, instead of looking down on him. Peter denied him three times in one night while Judas declared Jesus innocent in front of the High Priesthood. Judas had a very important job in the Kingdom of God. For three and one half years, as a Priest he inspected the Lamb of God as an unbiased man. He was not “one of them” a Galilean. He was the outsider. He did his job perfectly. If Judas really wanted to mess things up, he could have agreed with the High Priesthood and called Him a “blasphemer” who claimed to be the Son of God when He really wasn’t. But Judas declared the Lamb spotless and unblemished*, the Perfect Passover.

*“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:4a)

Where I wanted us to look today however is when did Judas go bad? The second of our opening verses suggests a particular time when “Satan entered into him.” It’s interesting that there is absolutely no variance on this phrase in any English Bible translations, though the AMP adds, “and took possession.”

The first verse however shows him to be embezzling money from the funds used to support Jesus and The Twelve in their ministry. (We know that many of the contributors and supporters were women, along with men.)

So if we look at a continuum of Jesus ministry, with one end beginning with the calling of the disciples, the scripture reading in the temple, and the turning of water into wine; and the other end consisting of the Passover meal, the arrest and betrayal; we see some rather bad behavior on Judas’ part long before Satan ‘entered’ him. There is evidence of something wrong before we would place an “X” on that continuum to mark what happened in the upper room.

Question: If it was found that the treasurer of your church was helping himself to money from the offerings or church bank account, would you necessarily say that Satan had entered into him?

Judas’ petty thievery is used to show that he was bad from the beginning, and is used to justify the position that he was never fully committed to Christ, but the scripture indicates that something especially significant happened as he exited that Passover meal to carry out his plan.

Again, it’s pointed out that:

[Acts 1] affirms that Judas was one of theirs in number and fellowship with ministration.* In other words, Judas worked cooperatively and in concert with the other disciples. There is no mention of his not being a good and faithful member of the group.

*v. 17 “…he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.

I John 2:19 paints a broader picture of people who ‘share in the ministry’ but then do not continue in the faith:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

The Reformation Study Bible says of this:

Paul too warns against false teachers who will arise from among the believers (Acts 20:29–31). As in the case of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24), visible membership in the church does not guarantee salvation. Inward apathy or hostility to the gospel may be masked by outward conformity. The false teachers revealed their hostility not just by leaving, but by the way they left. Because they went out to oppose the word of the gospel, their departure was as much a renunciation of the church and its message as was Judas’s departure from the Last Supper (John 13:30).

Some say this is also a picture of the Antichrist.

What is the point of studying Judas in such detail and what can we learn? This is just my opinion, but I believe that even though the Biblical picture is of a more dramatic turn taking place during that Last Supper meal, the events in Judas’ life compounded, one on top of the other.

Another commentator puts it this way:

Somewhere in Judas’ life, he took an evil turn that eventually resulted in rejection of Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and eventual suicide. One bad attitude toward Jesus led to another, and a pattern of rejection and bitterness must have led to the ultimate rejection of Jesus.

and later writes,

Judas confessed his sin without repentance. There was no radical change in his mind that resulted in a change from spiritual death to spiritual life through faith in Jesus Christ. True repentance would have turned him to Jesus for forgiveness.

Does any of this resonate with you because of a person or situation you know? Let’s end with some encouragement from Galatians 6: 1

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.


I want to again acknowledge Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, for getting me thinking about this topic.


Go Deeper: Here’s The Message translation of I John 5:16-17 to get you thinking further along this topic. Use online Bible resources to help unpack this passage:

16-17 For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that. Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.

Go Deeper Still: Some of today’s passages bear on issues dealing with free will and predestination, as well as the eternal security of the believer (perseverance of the saints). The verse in I John often is used to support the semantic idea that such people were “never saved in the first place.” How do you see that verse fitting in?

February 8, 2020

Because You Probably Won’t Be Fed By Ravens…

There is one verse of scripture that I wish had been deeply ingrained in me before we moved to our present community nearly 35 years ago. The verse is Proverbs 24:27

Do your planning and prepare your fields
before building your house. NLT

Don’t build your house and establish a home until your fields are ready, and you are sure that you can earn a living. GNT
The Voice Bible extrapolates another aspect of this principle:
Complete your work outside, and get your fields ready for next season; after that’s done, build your house.
We made our move “on faith” with some of the building blocks in place for a plan of what we were going to do, but not all the foundation clearly laid.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to interact with people who are in their junior or senior year of college. The first question is always, “What are you studying?” or “What is your major?” The second question is always, “What are you planning for after graduation?” The results are often similar:
Where they want to live Mostly certain
Who they want to marry Somewhat certain
What they plan to work at Mostly uncertain

Mostly without exception there is great hope and faith that the job is going to simply appear. That’s just not always the case.

A few years ago, I was in a discussion with someone about the differences between the Protestant (Exodus 20) Ten Commandments and the version taught in the Roman Catholic Catechism which drops the second (statuary; graven images) and splits the last (coveting) into to separate entities.

The point was made that you can make an argument for fourteen commandments. Certainly one of the extra ones that they are counting, in verse 9, is what the KJV renders as:

Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work

Granted, many translations render this as ‘you have six days to work’ but it’s easy to see it as what God considers the normative lifestyle if not a direct commandment.

The point is that the Bible writers teach a philosophy of work, a work ethic for the follower of God. Colossians 3:23-25 teaches us that all work needs to be seen as work as unto the Lord.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Another translation says to “work heartily” (ESV).

Ephesians 6:7-8 reiterates this:

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

A verse in 2 Thessalonians (3:10) is more hardline however:

If a man will not work, he shall not eat.

Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of CapitalismSociologist Max Weber wrote the book pictured at right in 1904 which looked at two different approaches to work, especially highlighting the Puritan or Calvinist ethic. Wikipedia notes the nuances of this:

It is common for those in a Protestant work culture to skip lunch (traditionally being sustained from a large breakfast) or to eat lunch while doing their job. This is in contrast to Catholic cultures which practice siesta at lunch time, and neo-Confucianist cultures such as China, Korea and Japan which have a one- or two-hour lunch break.

Without debating the philosophy of lunch breaks, it’s clear that for Weber, the work ethic foundation to a capitalist society was based in an interpretation of scripture.

…Well, we’ve digressed a long way from where we started. My point today is that we remember that before we can build our houses (both figuratively or even literally) we have to know where our next dollar (or pound, or peso, or rand) is coming from. We can’t put the cart before the horse and make a move, commit to someone in marriage, or buy a house without knowing how we are going to pay for the necessities of life.

Yes, there are times people strike out in faith. The Psalmist said he had “never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25) and in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that if we “seek first the Kingdom of God” all these things [in context: food and clothing] would be given us. And yes, Elijah was fed by ravens.

However, most of us will not be fed by ravens.

Whether you want to see it as a consequence (or curse) of the fall of man, or as a blessing that we get to co-partner with God in subduing the earth, the general principle of scripture is that we are to work in order to have food, shelter, medicine, security, clothing and transportation.

 

January 7, 2020

As Jesus Grew, His Purpose Became Increasingly Clearer

Last year at this time we introduced you to the writing of various authors at The Jagged Word. This article caught my eye when I saw the original title (below, click to link) and thought it would be a good fit here. The author of this piece is Cindy Koch.

What Jesus Did Not Know

He heard it a million times from his mom; son of God, born of a virgin. When he was younger, he did not really know what all those words meant. Everyone was nice to him and he had a special place when they went to temple. He remembered the old men looking at him with tears in their eyes, and the widows would touch his little shoulder when he walked by. They told him that he was born of the Spirit, and there was much he would do in his lifetime. When he was little, he tried to imagine what it was he would get to do.

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40).

He read it a million times in the Scriptures. It is written, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:6-8). “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6-7). His wisdom about the deep things of God were remembered from the beginning of all time. The Word he once spoke from creation and now heard through the prophets kept his heart and mind focused on the will of the Father in Heaven.

He wondered a million things as he grew up in the fear of the Lord. He was Son of the most-high, why did he ache with sadness? He was able to heal and give sight to the blind, would there ever be an end to this need for restoration? He spoke with the authority of the everlasting Word of God, why can people not recognize his voice? His purpose in life was to lead God’s beloved creation through repentance to everlasting salvation, why do they refuse to listen?

Jesus must have expected more out of this creation. The wise and holy son of God learned to be incredibly disappointed. Fulfillment and meaning lay right in front of the servants of God, and they turned away from young Jesus. Healing and wisdom called directly into the ears of the chosen people, and they raged against his holy name. Day by day, Jesus grew in the wisdom and understanding of what it looked like to be the Christ, the Son of God. Day by day he understood what it must take to save such an undeserving hoard of unbelievers.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented (Matthew 3:13-15).

He began to know what he must do. His righteousness, his wisdom, his healing, his sonship, it was for them. It was to be given to this wicked and unloving generation. Even the repentance they failed to do, right now at John’s passionate call, it was the responsibility of this righteous Son. Jesus began to understand his long-promised kingdom in reference to those who would reside within the gates. Here in the Jordan, Jesus was coronated in the gritty black mud of his unmerited repentance.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Jesus seemed to know this from the beginning. He was the Son with whom God was well pleased. He was sent to do the work of the Father, and he would do it well. But the pleasing work of the Father looked a little darker than Jesus might have imagined. The repentance of the world felt thick and heavy stepping out of the water that day.

The worst of it was, finally, looking around at the people whom he came to save. They had no idea. The adulterous, guilty generation blindly believed their own baptism of repentance was enough. They wanted to fulfill the Law and do it right, but John’s washing with water only highlighted their sin. So, they left the water, trying to sacrifice and clean up their life to please the Father in Heaven. They were made alive in their sin, only to find out they were already dead. Yet, if they trusted in their repentance and their reconciliation, these poor miserable sinners unknowingly heaped sin upon sin; trusting in the Law to bring life, trusting in themselves to follow the Law.

Unbelief, misunderstanding, selfishness, unrighteousness, these were the brothers and sisters Jesus discovered in the Jordan. Pain, sorrow, disgust, separation, these were the riches Jesus learned to inherit on this earth. His journey of deep wisdom and pure understanding ultimately exposed the bowels of a rotting humanity. And while we were still sinners, Jesus died for the ungodly.

“This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

January 5, 2020

Spiritual Vulnerability May Follow Spiritual Triumph

NIV.Gen.9.20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

There are some Bible passages we’d rather just ignore. For me, this is one of them. However, Bible teacher Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer has done an excellent job of dealing with this passage at her blog Grace and Peace. (Learn more about her personal story at this about page.) Click the title below to read this at source.

His Nakedness Uncovered

I think of Noah as a fine man who was not vigilant and slipped, spiritually.

After all, reading his story reminds me of when my own excesses may have presented temptation to those close to me, and caused anguish in the lives of the people I love. Anyone can sin, even someone who had been righteous and blameless among the people of his time, and who walked with God, as Noah was described.

He had experienced great spiritual summits. He had come through the Great Flood as only one of eight survivors. God had rested upon his shoulders the weight of the ark, and of the animals, and of his family. He had preached for a hundred years with not one single convert, yet he had faithfully pressed on, obedient to God’s commands from first to last.

Now, in the new world, his family growing and spreading as the new humanity, their fields and flocks thriving, their orchards and vineyards established, their lives enriched, Noah was right with God and right with the world. That’s often a time when a person will let down their guard.

What began as a perfectly worthy work, growing a vineyard, degenerated into a complete dishonoring of his body, made in the image of God. That’s a great metaphor for how sin insinuates itself into our souls. It can gradually grow as you and I make one small seemingly unimportant choice after another, getting closer and closer to the edge of okay, slipping like wisps of mist into the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong, until one day we step over another line, the true line that separates us from evil, and it wasn’t a very big step, actually. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal. But it was.

  • Maybe this was a spiritual fall after a spiritual victory.
  • Maybe Noah allowed the pressures of life to get to him, not remembering to call upon the name of the Lord, as his ancestor Seth had done.
  • Maybe this was just one more step of many steps, wandering ever closer to no return.

Many people of faith today have decided to express their faith in Christ by living a life that is free from controlled substances such as alcohol in a world that is given over to the indulgence of appetites to the point of addiction. The apostle Paul talked about the value of refraining from those things that might trouble other people or open the door to temptation or worse for them, writing: “It is best not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that causes problems for other followers of the Lord.

In another letter, Paul urged believers to be mindful and intentional about every aspect of their lives, writing, “When you eat or drink or do anything else, always do it to honor God.”

What exactly Noah’s son did to him is not clear. Some Bible scholars link this episode with Leviticus 18, where the phrase, “to see the nakedness” of an individual is a euphemism for a sexual act, suggesting this involved some sort of incestuous activity on Ham’s part. (Some scholars suggest it might even have involved Ham’s mother, Noah’s wife.)

Even if no sexual act took place, there is a sexual connotation to the way Ham took in his father’s exposed condition. Whether or not there was outright coitus, some form of sexual perversion seems to have been present at the very least in Ham’s lustful thoughts, as the son leered at his father’s naked form.

Remember the conditions that existed before the Great Flood: widespread sexual perversion. Jude[1] referred to a series of unnatural acts, connecting antediluvian society with the unnatural sexual deviance of Sodom and Gomorrah. Shem, Ham, and Japheth had grown up in this kind of an atmosphere, even though Noah and his family were an island of righteousness in a sea of corruption.

All the more reason for you and I to be vigilant about the ways our culture influences us, and the people God has placed in our care. It’s not so much this TV show or that video game, this website or that party, this politician or that policy. It’s the sum total, the message the culture sends in all kinds of ways, every day, that shapes what the next generation is going to think is good, bad and just plain fun.

Somehow, Ham did not recognize the degenerate nature of his thoughts (or perhaps even acts), for he seems to have taken lewd delight in talking about it with his brothers. That gave me real pause. How will what I am about to say about someone influence my listener’s impression of the person I am talking about? Have I ever found myself relishing someone else’s downfall, particularly someone whose authority I felt was misused in some way? Did it make such delicious news I just couldn’t wait to tell somebody about it? (The answer is yes. I am ashamed to admit it.)

Shem and Japheth wanted to have nothing to do with it. They did not even respond to their brother’s salacious suggestiveness. Instead, their love for their father covered over this “multitude of sins.” They literally covered their father with a blanket, turning their heads away as they did so, refusing to look at his shame. They honored their father, and the stamp of God’s image in him.


[1] Note Jude’s use of the phrases “likewise” and “in the same way” to link the Nephilim culture, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the culture of his own day all together, as all one kind of people, all destined for the same destruction.


January 3, 2020

Praying for Political Leaders

One of the things I liked about this article is that in these politically charged times in the U.S., other than the title below (which is the only thing I amended) this article applies to all of you reading this worldwide, whether you have a Prime Minister, a President, or a King. It should also also be considered to apply to all levels of government, not just federal. (I like how some denominations’ prayer books encourage people to pray not only for the head of federal government, but also state Governors or provincial Premiers in Canada.)

This from the site, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges, which has been a great source of excellent articles for us and I hope you’ve taken an opportunity to visit the page and read more. Please click the link below to read this one at source. It’s also partially an excerpt from one of his books which is pictured below and linked at the end of the article.

3 Reasons God Wants You to Pray for Government Leaders

How do national, state, and local leaders bear up under the enormous pressures they face every day? How does the President of the United States continue to perform his appointed tasks, as best as he is able, without being crippled by weariness? How do our government leaders maintain composure when they become dartboards for honest critics as well as false accusers? One answer is found in our ministry of prayer. When we commit to praying for our leaders (whether or not we like them or agree with them), God is pleased with our obedience and is pleased to work in hearts according to His will.

In relation to this divinely given duty, one passage in particular contains fundamental principles every believer needs to understand: First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1–4). In these verses, we hear the apostle’s plea to us to be obedient to God by praying for our leaders.

The Priority

Paul begins his exhortation with a phrase that calls attention to the primacy of prayer in the life of the believer and the local church. “First of all” is a plea to keep first things first. It is an appeal not only to individual Christians, but, since the book was originally written to instruct Timothy concerning local church life (3:15), it is a call to churches and their members to place utmost importance on prayer. As a pastor, Timothy needed to guard against prayer being abandoned by members of his flock or subtly replaced by self-reliance.

The Plea

I urge” is a strong plea carrying the meaning of “coming alongside in order to exhort.” The same word is used in Romans 12:1: “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Even though Paul possessed apostolic authority to command Timothy, he chose instead to make a strong appeal to him to recognize the irreplaceable priority of prayer. Paul used four different words to paint a balanced picture of prayer. “Entreaties” refers to prayers prompted by the awareness of needs. “Prayers” is a general term referring to approaching God with reverence. “Petitions” are compassionate prayers generated from empathy with others. “Thanksgivings” are specific praises to God for the works that he has done. The apostolic appeal is general at first and then gets specific. With these words, Paul provides a sampling of prayers that should be made on behalf of “all men,” but especiallyfor kings and all who are in authority” (vv. 1–2).

The Purpose

“[S]o that” is a clear statement of purpose, which reveals 3 reasons God commands us to pray for our government leaders.

  • REASON #1 – Pray for our leaders so that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” This refers to an external as well as an inner peace. How does praying for our leaders promote peace? Praying for God to give our leaders wisdom in world affairs may promote peaceful living, as will praying for the writing of good laws which honor biblical principles. According to Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” If we really believe this truth then we will get down on our knees in order to lift our government leaders before God in prayer.
  • REASON #2 – Pray for our government leaders because it is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” It pleases God. It’s that simple. Matthew 6:33 calls us to this motive for life: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.” When we have this overarching philosophy of life, all peripheral matters fall into their proper place in their proper time. “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). One clear way to please God and set our mind on things above is by faithfully praying for our government leaders.
  • REASON #3 Pray for our government leaders because God “desires all men to be saved.” Conversion takes place when sinners “come to the knowledge of the truth.” Therefore, we must pray for the souls of our civil leaders, that they will come to know Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We should pray for the Holy Spirit’s convicting work (John 16:8), for faithful witnesses to be heard (Rom. 10:14), and for the faith-giving power of the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).

Our government leaders need us; they need us to pray for them with all diligence. This obedient habit pleases God, but is also a powerful means to making a difference for the sake of righteousness in our world and for the sake of the gospel for all eternity.

[Adapted from my book, Pray About Everything. Also available for Kindle.]

 

January 2, 2020

2019 Bible Verse of the Year

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

With 35 billion chapters of the Bible read using their Bible apps in 2019, the people who bring us YouVersion have some impressive statistics to back up their announcement of the “verse of the year.” It is the most looked up, most highlighted, and most shared verse in the YouVersion community. So what is it?

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

This speaks to the fear and anxiety in today’s society, and since the app is used across the globe, the anxieties felt around the world. This verse was written by someone who had great reason for anxiety and worry, for people who had great reason for anxiety and worry. It is in a letter written by the apostle Paul from prison, always a place of uncertainty in that time and place, to the Christians in Philippi who were facing persecution. So what does Paul say? Let’s consider what the Bible says about worry here, beginning with verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

We rejoice, even though we may feel scared, mad, or sad. That might seem like an impossible thing to do, since we cannot normally choose our emotions. However, “rejoice” here is an imperative verb, it is an action rather than a feeling. According to Greek experts it is the activity of being glad or taking delight. It is possible to feel sad, and be glad at the same time. Paul is not contradicting himself when he says “we are saddened, but we rejoice” in 2nd Corinthians 6:10.

To give an example, I might be sorrowful that we are now in a Canadian winter and I cannot ride a motorcycle. But at the same time I can be glad that I have enjoyed motorcycling every year since 1991, and look forward to another season of riding in the spring. For another example, I am unhappy about my Mum having Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling distraught that she is now living in a nursing home. However, I am glad she is safe, and with our shared hope in Christ, I take delight in the fact that her best days are still ahead. My emotions have not changed, I am still feeling the emotions brought by grief, but I can focus my mind on things to take delight in. I don’t try to change my emotions from feeling sad to happy, but rather refocus my mind, engaging in the activity of rejoicing even while unhappy.

This is part of what happens in worship and praise at church gatherings. Whatever our emotions resulting from a difficult week, or a difficult season of life, in worship we focus on the big picture, the reality that is ours in God. There can be awful stuff happening in our lives which will result in negative emotions, but in worship all the awful stuff takes the background. The reality of God takes the forefront of our hearts and minds. We cannot change our emotions, but we can change our focus. We are told to “Rejoice in the Lord!” We focus on God. We focus on the big picture God paints for us which takes the focus off the limited perspective of our own field of vision.

Next:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

We keep our cool, even though we may be mad enough to blow our tops. If our emotions take the forefront, then our relationships will be affected. When we allow the worries of life to take the foreground of our hearts and minds, we can easily hurt others. We can “kick the dog” so to speak. The Greek word for ‘gentleness’ has the idea of fitting, appropriate, or fair. Our response to the troubles of life can make our family and friends suffer unfairly, not to mention the poor dog. It is much better when we relate to people with the reality of God in the foreground. We relate to people, not as wounded people flailing away with swords, but as healed and healing people, experiencing grace and love from God, seeking grace and love in the lives of others.

And now for the verse of the year:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

We can pray, even though worry seems like the best, or only, thing to do. When we rejoice, we put the big picture in the forefront. In prayer, we have the opportunity to get our concerns and frustrations back to the forefront. Our frustrations and concerns are important, so should not merely be hidden away as if they do no matter. However, we do not put them forward so they can consume us. We focus on them in order to name them and hand them over to God. What is the result?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NRSV)

We may be uncertain about many things, but in Christ we can be certain God is our Heavenly Father who works out all things together for good (see Romans 8:28). One very literal translation puts it this way: “The peace of God, the one surpassing in value all reasoning, will watch over your inner selves and your thoughts” (from Scripture Direct Interlinear Greek Bible). While many understand this verse to mean something like “the peace of God is beyond understanding,” another possibility is; “having the peace of God is better than having understanding.” In other words, it is better to experience the peace of God, than have everything figured out. That is often our trouble, we want to have everything figured out, we worry and fret when we don’t. We don’t need it all figured out! Give it to God, Who already has it all figured out, Who has the power to do something about it, Who has the love to do something good about it, even if we can’t see it or understand it. Once we have given our concerns over to God, we can then refocus the mind again:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)

We have something far greater than knowing every detail of the future, and the ability to control that future. We have a relationship with the One who holds the future. Instead of worrying, let us go to God, rejoicing in our reality in Christ, relating to others with that reality in mind, giving our concerns over to God, then refocusing on all that is good. Whatever emotions you may experience in 2020, may you know peace, especially the peace of God.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in Cobourg, Ontario about an hour east of Toronto. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

November 14, 2019

Being a Go-to Person When Someone Needs to Talk About God

(This devotional is from a series on The Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” The series begins here)

by Clarke Dixon

Will you and I come to mind as a go-to person when someone feels the need to talk about God? We Canadians are always talking hockey and weather. We don’t tend to talk religion. It is far too personal and private a topic for reserved and apologetic Canadians. However, sometimes people hit a wall, there is a crisis point, and they feel a great need to have a spiritual conversation, a conversation about the most important things in life, like God. When they do, will we come to mind?

Daniel was a go-to person when a crisis hit the king of Babylon in Daniel, chapter 5. Twenty-three years or so have passed since we last heard from Daniel in chapter four. He had a good relationship with King Nebuchadnezzar at that point. However, there was a new king, and Daniel seemed to have been forgotten. One day the king threw a big party and, in a scene reminiscent of a horror movie, a hand appeared, the hand wrote a message on the wall, and the king was terrified:

9 Then King Belshazzar became greatly terrified and his face turned pale, and his lords were perplexed.
10 The queen, when she heard the discussion of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall. The queen said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts terrify you or your face grow pale. 11 There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.” Daniel 5:9-12 (NRSV)

Daniel was remembered. The queen, or perhaps the “queen mum,” for we don’t really know her identity, knew that Daniel could help, that he was the best go-to person in this crisis. Will you and I come to mind as a go-to person when someone wants to talk about God and spirituality? There are some reasons Daniel came to mind as the go-to guy. We can ask if those same reasons are found in us.

❶ First, The queen mum spoke of Daniel as having “a spirit of the holy gods.” Daniel had a divine spark. Being a Babylonian, the queen mum probably does not have a good knowledge of the Holy Spirit here, but she does recognize a divine spark in Daniel. Do people see a divine spark in us? Is there evidence that we rub shoulders with the divine? The Bible tells us what the evidence would be:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

If we are growing in our relationship with God, if our lives are increasingly marked by the fruit of the Spirit, we will have a divine spark. People may therefore seek us out when they feel the need to talk about God and spirituality. They will know that our spirituality is genuine. If we are lacking the “fruit of the Spirit,” we may come across as hypocrites. No one will want to talk with us, for we obviously don’t know what we are talking about.

❷ Second, Daniel was “found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. . . an excellent spirit, knowledge.” To give a summary, Daniel was a man of great depth. There was excellence in all he knew and said. Are we known as people of great depth in all we know and say?

The internet can be a very shallow pool of ignorance. Yes, the internet can offer us a wonderful way to connect with people and resources. However, it would seem that many people build their knowledge base, including their thoughts on religion, not on the vast resources available, but on memes and sound bites. There is a lack of depth. Are we as Christians diving deep?

Let us consider one example where diving deep would be helpful. Imagine a scene where a teenager, an occasional attendee at church, but a regular attendee of a school in the public system, asks how she should reconcile creation, as taught in church, with evolution, as taught in school. A well meaning Christian might use the cliché, “the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Unfortunately, that does settle it. The young person will not seek out that Christian for a spiritual conversation in the future, for while there is great conviction, there is evidently not much thought.

When people are thinking things through, they want thinking people to help them. Consider an alternative response: “Some Christians handle science and the creation account this way, others handle it that way, as for me, here is the solution I find convincing and this is why . . . ” There is evidence of depth in that kind of response, even if the speaker has the same position as the one who used the cliché. There is knowledge and understanding. There is thought. Are we demonstrating depth when people ask about evolution, racism, mental health, perspectives on LGBTQ+, and all manner of things that are important to them? To demonstrate depth on such matters, we need to dive deep ourselves. Do we have excellence in our knowledge, or do we latch onto the first thing that sounds right to our Christian ears and stop digging?

Being human, we feel the need to always be right. People don’t seek out people for spiritual conversations who are known to have the need to always be right. But people will seek out people who are known to be always deep, even if they are sometimes wrong.

❸ Third, “understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel.” Daniel was helpful. He solved problems. Are we helpful? Do we help people, and society, solve problems? If we are hurtful in our relationships, don’t expect to come to anyone’s mind when they feel the need for a spiritual conversation. But if you are helpful, don’t be surprised if someone seeks you out when they need help! If we are Christ-like in our relationships, people will seek us out.

How did Daniel become a go-to person? Daniel had a divine spark, great depth, and was helpful. These things because true of Daniel through a good relationship with both God and the former king, Nebuchadnezzar. Is our relationship with God and with others such that we have a divine spark, are deep, and are helpful? Will we will come to mind when someone feels the need to talk about God?

 

November 12, 2019

Anyone. Come After. Deny Themselves. Follow.

Do you know the 666 verse?

No, not that 666; today we’re looking at John 6:66 which says,

NIV • John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

A popular title eight years ago was Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. Although we were quite familiar with his work before this, it was his breakout book, and I reviewed it here as well as reviewing the video curriculum.

The premise of the title is that Jesus had many fans, but few followers; and the verse in John describes a time when Jesus introducing what is sometimes called the “hard sayings” and after that, it seems as though he is culling the herd, deliberately emphasizing the cost of following over the benefits.

The Message • John 6:60 Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”

61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”

66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

I got thinking about this when I received a notification that I had six new followers on Twitter. Because I have three fairly active blogs and had an association with a major Christian news magazine for nearly two years, I never thought my Twitter following would be so anemic.

So let’s say I’m gaining about five new people a day, shouldn’t I be growing at the rate of 150 per month?

Not at all. Someone explained to me that these people are clicking in hoping I will reciprocate and follow them. When I don’t, they un-follow, and there are no notifications for that. They disappear quietly. The point is, I don’t have a lot of time; I don’t carry a smart phone with me all day, and I prefer to follow a rather select list of authors and organizations, plus a few anonymous accounts to lighten the day. (I did pick one from among that recent crop of six.)

In other words, they were following me hoping I would follow them.

It’s the same in John 6. The timeline in John is a little different; if this were in Matthew, the chronology would put it around chapter 15. So this is well into the ministry life of Jesus.

It’s the same today. People are looking to Jesus to see what they can get, not what they can give. They will follow his agenda if he will fit into theirs. Like my Twitter account, many of our churches have many people arriving by the front doors, but we fail to notice those who are leaving by the back doors.

In Twitter-speak, what Idleman calls fans, I would call short-term followers. Jesus is looking for long-term followers. His book — the entire book — is based on Luke 9:23

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

We’ll end today with how I condensed Kyle Idleman’s breakdown of what that means:

Luke 9-23

October 21, 2019

Nehemiah’s Dual Choirs: Best Worship Ever

Largest Choir Ever

While I owe much of my spiritual nurture to Contemporary Christian Music, I also can be awestruck by a choir. Some choir music is characterized by powerful high energy, and other types are characterized by the beauty of rich harmony.

You may not — especially if you’re a guy — get excited about the sung worship time at your church, but music and the capital-C Church are inseparable. Christianity is a singing faith; something that traces back to our Jewish origins.

A few years back, I heard a sermon on Nehemiah 12, as the nation celebrates the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall:

27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.

31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right

38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction…

40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials,

42b … The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

I would love to have heard the sound of these dual choirs performing opposite each other. This was long before the combined choir music sung in European cathedrals, and I must add long before HD sound, SurroundSound, or even Quadraphonic Stereo. I’m sure people went back to their homes saying, ‘Best. Worship. Ever.’

I know it can’t compare to the heavenly worship described in the book of Revelation, in which we will all some day participate, but it must have ranked among the most amazing sounds ever heard on earth.

I think it’s interesting that verse 47 tells us that the musicians were set apart for this purpose. If some or all of their material needs were supplied it could mean that they did not need other employment, or were at the very least bi-vocational. There was no doubt a certain level of technical competence among those chosen for this particular task. I have dabbled in music all my life, and at times earned income doing so, but I still wonder if would make it into Zerubbabel’s band or Nehemiah’s vocal team. I’m not saying they had auditions, but I think only the best made the cut to serve in this particular way.

How do we recreate the same type of musical moment? The challenge today for us is to similarly find ways to raise “the song of the Lord” in the marketplace, but sometimes the public square is not available — literally or figuratively — for the church to rent.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our lyres, hanging them on the branches of the willow trees. For there our captors demanded a song of us. Our tormentors requested a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

Psalm 137: 1-4 NLT

This psalm provides us some info we don’t get from other histories in scripture, and the people of God were being asked to sing, when their captivity made it hard to form a song on the lips.

We aren’t in captivity right now as much as we are moving toward a period of cultural and political exile. Christianity doesn’t have the pull that it once had. But our challenge is similar: How do raise the Lord’s song in an increasingly hostile environment?


Photo:At least in terms of size, the choir pictured above is taken from a YouTube video frame posted by the Guinness Book of Records on October 15th, 2015 of the largest gospel choir consisting of 8688 participants of the Members Church of God International (Philippines) at the Araneta Coliseum, Manila, Philippines just days earlier. Click the image to watch the video.

October 20, 2019

God’s Signature Performance: The Desert Leads to the Promised Land

Six months ago we introduced a blog which is new to us, Just Thinkin’. The site uses several different writers, this piece is by Andrew Knight. As always, click the header below to read the complete article at source and then look around, there are some great articles waiting for you.

Seeing Is Doubting

They say “seeing is believing,” but sometimes seeing is doubting.

The craft of the illusionist is based on this idea. The illusionist tells us he is about to do something amazing (“Watch as I cut my assistant in half!”), and our mind immediately jumps to all the reasons why this is not possible. (“Didn’t he do this show last night? I’m pretty sure that’s the same girl.”) But then we watch in amazement as he takes a “real” saw, places it in the box, cuts her in half, and then separates her lower half (legs kicking) from her upper half (smiling and waving) to a cheering audience. We wonder, “How did he do that?” Our amazement has less to do with the bisected anomaly and more to do with how he made an obviously fake trick look so real.

In a similar way, even though God doesn’t play tricks on us the way illusionists do, he does put us in the midst of circumstances that can be just as confusing (and not nearly as entertaining).

Take the Israelites, for instance. In Exodus 16, they find themselves smack dab in the middle of a desolate, sun-baked landscape where all they can see is starvation, dehydration and imminent death.

But looks can be deceiving. What the Israelites thought was a death sentence was actually a training camp.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
— Deuteronomy 8:3

Did you catch that? God let them hunger. He did so in order to turn their attention to the only one who could truly satisfy them — something mere bread could never do.

But, in the moment, the Israelites couldn’t see this. They were thirsty. And their thirst caused them to doubt God, even after all they had experienced, simply because of the reality of their present situation.

Seeing really can be doubting. But it doesn’t have to be.

Perspective plays a big role in our perception, especially in times of crisis like the one the Israelites were facing. In those times, we can allow ourselves to get overwhelmed and put all our focus on what is happening and how we are feeling or we can center our thoughts and attention on the one who has promised to carry us through it (see Romans 8:31–39).

It’s more than just a mind game, more than an exercise in positive thinking. It’s faith in action.

Faith is so strong that Paul in the New Testament compares it to a shield (Ephesians 6:16). Just as a good shield can make all the difference when heading into battle, so our faith can be the determining factor of how we experience our wilderness.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves, “What is the illusion? Does our wilderness journey suggest that the idea of a loving, caring God is itself just an illusion? Or is there something happening behind the scenes, as it were, that points to a reality far beyond our current circumstances?” It is a question worth answering.

God may be the Master Illusionist, but he isn’t into pulling rabbits out of hats. Instead, his signature performance — the one he’s most famous for — is when he takes someone through a wilderness and brings them into a promised land, and leads them to himself in the process.

Now, that’s worth the price of admission.

October 16, 2019

Fear Makes the World Darker

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We’re back again featuring the writing of Sarah Jo at Blind Insanity. Again, support our writers by clicking the headers (below) to read items at source.


The Truth About Fear and Darkness

Fear makes things seem darker than they really are; like the open closet door as you’re trying to fall asleep or the tree line as you’re driving home. The power of fear is not in the depths of its shadows, but in the one who gives those shadows life: you and me. We are responsible for the power of fear, and, in and of ourselves, we are incapable of overcoming it.

So many people feel suffocated by fear; it steals their joy and takes away what good they have. But here is the truth about fear… Like darkness, fear cannot spread. All it can do is sit, and it will do so until you choose to turn on the light and take a step of faith toward safety… People can run in fear, but they can’t outrun fear, because it lies within them. But those who run to safety, to the light, run with the courage and faith that their darkness will be overcome… By intentionally running toward what they need (light, safety), fear is left behind; traded in for faith.

The incredible thing about light is that it’s always in motion. If you run toward it, it is also running toward you at 299,792,458 meters per second; light will hit you long before you can reach its source. Though we are incapable of defeating fear and darkness in and of ourselves, we have been given this incredible gift, light, which was created to defeat darkness and expunge fear.

The human body was never meant to live in the dark, but in the light. So, too, our souls were never meant to live in fear, but in faith in God’s Holy Son, Jesus Christ, Who is the Light of the world. Just like any light, His grace and salvation have the power to reach us when we are far from their source. All we have to do is take that step of faith and trust God. Like when the prodigal son returned to his Father, and his Father came running to him, so, too, does our Heavenly Father run to us.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly; for us. (Romans 5:6)

Too often, we let fear have its way in our lives and we surrender to darkness, as though the Son didn’t exist. But the Son is still shining. The darkness is not stronger than His Light. Fear and darkness have no power, except for what we give them. So, if we choose to give all glory, honor, praise, and faith to the Author of Light, to Jesus Christ, then we rob fear of its power and darkness of its hold.

Oh, may that be the story of all our lives.

“What is the way to the dwelling of light? As for darkness, where is its place, that you should take it to its bound, that you should discern the paths to its house?” (Job 38:19-20)

Jesus said to him, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me.” (John 14:6)

Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I AM the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him. Without Him was not anything made that has been made. In Him was life, and the Life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

October 3, 2019

Conviction or Humility? Which Do We Need When We Share the Good News?

(This post is part of a series on Daniel which begins here.)

by Clarke Dixon

We Christians we have incredibly good, and incredibly important, news to share. When we share the good news of God’s love, should we be full of conviction, or humility? Which do we need in order to help people discover the good news in our day?

We can learn from Daniel who had a very important message to share with the Babylonian king. While God’s people were in exile, King Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream and expected his wise men not only to interpret the dream, but to tell him what the dream was as well! If not, all the wise men, including Daniel, would be put to death. His usual wise men could come up with nothing. What did Daniel do?

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. 15 He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” So Arioch told him all that had happened. 16 Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant. Daniel 2:14-16 (NLT)

Daniel’s response demonstrated great conviction. Daniel was convinced that God would rescue. Daniel had so much conviction, in fact, that he arranged a future interview with the king before hearing from God! Do we, who are Christians, have the conviction that God rescues? Is our faith held as a matter of deep personal conviction, or are we simply Christians because our parents or grandparents were? Are we convinced that Jesus is who he said he is, or are we Christians because we think Christianity might be good for us? Have we looked at the evidence for Christianity, or are we Christians ‘just in case’ it might be true? We have good reasons to have conviction about Jesus and the Bible. If you have not considered the evidence, you can begin with my “Shrunk Sermon” series called “Compelling” which begins here. We can have deep conviction that God is, and that God will rescue. It is an old cliché, but can we dare to be a Daniel and share the message with conviction?

So it is conviction we need and not humility? Let us look again to Daniel as he delivers the message to the king:

. . . it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. Daniel 2:30 (NLT)

Imagine the temptation for Daniel, in learning the contents of the the king’s dream from God, to stand before the king with great pride. Imagine the temptation to gloat, to point out that he is the only one that could pull this miracle off. However, Daniel has great humility: “it is not because I am wiser than anyone else.”

In a previous sermon, we looked at missing ingredients that make Christianity taste awful in our society. Humility is sometimes one of those ingredients. We, who are Christians, can come across as “know-it-alls.” Perhaps it is because of what we think the Bible is. I have heard it said that the Bible answers any and every question you could possibly ever have about anything. Having read through the Bible myself many times, I have not found that to be the case. In fact, sometimes it raises more questions that it answers! The Bible itself does not claim to have all the answers:

 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV)

The Bible tells us what we need to know to have a relationship with God, and what life looks like when we lean into that relationship. But it does not tell us everything about everything. And that is okay. We don’t need to know everything about everything. That is also okay.

Let me give one example where we Christians can sound like we have all the answers and know everything. When I first began pastoring in the 1990’s I came across something aimed at gay people called “conversion therapy.” One organization in particular, called Exodus, was well known for this. At the time it sounded like a good thing to me. It seemed to fit nicely with Christian theology. Conversion therapy has been something that many  Christians have promoted with great certainty.

Fast forward to today, and there is a movement to ban conversion therapy. To many this might feel like persecution against Christians. But is it? The basic premise of conversion therapy is that you are gay because you have a terrible relationship with your father. Fix that, and you can be fixed. However, the evidence is in; many straight people have terrible relationships with their fathers and many gay people have great relationships with their fathers. Are we able to say with Daniel “we are not wiser than anyone else” and be willing to follow the evidence?

We may not want to follow the evidence because conversion therapy seems to fit so nicely with traditional Christian theology. But does it? The evidence is in, and conversion therapy has not worked. Now imagine it’s you, and you have been shipped off to a center with great expectation and prayerfulness. You come home, unchanged. You already feel like you have disappointed your Christian community by being gay in the first place. Now you are adding further disappointment by not being straightened out. You may give up on prayer, God, yourself. Many have.

Jesus told the story of a man beaten and left for dead. The religious elites passed by on the other side, but the Good Samaritan stopped to help. If conversion therapy is more harmful than helpful, then perhaps we should be the good Samaritans and be the first to call for a ban, not the last. The Exodus organization did indeed shut down and apologized for harm done in 2013. In shutting down and apologizing, the leaders of Exodus humbly followed the evidence rather than claiming to be wiser than everyone else.

Let us not act like we know all the answers, but let us with humility follow the evidence where it leads, on conversion therapy, and much else. Let us echo the humble posture of Daniel, let us communicate “I am not better than you, I don’t have more wisdom than any other human being.” Let us be willing to learn. Can we dare to be a Daniel and have a posture of humility?

Daniel had a good mix of conviction and humility. So did the apostle Paul:

12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

Daniel knew that he was not smarter than everyone, but connected to Someone. This gave Daniel great conviction expressed in a posture of great humility. So which do we need in order to communicate the good news of Jesus in our day? If we are strong on conviction, we may want to reach for greater humility. If we are strong on humility, we may want to reach for greater conviction. We can, and should, declare the good news of Jesus with great conviction. We should do so with deep humility.

September 17, 2019

Let There Be Grace

grace

We continue where we left off yesterday, with another scripture medley. Today’s post is entirely scripture, prepared using BibleHub.com, an online Bible resource.

As I slowed down to read through each verse in many different translations, I was very much aware of:

  • Who was speaking (made clear by the reference)
  • Who it is who was or is the recipient of grace
  • Whether the verse was testimony, instruction, promise or warning
  • The centrality of the theme of grace in scripture

I hope you’ll take some time with this and not rush through…

But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me–and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.
– I Cor. 15:10 NLT

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ
– I Cor 1:4 KJV

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.
– Titus 2:11 NIV

I do not misapply God’s grace, for if righteousness comes about by doing what the Law requires, then the Messiah died for nothing.
– Galatians 2:21 ISV

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.
– 2 Corinthians 6:1 NLT

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
– 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
– Hebrews 12:15 NLT

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.
– Ephesians 3:7 NIV

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you
– Ephesians 3:2 NIV

Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord;
– Acts 11:23 NASB

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
– Hebrews 2:9 ESV

The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
– Luke 2:40 NASB

We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.
– 2 Corinthians 1:12 NLT



Here’s another collection we posted previously:

Galatians (NLT) 5:4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

Romans (Voice) 10:4 But Christ makes the Law no longer necessary for those who become acceptable to God by faith.

Hebrews (AMP) 10:14 For by a single offering He has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy.

Romans (NASB) 5:19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.


And one more passage:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   Titus 3:5-7

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