Christianity 201

September 11, 2017

Jesus: Opening Move

Jesus Commences His Ministry

Compare the four gospels and see how Jesus begins his public ministry. At the outset some of the narration involves activities that are somewhat passive on His part. He was visited by the Magi. He is presented to Simeon in the temple by His parents. He is baptized by John. He is tempted by Satan. But the change from passive to active ministry involves the following:

It takes Matthew four chapters to get to this:

Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Then He calls The Twelve.

In Mark the story is similar:

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Luke also takes four chapters to get to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry:

Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

John’s perspective, ever unique, involves Jesus at the wedding at Cana:

John 2:6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

John follows this with Jesus clearing the temple courts.
After the calling of the disciples, Matthew follows with the healing of the sick.
Mark also follows with the choosing of The Twelve, followed by the healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
Luke follows with the same story of the man with the demonic spirit who is healed.

So why does all this matter?

First of all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus begins with a proclamation of His purpose and then moves to action; mostly ministry to individuals. Being a minister of the Good News involves both proclaiming (preaching, teaching, speaking) and also dealing one-on-one with people.

Is John an exception? Not at all. In John’s gospel, Jesus begins with a sign, and then ministers to the needs of those who are being disenfranchised by the profiteering that is going on in the temple courts and also taking up space in the one part of the temple that was open to everyone, the court of the Gentiles. (This explains, “My house shall be a house of prayer for the nations.)

Secondly, we can’t say we don’t know why Jesus came. But neither can we expect to be able to answer this question with a single answer. We might say,

  • Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and then to triumph over death.

But Jesus doesn’t start His ministry that way. He doesn’t say, “I’ve come to die;” even though John the Baptist foreshadows this with “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Rather, in the above scripture texts, Jesus says of His ministry:

  • To preach “repent”
  • To announce “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (or, “at hand”)
  • To proclaim good news to the poor
  • To proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • To give sight to the blind
  • To set the oppressed free
  • To declare “the year of the Lord” *

* – “the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound” (Amplified Bible)
– “the year the Lord has chosen” (CEV)
– to announce “This is God’s year to act!” (Message)
– “the year when he will set his people free.” (NIrV)
– “the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.” (The Voice)

As Jesus makes His opening moves, he sets out his initial purpose and plan plainly.

September 7, 2017

Life as a Living Sacrifice: Sounds Like Fun?

by Clarke Dixon

Romans 12:1 (NRSV)  I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” You may have three reactions to this verse.

First off, it does not sound much like fun. A sacrifice, not just of money, or of some time, but your very self. And just any old self, but a self which is “holy and acceptable to God.” However, to have this kind of negative reaction is to miss what is really being said here. To react negatively to the idea of giving yourself to God would be like a groom, who on seeing his bride walking down the aisle says “well this sucks.” Or a bride walking down the aisle to meet her groom saying “I’d far rather be somewhere else, with someone else.” I suppose such sentiments can happen in arranged marriages and the like, but in the twenty years I have been officiating weddings, the excitement of the bride and groom over the moment and over each other has always been palpable. The wedding, that moment you give yourself to another person, is not seen as a misfortune, but as a very positive opportunity! Likewise with God, giving ourselves to God is a glorious opportunity! We should not think of it as something we have to do, so much as something we get to do. I did not have to get married, changing my life and focus to “us” rather than “me.” But I got to!

Additionally, “holy and acceptable to God” may seem like a downer. However, holiness is also something we get to do, something we will want to do! I have never officiated a wedding where upon getting to the marriage vows the bride or groom has said, “Do I have to do this part?” To be a good man or woman for our bride or groom is something we aspire to on our wedding day. Sometimes the bride or groom will forget such things once they are wife and husband, but God is always faithful.

Being “holy and acceptable to God” may also feel like a predicament. How are we going to pull that off? But this is something we are enabled to do. It is “by the mercies of God” or “through the mercies of God” that we are enabled to become holy and acceptable to God. It is through the work of Jesus for us and the Holy Spirit within us. Again, it is part of a wonderful privilege and opportunity.

Secondly, you may think: “I guess I can commit to this if it is going to make God love me.” This is to to turn this verse into a “so that” verse. There is no “so that” here in Romans 12:1. There are “so that” verses in the Bible. For example you might want to consider John 3:16, which says “For God so loved the world, so that he gave His only begotten Son, in order that, whoever believes in Him, shall not perish” (a conglomeration of translations, quite literal where italicized). The “so that” points to how God loved us first. In Romans 12:1 we have a “therefore” verse. Paul is pointing back to all he has reviewed in Romans chapters 1 through 11, namely, the human predicament and the glory of God’s love. Now, therefore, on the basis of His love, let us commit ourselves to God. We do not do so to make Him love us more. We can not make Him love us more than He already does. We give ourselves to Him as our expression of love for Him.

Consider the vows and promises that an in-love couple make to each other on their wedding day. They should never think “I commit to these vows so that you will love me”, but rather “I commit to these vows already knowing you love me”. Living out the the vows of marriage is a reflection of the reality of love, not a prerequisite to eventually attain it. It is much the same with our relationship with God who has already demonstrated His love for us in the gift of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Further, when you have a good love relationship with your fiancé, committing to these vows, committing to having your life changed by marriage, is a very reasonable and rational thing to do. It is a sensible next step in your relationship. This too is reflected in our relationship with God as Romans 12:1 points out:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1 (NRSV emphasis mine)

The word translated as “spiritual” here in the NRSV is a word from which we get the English word “logical.” Knowing God’s love and commitment to you, committing your life to God is a logical next step. It is a reasonable and rational thing to do in the same way that marrying my wife was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made!

Third, you may hear these verses and think “Okay, I’m in. I’m ready to present myself to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, now give me the rule book so I can memorize all the rules.” We want to be careful here, not to think of Paul, or any other New Testament writer, as the second coming of Moses. It had already been established that Gentiles coming to faith in Christ did not need to become Jewish with the observance of all the rules of Judaism. But they could not simply live like Romans either. So what we have in the New Testament is not a new rule book, but the implications of giving one’s life to God. The Christian life is not about following a rule book, but about relationship. Relationships require, not rules, but discernment. God is not asking us to fill our minds with rules, but the renewing of our minds with His presence:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

Looking to the marriage analogy again, I have never known a bride and groom exchange rule books at the wedding ceremony. They are entering into a relationship, not with a list of rules, but with each other. There is a learning and discerning which is part and parcel of the wonderful institution of marriage.

In conclusion, people may have negative responses to the idea of giving themselves to God as living sacrifices. But when we begin to grasp just Who God is, and what His love is like, we recognize that doing so is a most wonderful opportunity. May the opportunity that lay before you fill and thrill your soul.


Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon blogs his previous weekend’s sermon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon aka clarkedixon.wordpress.com. For several years, they’ve been a perfect fit here at C201.

September 5, 2017

The Issue of Forgiving

by Russell Young

(scripture verses italics added for emphasis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

September 4, 2017

God Explains Judgment and Punishment to Ezekiel

As we did last year at this time, we’re returning to the devotional page of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their devotionals don’t have titles, just a description of the passage under consideration and there are no links. Take in the truths of today’s reading, but also note the format; this is how to organize a thorough Bible study.

Highlights:

God warns leaders to repent (14:1-11). Each person clearly accountable for their own choice to be saved (14:12-23). A breathtaking, tragic account of the love and faithfulness of God to Judah and her callous attitude (chap. 13). Guard against spiritual adultery.

Ezekiel 14 to Ezekiel 16

Even so, there will be survivors left in it, sons and daughters who will be brought out. Indeed, they will come out to you, and you will observe their conduct and actions. Then you will be consoled about the devastation I have brought on Jerusalem, about all I have brought on it. 23 They will bring you consolation when you see their conduct and actions, and you will know that it was not without cause that I have done what I did to it.”  This is the declaration of the Lord God. (Ezek. 14:22-23).

The Lord had sent punishment to Israel because of her idolatrous ways. The nation had turned away from the Lord and chosen to walk in the ways of their heathen neighbors. The people had followed their own desires for their lives instead of the perfect desires of the Lord. We have also read how the prophets themselves had gone against the will of the Lord.

The Lord is not some strict taskmaster who imputes His will on people just for His satisfaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are the children of God. The Spirit itself testifies together with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16).

God treats us the way any good father treats his children. The Lord gives us the Word of God as a guide to live our lives. These guidelines will direct us to the most fulfilling and abundant life available to us. God’s rules are not simply made for Him. They are made to protect us and to provide us with a way to live a godly life, rather than just a good life.

What happens when the inevitable time comes that God’s child strays from His Word? How should God respond? Should He just hope for the best and wait to see? Should He just mark them off and hope for better luck with the next human? We all know the answer to these questions is a resounding “no.”

The Lord responds just as any loving father would. He corrects His children by sending punishment our way. The goal of the punishment is to open our eyes to allow us to see where we went wrong and thereby to correct our paths. Once redirected, we should be able to get back on life’s correct track, the track of following the Lord.For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness (Heb. 12:10).

This process worked with Israel at times. They would rebel, so God would send a judgment against them. As a result they would return and fall back into line with the Law of God.

In these verses, God is explaining all this to Ezekiel. There is always a plan when the Lord sends judgment upon His people. The Lord is desiring to bring them back to the proper path.

If we live outside the will of God, we will find life is not so easy. He has said that His four worst punishments are war, famine, wild animals and diseases. The Word of God is given to us to make sure that we live under the provision and protection of the Lord. Our best case scenario will always be not to stray. But if we do, we need to let His correction get us back in line with His Word.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,  for reproof,  for correction,  for instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16).

Thought for Today:

At the end of the day, will the Lord say, Well done good and faithful servant (Matt. 25:23)?

Christ Revealed:

In the everlasting Covenant (Ezek. 16:60). He is the Mediator of a better Covenant (Agreement) (Heb. 8:6).

Word Study:

16:8 I spread My skirt over thee = symbolic of a covenant of marriage (Ruth 3:9; Deut. 22:30); 16:25 opened thy feet = offered yourself as a harlot; 16:30 imperious whorish oman = shameless prostitute; 16:31 eminent place = prominent public location; thou scornest hire = you refuse a fee; 16:43 fretted me = provoked me to anger.

Memory Verse:

John 15:1-5

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.

September 1, 2017

Working Out My Salvation

Philippians 2:12

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  (NASB)

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

We’re back with our annual visit to the blog Christians in Context by J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to read it on his blog, and then navigate from there to some other great articles. (We read several preparing this!)

Work out, not for, your own salvation

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This command in Paul’s letter to the Philippians has caused many to stumble, to make an argument for works-righteousness, and even to believe that what Jesus did was not enough. That he needs my help to save me. We know that’s nonsense, and the plain meaning of this text makes perfect sense. Paul says work out your salvation. He doesn’t say work in your salvation. Or work up your salvation. Or work for your salvation! No, we are to work it out. In other words, what God has secured in you through His grace given on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, work it out in every way and on every day. It’s what we do in our marriages, right? Were you done when you said, “I do”? No, you were just getting started. And for the rest of your life, you are working out your marriage in fear. And sometimes with trembling!

If you are working out your salvation as a father, it means you are learning to bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. You cannot learn that without starting to do it badly. But you have to start. When my children were very young, they each had trouble learning to ride a bike. They fell. They scraped their knees. They cried. But they kept getting back on the bike until it became second nature to them. Get back on the bike, Dad, and lead your family in the things that are most important. If you are working out your salvation as a student, it means you study. You work hard. If you are working out your salvation as a brother or sister in Christ in your church family, it means that when you are offended, you don’t hold onto that. You let it go quickly, and if you can’t let it go, you go to the one who offended you and you work it out. And yes, it will require work, sacrifice, and discipline. Tim Challies had a good word on this recently:

“I want to have 10 percent body fat. I set that goal a while ago and even managed to get really close to reaching it. But eventually I found out that I want to have 10 percent body fat just a bit less than I want to have 13 percent. There’s a key difference between the two: While 13 percent requires moderate effort to gain and retain, 10 percent requires strict discipline. I soon learned I just didn’t want the goal enough to put in the effort to achieve it. I didn’t meet my desire with discipline.” Then he adds, “I often consider the people I’ve known who set an example of unusual godliness. I think of well-known Christian men who lived godly lives in the public eye and who carried out unblemished ministries. I think of unknown and unnoticed women who lived equally godly lives far outside the public eye. What did they have in common? What was the key to their holiness? I believe it was their discipline. They disciplined themselves for the highest godliness. They were spiritual athletes who ensured their highest desires supplanted their baser desires. They achieved godliness because they aimed at godliness.”

We all have work to do if we are to aim at God’s best for us. Thankfully, we are never alone. Paul adds, “for it is God who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That is the gift that keeps on giving.

August 30, 2017

Lessons from a Text Sung More Than Studied

We’re paying a return visit to Jack Levison at the Patheos blog Spirit Chatter. Click the title below to read at source.

Jacob’s Ladder and Esau’s Tragedy

Every year, without fail, we sang the chorus Jacob’s Ladder at church camp. Sung by a hundred Long Island high schoolers, it was interminable. (It never sounded like this. Wow!) We certainly had no idea this was a Negro Spiritual with a history that stretched back 150 years or so.

So we sang it. We sang the life out of it.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

We sang the next verse.

Every rung goes higher, higher,
Every rung goes higher, higher,
Every rung goes higher, higher,
Soldiers of the cross.

And the next, which began, “Sinner, do you love my Jesus?” You can figure out by now how it continued.

We ended with the last stanza, which was a little more rousing because it had a dollop of guilt loaded onto it:

If you love him, why not serve him?

The problem is not the song (though the way we sang it was a problem) but that it’s often all we know about the story of Jacob’s ladder, in Genesis 28:10-19, this week’s lectionary text.

The story is so much bigger, better. Another stunner in a long line of stunners in the book of Genesis.

Here, with his head on a stone, Jacob has a dream in which God reiterates a promise first made to Abraham and Sarah, then to Isaac and Rebekah, and now, finally, to Abraham and Sarah’s grandson.

I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

This promise, in one form or another, pops up at various places in the book of Genesis, just in case we thought that God, who is otherwise pretty invisible—there are very few thunderbolts thrown—had backed out of the human drama. (Who could blame God for that?!) It’s like the Cascade Mountains after a takeoff from Seattle; peeking through the clouds, you see Mount Baker, Mount Rainer, Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Adams. They pop through the clouds, a line of them, the way these promises punctuate the human drama in Genesis.

In this story, the cushion for the promise is a dream: a ladder between earth and heaven. What’s so important about this dream? I’ve got five things for you to think about.

  • A sad son. What precedes this dream is really pathetic—and it’s about Esau. Esau saw that his father “Isaac had blessed Jacob” and sent him to find a wife not from the Canaanites (the inhabitants of the land). So what did Esau do? He imitated Isaac by taking a(nother) wife, Mahalath, Abraham’s granddaughter. We talked last week about sibling rivalry. It’s pathetic. Esau wants Isaac’s approval, so, like Jacob, he too marries a woman not from the Canaanites.
  • A brother blowing it. Esau doesn’t pick a granddaughter through the line of Isaac but through Ishmael, the bastard son of Abraham and Hagar. If he did it on purpose, he was a screwup. If he did it without realizing it, he was a loser. Either way, Jacob is still the pretty boy.
  • A divine snub. Jacob gets the dream, wouldn’t you know? Not Esau. The rich get richer. Why can’t Esau have his own dream? Why can’t Esau spend a night at the Gate of Heaven?
  • An uncommon adventure. Jacob was scared poo-less. It says as much: “And he was afraid.” I think it’s better to translate this, “He was scared poo-less (more or less)” because he then says, “This place is frightening!” (It’s the same Hebrew root.) Don’t be tricked by a translation like “This place is awesome.” That’s too tidy and trendy. And let this be a lesson to us. We sometimes think people in Bible-times had lots of visions, boatloads (like Noah) of God-experiences. They didn’t. Nope. This was a big-time exception–and Jacob knew it.
  • A useless oath. Jacob didn’t let the promise sink in. He had a vision, a very active one, by the way, of angels going up and down, but the main point, that God would be with him, just didn’t sink in. So afterwards, he made a vow: if God would be with him and take him home, he’d make the stone pillow a shrine and call it God’s House and, more important, give a tenth of his stuff to God. You see? Jacob didn’t get it at all. He bargained for what he already had, what God had already said.

For a bunch of mostly white, teenaged Long Islanders, the chorus, Jacob’s Ladder, was boring. Atonal, too. But its real problem is that it’s all many of us know about the real story and what comes before and after it. Not any more. Read this week’s lectionary—the whole of Genesis 28—and listen to this podcast to discover some other things you’ve missed in this profound story of how you can meet God.


The podcast is available at the website of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston.

 

August 15, 2017

The Measure of God’s Goodness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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One of my earliest “online friendships” with another Christian blogger was with Rick Apperson who is a Salvation Army officer in British Columbia, Canada and also the author of Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ, published by Westbow. Although he is not actively writing right now, I found this 2016 article and wanted to share it with you. Click the title below to read at source. See if you can sense which paragraph of the article inspired me to give it the title we used here.

Is God Good?

I have often heard the question asked, “Is God Good?”

When I answer in the affirmative, the follow up tends to be, “well then why does He allow suffering?” Or even, “Then how can He send people to Hell?”

It would seem that everyone wants to experience His grace, mercy and love but no one wants to hear His truth!  We want the good and none of the bad. The Bible clearly says the God is love (1 John 4:8), but it also says that He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).

So if God is good, then how come He punishes those who refuse to repent? I appreciate this quote from Salvation Army officer,  Samuel Brengle (1860-1936): In his book Love Slaves he writes that “Fire will not only bake our food, but it will burn us. Water will not only quench our thirst and refresh us, but if we trifle with it, it will drown us.”

God is good, but He is not to be trifled with. He has given us the freedom to choose eternal life in Heaven or Hell, to follow or reject Him. We can accept His wisdom and submit to His will, and live in true joy and peace, or, we can reject His offer of life in Christ, and pay the eternal consequences. Holding  us accountable for our sins does not negate His goodness.

God is good, loving, compassionate and slow to anger, but He is also holy and righteous. We can’t continue on a path that breaks His laws and not expect to be disciplined anymore than we can continually break man’s laws and not expect punishment. I can choose to obey the law of the land and enjoy the privileges of being a citizen in good standing, or violate those laws and reap the consequences…the choice is mine but being punished in the courts is not the fault of the ones who set the law in place, it is the fault of the lawbreaker.

Is God good? Absolutely.

Is He fair? Undoubtedly.

The question isn’t really is God good but Who will I follow and obey, my own idea of truth or His?

For me, Psalm 84:10 says it best,

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

August 13, 2017

Mankind Worships That in Which He Sees Glory

This is the second post in our new series, Sunday Worship. In combing the internet looking for suitable material, we discovered the blog Ascents and this 2015 article. The phrase which forms the title of the post here is one that stood out. Truly, if we see the glory of God, we simply must and will worship.

Clicking the original title below will take you to the original article, which is always encouraged.

“Now” He is Glorified!

by Tim Adams

…Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; (John 13:31, NASB95).

Why would Jesus make this statement at the moment Judas leaves to betray Him? Prior to His humiliation; just before being handed over to sinful men and made to stand trial. How is this moment glorifying?

Jesus, Son of Man, is about to become both the means and object of our worship, and the ball is now rolling downhill.  At this moment, events are being set in motion that will not only bring about the completion of Christ’s earthly ministry, and the redemption of man; but in just a short while Jesus will be shown to be exactly what He has claimed to be–what He has always been.  He will be shown to be God incarnate.  Soon Jesus will rend the veil, rise from the dead, and take His place at the right hand of the Father in heaven, becoming our perfect mediator by removing the barrier between us and God, (Heb. 12:2).

Mankind worships that in which he sees glory. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun because in it they saw glory.  Modern man worships his favorite sports figures because he sees glory in the display of dominating athletic prowess. Since the fall man has, as Romans 1 tells us, exchanged the glory of God for other objects of worship. He has chosen to see glory in that which was created, rather than his creator (Romans 1:22-25).

But, God has provided for us another way. It is a way in which we are made able to see God in Christ, the glorified Son of Man; and are made able to worship Him in the manner He is worthy of.  This way is the way of the cross.  Christ’s death on the cross is the single most important event to ever take place. It is the very fulcrum of world history. At the cross, what was a mystery has been made clear to those who have been changed by it.  And, in this cross of suffering–in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the Son of Man is truly glorified.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory, (Ephesians 1:7–12, NASB95).

 

August 10, 2017

Jeremiah and the Popularity Contest

by Clarke Dixon

“Your popularity has gone down 25%!” Such was a new expression one of my boys brought home from school as a way of expressing annoyance. I suppose I should have been happy that my son was learning percentages, or that my popularity was not dropping near as fast as my other sons. What I was not so happy about was the lifting up of popularity as something of great importance.

As prophets go, Jeremiah was not popular, indeed he went beyond being unpopular to being hated. And little wonder, Jeremiah 1:10 gives a nice summary of what Jeremiah was expected to do:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:10 NRSV)

You may have noticed that the description of Jeremiah’s call has twice the amount of negative sounding items as positive. Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you will notice that Jeremiah spends most of his time prophesying destruction and hard times. Such messages would not help his popularity rating! Jeremiah’s contemporaries preferred a kinder, gentler, and of course, more popular message, but Jeremiah remained faithful. Had he cared more for his own popularity than God’s truth, he would have faded into obscurity as a prophet not worth remembering. Like most of his contemporaries he would have become irrelevant.

There is a great effort in the Church today to try to be relevant, to regain some of the popularity we perceive ourselves to have lost. There are those who think the Church can be relevant if it pays attention to the shifts in society in world-view and ethics and make similar shifts, “keeping up with the times” as it were. However, the opposite is true. It is by maintaining the distinctive teaching from God’s Word that we become relevant. It is when we play the popularity game that we become irrelevant.

Jeremiah lived in a time and place where his message was necessarily negative. The time had come for judgement, for which there was no sugar coating, and about which Jeremiah could do nothing. As Christians we live in a time and place where our message will necessarily be unpopular.

Let’s consider one of the most unpopular teachings of the Church in our day. Consider our message regarding sexuality. The message of the Church that sex belongs within marriage sounds antiquated to many, judgemental and negative. Should we play the popularity game and change our views? While viewed negatively by society, there is much to commend a Biblical view of sexuality. Sexually transmitted diseases are not transmitted by God fearing people. Marriages are not ripped apart by adultery among God fearing people. The Canadian definition of marriage today may as well be “the relationship among the many we have had that we hope lasts the longest.” Among God fearing people marriage is a fundamentally different relationship from any other relationship ever had, not just the longest lasting among many. “Being faithful so long as we both shall live” rings deep and true when a person can speak of “being faithful so long as I have already lived.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse can and should begin long before the wedding day. But even if there was nothing practical to commend our message, faithfulness to it would still demonstrate our faithfulness to God, and that ought to matter. The message of the Church with regards to sexuality is not popular today. But that should matter to us about as much as the popularity of the message of judgement mattered to Jeremiah. What matters is faithfulness to God, and it is by remaining faithful to Him we remain relevant to our society.

There are many other examples of Christian teaching that will be unpopular; belief in the supernatural, belief that abortion is wrong, belief in the importance of sobriety, belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, belief that other world-views are wrong. We can not expect the Church to win a popularity contest while it holds to these teachings. But neither do we need to enter a popularity contest. God calls us, like he called Jeremiah, not to popularity, but to faithfulness to Him, and to true and lasting relevance.


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 9, 2017

Initially, Job Got It Right; But Then…

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One of the consistently finest sources we have used here at C201 is Paul Tautges at the website Counseling One Another. Breaking our six-month rule, this is his twelfth appearance here. As always, click the title below to read this at source.

Four Reasons Job Stumbled

Job started so well. His faith was as invulnerable to Satan’s onslaughts as a turtle snuggled up inside its shell is to the frantic pawings of a dog. Job tucked his head and feet inside his faith in God and said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Later, however, Job was rebuked by God for his complaining spirit. What went wrong? There are at least four reasons Job’s trust in God took a tumble. First, he listened to bad counsel.

Avoid Bad Counsel

If you are going to handle your calamity in a wise, God-honoring manner, you must ignore well-intentioned but unbiblical counsel. If Job’s counselors had been from the church in our era, they probably would have said, “Job, look at these terrible things that are happening to you. We have to break the generational curses that have power over your life. We have to cast out the demons of skin disease. You need to send 500 dollars to the faith-healer, I. M. Acharlatan, at Better-for-a-Buck Ministries.” People will say all kinds of crazy things to you when calamity strikes (“don’t worry, God didn’t know this was going to happen.” Really? now I am worried!). Don’t let their well-intended but unbiblical counsel trip you up spiritually and send you sprawling. To handle calamity, you must ignore unbiblical advice with a gentle smile and a thank you. People speak to you because they care; receive their counsel with a gracious attitude, but don’t let their unbiblical advice throw you into a tailspin like Job did.

Time Keeps On Tickin’

A second reason Job went off the rails was that he let the termite of time gnaw at his faith. According to Job 7:3, Job’s grief and the burning torment of his physical ailments had extended for months by the time his friends arrived. Job’s suffering felt eternal; the sheer duration of it was wearing him down. Like an eager marathon runner, Job bolted off the starting line of faith, but as the race of responding to his calamity stretched out mile after mile and day after day, Job’s faith began to stumble and stagger. Time is a killer in trials. Like Job, we start with strong faith, but as we tick off days on the calendar, turn over the page to a new month, eventually buy a new calendar for next year, and then a new one for the year after that, we can easily despair. Time makes trials hard.

The Expectations Trap

A third reason Job stumbled is he had false expectations of God. In chapter 29, Job listed his many accomplishments. For example:

  • He was a respected civic leader: “When I went out to the gate of the city … the old men arose and stood” (29:7–8).
  • He was adored by the poor and disadvantaged because of his philanthropy: “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame” (29:15).
  • In summary he declared, “My steps were bathed in butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” (29:6).

Because of his success and his great kindness to others, Job had built up some expectations—things he believed God owed him because he had been good. In chapter 30, Job had this flash of insight into his confused and angry heart: “When I expected good, then evil came; when I waited for light, then darkness came. I am seething within and cannot relax; days of affliction confront me.” (30:26–27)

Job’s summary is both pathetic and perfect: “When I expected good, then evil came” (30:26). The expectation that God owes me good if I have been good is dangerous because it leads to feelings of betrayal and anger at God. God, however, never promises endless good if we are a devoted mother, a patient father, a faithful taxpayer, or if we don’t run with the wrong crowd at school. To handle calamity rightly, Christians must avoid Job’s mistake of building up the expectation that “God owes me because I’ve tried to be good.”

The Shield of Faith

Finally, besides bad counsel, time, and expectations, there was one other reason Job stumbled: he lost his grip on the shield of faith. In chapters 1–2, Job was solidly entrenched behind an impenetrable barrier of faith in God’s wisdom—a perfect example of Paul’s teaching about the shield of faith in Ephesians 6. The soldiers of the ancient world often carried large shields. When enemy archers fired a volley of arrows, they ducked behind those shields and let the arrows harmlessly ricochet off. In Job 1–2, Job had done just that. Satan had fired a barrage of fiery darts at him, but the shield of Job’s faith had deflected them all. That’s how faith works: no arrow of Satan—no matter how hot or deadly—can overwhelm simple, childlike faith: “I’ll trust God whether I understand what he is doing or not.” In chapter 3, Job allowed the handle of the shield of faith to slip from his sweaty fingers. Rather than preoccupy himself with believing trust, Job allowed his thinking to be dominated by frustrated expectations and, later, by the disheartening, untrue accusations of his friends. In the Gospels, the man cried, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In calamity, we must voice a similar cry to Christ: “I believe; rescue me from my doubt, fear, anger, and unbelief.”

For these reasons, Job stumbled. But, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. In heartfelt worship, Job returned to a fear-of-the-Lord-faith which enabled him to humbly walk with God the rest of his days.

[This post is a chapter excerpt from Joel James’ helpful mini-book, HELP! I Can’t Handle All These Trials. If you find yourself in the midst of a painful trial, or know a friend who is, you will benefit from reading Joel’s counsel from the life of Job.]

August 7, 2017

Give us a King

NIV 1 Samuel 8:1   When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

This passage is significant in many ways.

First of all, we see a transition from from theocracy to monarchy. To this point, God’s people were guided by prophets and priests. But they have always had one eye on God and one eye on the surrounding nations. The other nations have kings. Those kings no doubt had a certain charisma. They were the resident celebrity. Israel wanted in on that political system. In the two chapters that follow, they get King Saul.

But it’s also significant in that we see God’s desire in all of this, and it is probably best summed up in the modern phrase, “You’ll be sorry.” In the verses that follow, God explains why. There will be taxation. There will be confiscation of land. There will be a military draft, as well as a draft for skilled workers to serve  the royalty. A closer look at how the monarchy functions in other nations would have revealed this. But Israel is looking from a distance. The grass is greener over there.

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Plus, it’s not God’s desire. This is key. God’s ‘Plan A’ for Israel is to be a distinct people. The book of Leviticus is full of the ways in which this nation will distinguish themselves from those around. But God is seen as capitulating to their wishes.

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

In the general, we know that God has already foreseen everything that will take place. We know that he is sovereign and therefore in control of the situation. But from their perspective, in the particular, it would appear that God has changed his mind. That he has given in to their request, like the parent who, after having been nagged for 30 minutes, decides to take the little girl out for ice cream after all, even when he had previously stated it was too close to mealtime. In the lists of ‘the names of God’ is there one meaning ‘the God who gives in?’

There clearly isn’t, and for reasons too long to get into here. But many times we do see God listening and granting requests even after his ‘Plan A’ has been clearly stated. The Reformation Study Bible notes,

The Lord’s concession to the people’s sinful request is, at this point in the account, perplexing. If their desire for a king is sinful, amounting to a rejection of God as king (vv. 7, 18 and notes), how can God grant it? One answer lies in the standards of acceptable kingship that the Lord will establish. God is graciously willing to give the people a king and even to bless him, although not the sort of king they envisage (10:1, 7, 8 and notes). At the same time, because they adopted kingship in unbelief, they came to suffer under kings like those of the nations.

There are many modern applications here as well. On the same day this devotional is posted, I posted a review of a book dealing with the election of the latest U.S. President. It’s a story about the faith-factors which led to his victory; the intersection of Christianity and party politics. Again, this is too long to get into here, but I must repeat that God’s ‘Plan A’ desire would be that his people would be a distinct society even in the middle of a foreign land; even when in exile.

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. – 2 Timothy 2:4

He wants us to focus on being the People of God.

As Christians, we already have a King.

 

August 4, 2017

When Worship Feels Counterintuitive

Christian author and television personality Sheila Walsh writes a weekly devotional at SheilaWalsh.com. Here’s a sample of what subscribers are getting…just click the title below to read at source and sign up.

Worship Your Way Through Your Storm

by Sheila Walsh

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.” Romans 5:4-5 (NLT)

I’ll never forget the sight of my son the first time he was fully suited up for Friday night football. The shoulder pads alone made him look like someone from a Marvel comic book. His instructions to me before the game began were crystal clear,

“No matter what happens out there mom, do not come on the field!”
Seemed simple enough.

That was until Christian was tackled, legitimately, from behind and as he lay face down on the field another boy from the opposing team intentionally stomped on the back of his left knee. It took both hands on the tail of my jacket for my husband to keep me in my seat!

His injury led to knee surgery and after one more bad fall, a second surgery. At that point the surgeon told him his football days were over. Christian was disappointed but he rebounded and threw himself into many other interests.

Some disappointments are not like that though.

Some are devastating and life altering.

I think of the mom who challenged me after I’d spoken in her city.
“You said something on stage tonight that can’t be true,” she said.
“What was that?” I asked.
“You said that God is all powerful and that God is all loving.” She replied.
“I believe He is both,” I said. “Why do you question that?”
Her answer was heartbreaking.
“I’ve buried two sons so you’ll have to pick one!”
She continued, “If He was powerful enough to stop their deaths, then He can’t be loving because He didn’t.”
I held her as tears ran down her face in rivers.

That’s one of the greatest challenges to our faith. Will we still love and worship a God we don’t always understand? Will we still love Him when our marriage is not healed? Will we still worship when we didn’t get that job we so badly needed?
In moments of profound disappointment and pain the enemy loves to make us question God’s love for us.

Her husband came back but yours didn’t!
God doesn’t love you as much as he loves her!
Why bother praying, no one is listening!

In the midst of storms like these we need to remember two things:
1 — The enemy is a thief and a liar.
2 — God is for you. He promised to never leave or forsake you. He held nothing back in saving you, not even the life of His own son.

The hope that Paul speaks about in his letter to the Church in Rome is different than anything this world has to offer. This hope is not wishful thinking. On the contrary, it’s the stuff you can stake your life on!

Until we see Jesus face to face we will endure storms. Some will blow over quickly while others will seem to last longer than we can bear.

It used to be that if I were walking through a hard season I would be confident that God would get me through, and when He did, I would worship and thank Him. But what I’m learning in this season of my life is to worship Him in the middle of the storm, before there’s even a hint of dawn breaking, because He is worth it!

I want to encourage you today. If you are facing some rough seas — lift up your head, your heart, and your hands to the Lord and worship your way through the storm. He will hold you as you do.

“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” James 1:24-25 (NLT)

REMEMBER: God is for you and He loves you.

 

August 2, 2017

Christianity is a Singing Faith

We’ve frequently mentioned, quoted and linked to Mark and Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud. This is his fifth time here at C201, but it’s been nearly 3 years.

Christianity is a singing faith. It sets us apart from many other belief systems. As an old hymn, noting God’s care and protection put it, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Another hymn writer wished for “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” More recently, a popular worship writer wrote:

…We will sing, sing, sing
Grateful that You hear us
When we shout your praise
Lift high the name of Jesus.

Click the title below to read this at source. Though Mark and Stephen Altrogge and I are from different doctrinal streams, there usually isn’t an article on their blog, The Blazing Center that isn’t top-notch reading. This one is by Mark.

7 Reasons God Commands Us To Sing To Him

Have you ever wondered why God commands us to sing to him?

Does he need our songs somehow? Does he get some kind of sick pleasure out of commanding us to sing his praises?

First of all, God doesn’t need anything from us. He doesn’t need our worship or our songs or our money or our obedience. He is infinite and lacks nothing. Everything he commands us is for our joy and benefit. If God commands us to sing, then it is to bless us and add to our joy in him.

What are some reasons God commands us to sing?

First, we should sing to God because he saved us

We have so many incredible things to be thankful for and sing about – we’ve been forgiven, justified, and adopted as God’s own children and made joint-heirs with Christ. We’ve been rescued from eternal destruction. We’ve been given eternal life. Jesus SAVED us! That’s something to sing about. When God led Israel through the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on their tail, then closed the sea over the Egyptians, and saved the Israelites from certain death, and the Israelites saw the chariots and horses washed up on the beach they began to sing and dance. Can you imagine them shrugging their shoulders and saying, “That’s nice”? No, they wrote a song for the occasion. And Jesus saved us from something far worse than death – God’s eternal wrath. How can we not sing and rejoice?

Secondly, we should sing because we are loved.

God’s love is too marvelous and amazing to simply talk about. Think of all the love songs people sing. If we sing love songs about our love for human beings, how much more should we sing songs to the One who so loved us he gave his Son for us? How much more should we sing to Jesus who bore the wrath of God to redeem us?

Third, we should sing because Jesus has filled us with joy.

Singing is an expression of joy. We sing for joy at birthdays, weddings, ballgames. God has given us unspeakable everlasting joy in Christ. We just have to sing about it. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Someday Jesus will wipe away every tear and sorrow and sadness will flee away. For all eternity we will celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb. If earthly weddings have music and songs, how much more will the marriage supper of the Lamb?

Fourth, we should sing because Jesus sings over us

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zeph 3.17

Jesus rejoices and exults over his people with loud singing. How can we not rejoice in our King and Savior?

Fifth, because singing is a wonderful way to meditate on the gospel

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. CO 3.16

Our songs should be filled with “the word of Christ” – the gospel. And as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God, the gospel dwells in us richly. Singing usually involves repetition, rhyming and easily remembered phrases– it is a wonderful way to soak in and remember God’s truth.

Sixth, singing allows us to express our emotions to God in a way we couldn’t by mere talking.

What an incredible gift from God music is. How much color, joy and depth it adds to our lives. The band Cream sang a song called “I’m So Glad” in which they sang, “I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad!” (I know, not the most creative lyrics in the world). But it just wouldn’t be the same to merely speak these words. When you’re really happy you want to sing.

Seven, when we sing and rejoice in our God it honors him.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Ps 66:1-4

Singing is a way for us to glorify God – to “sing the glory of his name.” God created and saved us and gave us gifts, talents, intelligence, minds and bodies that we might glorify him. Not only are we to seek to glorify him by our lives, but with our tongues. And singing is such an easy way to glorify Jesus! It’s not like when we glorify him by suffering for him. How hard is it to sing?

Our God is so great, and so good and so glorious, he’s worthy of all of our praise. And one of the easiest ways to praise him is by singing. Let’s “sing the glory of his name!”

July 28, 2017

When People Disappoint

James MacDonald is the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the host of the weekday radio program Walk in the Word and blogs at Vertical Church Blog where this first appeared. Click the link to read at source.

Dealing with My Biggest Disappointment

The psalmist said, I have been young, and now am old . . . (Psalm 37:25), and that is how I feel. Fifty-something is not over the hill, but it is surely down the road—and now that I am down that road I see things a lot differently than I did when my shoes were new and I hadn’t broken a sweat. Back then I was filled with convictions that have lasted and idealisms that have not.

I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is God’s Son—the One who made atonement for sin and exemplifies righteousness—that the Bible is God’s Word revealed to us in perfection and sufficiency, that heaven and hell are real, and that God’s glory is the only thing worth fighting for. But I am less convinced about methods—mine or yours. I am not persuaded that my way is the only way, or even the best one in some instances. And I have lost my naivete about people. I frequently doubt when a person expresses their sincerity, their longevity in leadership, or their commitment to do as they say they will. It’s so shocking to look back and see how frequently people are excited about accountability until they are the one who needs it.

And it’s not just others I am disappointed with, it’s myself. I see how often I have failed to be all that I wanted to be for God and for others. Without question my biggest disappointment is with people—you and me, the whole bunch of us. On our best day we are incredibly flawed, and the harder a sincere person tries to push the blame on others, the more they should feel the weight of their own shortcomings . . . what “I” should have done differently.

But here’s the thing: give others the grace you know you need and move on in the lessons you have learned. Too much navel gazing and wallowing in disappointment hinders the work of God in and through you. The Christian life requires forgetting those things which are behind (Philippians 3:13). If your focus is on the rearview mirror today, I challenge you to lift your eyes to the road ahead and leave your disappointment with people behind you.

HOW???

Jesus had disappointments with people, right? With the religious leaders who attacked Him, with the family members who first rejected Him then fought for their own prominence when His popularity was on the rise. Where were they at the cross? Then the disciples—Peter denied, Judas betrayed, the rest ran when the Savior needed them most. Or did He? Of course Jesus loved people, but did He need them? An interesting verse in the opening of John is a lesson I could have used a lot earlier.

After many were flocking to Jesus and “believing in Him,” John 2:24-25 says: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Jesus was neither cynical nor naive. He loved people without entrusting Himself to them, and He served people without exposing himself to their faults or failures. Are we so attached to one another that we set ourselves up to be shattered when the inevitability of our fallenness comes to the surface? Are we so in need of affirmation and acceptance that we find ourselves ‘wheels up’ in the ditch when a friend or colleague denies or betrays? Loving people, yes. Living in community, yes. But attaching ourselves to people in a way that we lose our footing in following Jesus when they stumble or trip us up? No!

Let’s fix our eyes squarely upon the only One worth following—praising God for the blessing of people, but refusing to attach ourselves in a way that puts our faith/following at risk. Looking back, if I had been a little less euphoric in the glory days with any particular person, I would have been less crushed by disappointment when I discovered their feet of clay . . . no doubt they would say the same of me. Only Jesus on the pedestal, the rest of us on level ground, looking up. That’s how I deal with disappointment.

John 21:21: “Peter . . . said to Jesus, ‘Lord what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘. . . What is that to you? You follow me!’”

July 26, 2017

He Will Not Forget Your Work

Today’s thoughts are an excerpt of a devotional that appeared last week at DailyEncouragement.net by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Click the title below to read at source.

Serving Out Of The Spotlight

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

…The aspiration to do something great is commendable. Yet a sense of unworthiness can sweep over a person, who, after an honest assessment of their giftings or lack thereof, realize they’re simply unable to accomplish anything reckoned as great by others. Many have dropped the baton of service when their aspiring dream never fully materialized. They could only imagine worthiness of ministry if serving in a big way or in the spotlight.

We propose another aspiration that may initially seem rather uninspiring: “do something ordinary for God!” All of us can do that and faithfulness in the ordinary really does matter. In our view the vast, vast majority of work being done for God is done by ordinary people doing ordinary things out of the spotlight.

Now, praise God, sometimes the ordinary does become great, such as the young boy with the fish and bread that Jesus multiplied to feed the crowd. He simply offered the ordinary he had and Jesus performed the miracle. We read nothing more in Scripture of that boy again. We can assume he went on to live an ordinary life, hopefully in faithful service to Christ. Our aspiration should be to glorify God in our obedience and service to Him, not to make anything great of ourselves, let alone seek the spotlight.

Let us consider the daily verse, written to a group of people “The Hebrews”, none of whom we know by name. But as part of the Holy Scriptures we can read this verse applying it to our own lives.

God is not unjust.” That’s a simple four word phrase we do well to memorize. Unjustness permeates our world and at times God’s ways don’t make sense, even tempting us to question His justness. But the infallible Word of God proclaims, “God is not unjust”.

He will not forget your work.” Others may forget or not even notice, but God always sees and remembers!

And the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people.”  How do we show our love for God? Surely through our praises, thankfulness, obedience and in many other ways.  But this verse specifies a way that goes to the very heart of ministry and it’s generally demonstrated in ordinary ways. In some wonderful way as we help and serve God’s people, we are actually helping and serving God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

And continue to help them” The writer of Hebrews was confident that this help was active and ongoing, as he finished the sentence with this phrase.  Are you in active service for God and His people today?  If so, keep it up.  What a great blessing long-term, faithful, and dependable workers are in the kingdom of God. You may not be in the spotlight, in fact it’s likely you’re not. But He sees and will not forget your work. He generously rewards us in this life but His greater reward will be given in the life to come! Today do something ordinary for God so that He will use it for His extraordinary purposes.

Father, as You call us You also equip us to do that which You lay upon our hearts.  May we respond to those in need in whatever capacity we can help.  Certainly we can pray, we may need to write or call, and then there are the times we are to go and accomplish that which we are called to do. May our motive, in everything we say, do or think be to glorify You as we shine our light, not for our own glory, but always for Your glory and honor while also spotlighting the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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