Christianity 201

October 13, 2018

He Knows Your Works, Love, Faith, Service and Patient Endurance

Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com.

El Roi–The God Who Sees

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.  Revelation 2:19

In Revelation chapters 2-3 there are letters to seven churches that are scattered throughout what was then called Asia.  God told John to write down both their strengths and their weaknesses. What strikes me as I read the letters again is this:  the words, “I know your works,” are repeated again and again. They are phrased a bit differently in some of the letters, like to Smyrna in 2:9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)” and to Pergamum in Rev. 2:13, “I know where you live.”

Not only does God know the seven churches’ works, but He knows our works.  He told them things like, You have lost your first love, in Rev. 2:4 and, You have reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.  Rev. 3:2-3

God didn’t just tell them words of rebuke, but also words of encouragement.  For instance, He told the church at Ephesus that they worked hard and had patient endurance.  Plus, they didn’t tolerate false teachers. To the church in Philadelphia, God told them that He knew that although they had little power, they had kept His word and didn’t deny His name.  God spoke of rewards to those who conquer and who keeps His works until the end.

† My question: What if God were to write you a letter?  What would He say? What strengths would He mention and what words of encouragement would He give?  Does it help you to know that He sees your heart, that He knows the things that you have done that no one else knows about, and that He knows the path you have taken?

If God were to say to you, “I know your works,” would that be a comforting and encouraging statement?  When Hagar fled from Sarai in Genesis 16 because Sarai was dealing with her bitterly, the angel of the Lord came and spoke blessings to Hagar in the wilderness.  So Hagar called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Truly here I have see Him who looks after me. vs. 13.  That is where the name of God, “El Roi” is first used.

‡ El Roi, the God who sees, is a good thing.  God sees our works and He looks after us. He sees our love and faith and service and    patient endurance, and He will reward us for those things.  On the flip side, He also sees the things that we need to repent of. As Hebrews 4:13 tells us, No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  It is much easier to shed off the yuck knowing that God  has my best interest in mind.

Forgive me for when my love grows cold and I tolerate false idols and teachers.  Wake me up so that you will not find my works incomplete. And thank you that You can trace my path and see my heart for You when no one else can.  You are the God who sees and who rewards.

 

October 10, 2018

Hardened Hearts and God’s Master Plan

I’ve been doing some casual editing for a local writer who is considering the idea of a book which currently has the working title, “Melting a Heart of Stone;” taking a different approach to the idea of predestination.

What follows is a draft version of Chapter two which I thought would be a good fit for readers here. Many of the scripture passages are alluded to, but not typed out, so be sure to keep your Bible software open as you read.

Historical Precedence in the Forming of a Heart of Stone

by Carol McMurray

In the first millennium, from the time of creation, humankind had every opportunity to enjoy creation, to worship God the Creator, and to submit to His will. However, when faced with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as offered by Satan, (1 John 2:16) almost every individual freely elected to walk away from a loving God.  In exchange they invariably chose to lust after Satan’s enticing secrets, such as the invention of musical instruments, massive construction projects, the establishment of the first cities, the technology of brass and iron smelting, (Genesis 4: 21-22), and sadly, the participation in forbidden and blasphemous sexual liaisons with the fallen immortals. (Genesis 6: 1-4)

These forbidden affairs produced giants called Nephilim, who did great exploits, but also competed viciously for dominance, becoming increasingly wicked, corrupt, and hardened to the point where their hearts were only evil continually and full of violence! (Gen 4:5)

Fortunately, one man, Noah, found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Subsequently, God used this one man to save future humanity from the devastation of a world-wide flood. It is interesting to note, however, that because of the favour shown to Noah, God saved his entire family, though evidence shows that his triplet sons were not as devoted to God as was their father, especially Ham. (Genesis 9) And so, after many generations, we again see evidence of humans hardening their hearts, and spiraling ever downward, particularly Nimrod, who lusted for power and advanced knowledge, planting numerous cities including Babel and Nineveh, and ultimately desiring to usurp God’s throne. (Gen 10:10)

After the destruction of the Tower of Babel, and the subsequent confusion of language, the descendants of Noah scattered to all parts of the known world: Ham (and his son Canaan) to the Middle East, Japheth to Europe and Russia, and Shem to the Fertile Crescent; that is, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Most of these, however, quickly succumbed to Satanic pagan religions, and vicious competitions for power and selfish gain.

Abram (Abraham) on the other hand, like his predecessor Noah, found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He was willing to leave the home of his ancestors, and by faith, to follow the leading of the Lord, believing that He was the true God who rewarded the faithfulness and obedience of those who deliberately chose to shun evil. God subsequently initiated a covenant with Abraham pledging to bless not only himself, but also his descendants, and to use them to eventually to bless the whole earth.

Indeed, though it took many years of trying faith, God did eventually bless Abraham with a beloved son Isaac, even in his old age, and Isaac, in turn, delighted in the birth of his own twin sons, Jacob and Esau. These two boys, born from the same parents under the same circumstances, surprisingly chose very different paths. Interestingly, Paul argues in Romans 9:10, that even before the boys were born, and before their personalities were developed, God chose to bless Jacob (the younger twin), and to reject Esau, “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls”. (Romans 9:11) Herein lies the dilemma. If God in His sovereignty chose to curse Esau before he was even born, should we assume that Esau had no say in the matter? On the other hand, did God, who existed beyond time and space, know what sort of flawed character Esau would turn out to be? This would suggest that Esau, in fact, freely made his own bad choices (though surely these would have been known by an omniscient and omnipotent God).

It’s rather difficult to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the matter. We see that Jacob, though loved by God, did not always make the wisest decisions himself, nor did his personal relationship with Jehovah reflect positively in the lives of his twelve sons; that is, with the exception of Joseph, first-born of his beloved wife Rachel. Joseph was clearly gifted with a prophetic vision, and a wisdom beyond his years. In fact, in his adult life, Joseph was strategically used to save the entire country of Egypt from a devastating and prolonged drought, and subsequently, to provide a very comfortable home for his family in the preferred neighbourhood of Goshen. This outcome, however, did not come about without a very high personal cost to Joseph, including betrayal, and years of undeserved imprisonment. However, Joseph’s years of suffering resulted, not in bitterness as one might suppose, but rather in the softening of his heart towards his cruel and ruthless brothers, and his false accusers. This positive attitude resulted in Jacob’s family enjoying many fruitful years in Egypt, a situation that lasted throughout Joseph’s lifetime.

Over the course of time, (about 400 years) this entitled situation no longer sat well with the new Pharaohs, who had no loyalty or gratitude towards the family of Joseph.  No longer did these new generations of Egyptians even remember that Joseph had once blessed the entire nation, resulting in Egypt’s prosperity beyond all other nations of this era.

The built-up jealousy and resentment of the Egyptians resulted in a gradual hardening of their hearts toward the children of Israel. Before long the Israelites found themselves living in Egypt, but now, as slaves under cruel bondage. Not only were they subject to forced labour, but they had to endure cruel mandatory infanticide.

Though the children of Israel felt abandoned by God, we must be cognizant of the fact that God was there, if only they could have recognized it. Unknown to them, their cries indeed did rise up and touch the heart of God, and the Lord said “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So, I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land.” (Exodus 3:7-8)

This leads us to ponder… Is anyone beyond touching the heart of a compassionate God even today? Isaiah replies, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear”. (Isaiah 59:1-2) Isaiah reminds us that it is our unrepented sins and iniquities that restrain the hand of God to deliver. We must reap the consequences of our multiple unrepented sins; therefore, “justice is turned back, and righteousness is afar off”. (v 14)

There is hope, however! God himself provided a way for us to escape condemnation. Isaiah describes that plan; that is, God would lay on His own son the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53) We can be restored! In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul describes Christ as our ‘Mediator of a better covenant’, declaring,  “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”, (Hebrews 8:10) Titus affirms this, reminding us that God’s kindness and love are always ready to be poured out to us through the Lord Jesus, declaring, … “according to His mercy, He saved us through the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 3:4-6)

October 6, 2018

What Comes Out of Your Heart?

For the third time, we’re highlighting the writing of the man with the unusual name, Smith Wigglesworth, a Pentecostal evangelist who died in 1947. In 2013, we did an entry on him in our quotations series which you can find at this link. The following is the April 14 entry in Smith Wigglesworth Devotional (Whitaker House).

What Is In Your Heart?

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.
(Matthew 12:35 NLT)

Scripture reading: Matthew 12:25-45 (click here for NIV passage)

God’s mercy never fails. When Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he set his face to go to the cross for you and me. When He came down from the mountain, there was a man there who had a son whom the Devil had taken and thrown down and bruised. The man cried out, saying, “Lord come and help me. Here is my son; the Devil takes him and tears at him until he foams at the mouth. I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not help him.” (See Mark 9:17-18.)

May God strengthen our hands and take away all our unbelief. Jesus said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?…Bring him to Me(v. 19), and they brought him to Jesus, who cast out the evil spirit. But even in the presence of Jesus, those evil spirits tore the boy and left him as one dead until Christ lifted him up. (See verses 20-27.)

Just think of that satanic power. The Devil goes about to kill, “seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), but Christ said, “I came to give life, and life more abundantly” (John 10:10). May God keep us in the place where the Devil will have no power and no victory. I pray God that the demon powers that come out of people in today’s churches will never return again.

Oh, if I could only show you what it means to be delivered by the power of Jesus and what it means to lose your deliverance through your own foolishness! I know of a case like this. A man possessed by demonic power and sickness and weakness came to Jesus, and He cast the evil spirit out. The man was made whole. Then, instead of the man seeking the Holy Spirit and the light of God, he afterward went to the races. God save us! The healing power is for the glory of God, and it appears that this man was like the teaching that Jesus gave in Matthew 12. His house was “empty, swept, and put in order” (Matt. 12:44), but he did not receive Christ and the power of the Spirit. So the evil spirit went back and found he could gain an entrance again because the man had no other inhabitant in him. He took with him other evil spirits, and the man’s case was worse than before. (See verses 43-45.)

We must make sure that the power of God comes to inhabit us. Are you willing to so surrender yourself to God today that Satan will have no dominion over you?

► Thought for today: If you want to be healed by the power of God, it means that your life has to be filled with God.



Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian sources. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. 

September 27, 2018

How to Not Go Crazy When Offended

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by Clarke Dixon

Offence can drive us crazy. Offence can make us crazy. We can sink to our lowest thoughts and actions when offended. Nothing draws foolishness out of us like offence. John Bevere calls offence “the bait of Satan”. Indeed he wrote a whole book on how offence can lead the offended into terrible trouble. No one took the bait more quickly, no one stands as a better example of foolishness in taking offence, than Haman from the Book of Esther. Let us learn from Haman how not to handle offence.

Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai;  nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king.  Haman added, “Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king.  Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go with the king to the banquet in good spirits.” This advice pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made. Esther 5:9-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

First, do not make it about you, do not take it personally. What do I mean by that? Haman takes the offence of Mordecai’s failure to rise in his presence very personally. It is as if he is thinking “how dare this man do this to ME, this is so disrespectful to ME, does he not realize who I am, how could anyone do this to ME?”. What he could have thought instead was “This Mordecai is a disrespectful person”. You can feel the difference! When we take things personally, we make the problem centre on us. We can, instead, leave the problem where it belongs, at the feet of the offender. Consider that an offence may be more about the offender than about you. “This person has a problem with gossip, I hope she can get some help with that” is a much different response than “She said bad things about me, time for payback”. Refusing to take the offence personally might even cause us to have empathy. What happened in the offender’s life to make them act like this?

Second, watch to see if there is something to be learned. Offence is an opportunity for growth. Do not assume that the offence has nothing to do with you. “What is it about me that was a trigger for this offence?” Had Haman stopped to reflect for a moment, he might have considered his over-the-top narcissism. He might have considered his over-the-top pride. Biblical scholars are of two opinions as to whether Mordecai was doing the right thing by his refusal to ever bow or stand in the presence of Haman. However, we can be sure that Mordecai had a valid point, that Haman was not all that. When someone causes you offence, it may be an opportunity to grow and learn. They might be shining a light on a blind spot in your life. They may be pointing you to something about yourself than no one dare tell you about. Offence, if it is rooted in a person’s honest negative reaction to something about you, may be of greater benefit than a thousand compliments.

Third, do no overreact in your response to the offence. Haman responds with a plan to impale Mordecai on a pole fifty cubits high. Seriously? Esther’s response to the offence of a threatened genocide is wise. She asks for a just response. In fact she says she would not have said anything if it were a lesser offence (see 7:4).

Fourth, do not rush to respond to the offence. Haman’s wife suggests a solution and Haman in effect says “Okay, let’s go!”. Esther, on the other hand, is wise in her patience in dealing with a much bigger problem. She fasts for 3 days before even speaking to the king about the offence, and even then delays another day.

Fifth, consider if the offence is something that can stop you from living well. Is it really all that important? Mordecai neither stands nor trembles in Haman’s presence. Oh well, life goes on! In contrast the Jews are to be wiped out thanks to the Haman’s plotting. This is a life and death issue. This is an offence worth dealing with. When offended, can your life go on just fine if you let it go?

To help us in our discernment, we can ask if God has our back on this one. God does not have Haman’s back. He does have Esther’s. Is your offence truly an experience of injustice and is your response righteous?

Sixth, do not underestimate the power of conversation. At no time do we see any initiative on Haman’s part to talk it through with Mordecai. This again, stands in contrast with Esther who won’t even speak about the offence against her people until she has had dinner with the King and Haman twice. She is building relationship, leading up to talking about the offence. Jesus teaches us about the importance of conversation when offended:

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (NLT)

This means that we do not deal with offence by tweeting! Recently I heard podcaster Carey Nieuwhof lament that in our Facebook world people engage in broadcasting rather than conversation. Offence is handled better through a conversation rather than a broadcast.

Esther stands as the wise person in the Book of Esther, Haman stands as the foolish one. Esther points us to the wisdom of God. Though our sins are an offence to Him, He offers forgiveness and reconciliation. God Himself offers the best example of what to do when offended; pick up a cross.

When offence makes you crazy, look to wisdom, look to God’s Word, look to God.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 

September 25, 2018

The “Life” of Christ: The Mystery that Gives Hope for Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) This is a profound statement that presents the means to eternal salvation. The “way” and the “truth” are very straight-forward but understanding “life” has been confused and this understanding makes all the difference.

It is readily accepted by believers that Christ lived the sinless or perfect life and met God’s righteous requirements as outlined in the law. Although this is true, the Lord’s accomplishment of the law in the body of Jesus is not the fullness of “the life” that is needed to complete the believer’s eternal salvation. The Lord’s sacrificial offering is only the beginning of “the life” of Christ that saves. By faith or persuasion, believers must appropriate his life as the Holy Spirit which is Christ in them. (The category of “believer” applies to those who believe to the extent that they obey. See Heb 3: 18─19.) The nature of our service through the law has changed to service through the Spirit. “But now, by dying to what once bound us (the sinful passions aroused by the flesh), we have been released from the law and serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6)

The sinless life of Christ is imputed for righteousness (Rom 4: 11, 24) that the confessor might be redeemed from his or her burden of sin and its accompanying death. Those who remain in Christ (Jn 15:4, 10) will enjoy the promised hope, however to remain in him his “life” must be lived by those who call him Lord. The state gained at redemption does not meet God’s righteous requirements in full, nor does the life he lived in his flesh fully represent “the life.” The sinless life of Christ provided propitiation for sin bringing the old or first covenant to an end by meeting its requirements. It justified the believer and made provision for the New Covenant, however, Paul taught that “more” was needed to avoid God’s wrath. (Rom 5:9─10)

The life of Christ makes the believer competent to satisfy the New Covenant through his living indwelling presence. This is the life that provides “eternal” salvation. Many confessors are going to suffer judgement for failing to have grasped this truth. Paul wrote: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Note that the believer’s hope is Christ’s indwelling presence. Paul also made the relationship between “the Lord” and “the Spirit” clear to the Corinthians. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (from the law). And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:1718 Italics added) The Lord is the Spirit! It is the resurrected life of Christ as Spirit that is “the life” of which he spoke, the life that provides hope and the life that fully meets God’s righteous requirements. This truth must not be confused.

Paul addressed the importance of being Spirit-led. He stated that the righteous requirements of the law are fully met, not by the life of Christ in the body of Jesus, but by those who live according to the Spirit and not according to the sinful nature. (Rom 8:4) A person who has the Spirit can either live the life of Christ in him or her through obedience to the Spirit or they can deny his life and live according to their sinful nature. To further establish the importance of this life, Paul told the Romans, “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:1314) Hear this! The believer needs to do something to live. He or she must quench the body’s sinful practices through the Spirit of Christ. A person’s escape from the first covenant and the promise of sonship depends upon honoring the life of Christ as Spirit. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18)

The atonement that justified and redeemed the believer upon confession of faith was precisely so that past sins could be cleansed and he or she could be gifted with the Spirit to make available “the life” of Christ. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13…14)

Once redeemed the believer must still meet God’s righteous requirements. “The law of the Spirit of life” sets people free from “the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2) Although the Old Covenant Law no longer applies to those living in obedience (Heb 5:9) to the law of the Spirit of life, the law of Christ still applies. Paul stated that having been freed from the law (Old Covenant) he was “not free from God’s law but [was] under Christ’s law.” (1 Cor 9:21) Christ’s law is dynamic and living and requires ears to hear the Spirit’s call. Many are unaware of God’s requirement or of their need. Those who thwart, deny, or quench the Spirit are preventing Christ’s ministry on their behalf. Through his life as indwelling Spirit he has come to enlighten, lead, and empower for victory over temptations and unrighteousness making them “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16). Paul admonished the Philippians to “continue to work out (katergazomai– “to work fully”, “to finish”) your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12─13)

All will be subject to judgment or reward (2 Cor 5:10) at the judgment seat of Christ for the way they have allowed his life to manifest itself in them. “[H]ow much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.” (Rom 5:10) Eternal salvation belongs to the faithful, and obedience is the practice of faith as allowance is made for the exercise of his life in the believer.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here alternate Tuesdays.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

September 22, 2018

Compromise will Destroy a Cause

Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.
 -2 John: 9 NLT

This is our fourth time at the excellent online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. Today’s writer is Billy Alexander. (Be sure to click the links to read the referenced scriptures in full.) Click the title below to read at source.

Misery Compromise

“For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth (2 Peter 1:12).’”

In the early years of this nation a group of Quakers formed what they called “The Society of Friends” who pledged to “disown any member who owned, bought or sold a slave.”1 But the Friends went even further and called for a boycott of any goods that had been produced by slave labor. By 1804 the society was defunct and a former member attributed their demise to allowing slaveholders to join. Their compromise killed their cause.

Such killer compromises are not uncommon to any group. Many conservative political groups cite O’Sullivan’s law which states that institution that is not explicitly right wing will become left wing in time. Many Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale began with the conviction that there is no true knowledge or wisdom apart from Jesus are now hostile to campus groups that maintain their institutions original charters. Just consider the devolution of the Boy Scouts political compromises over the last two decades to see how quickly such long standing organizations can lose their objective and be transformed by others who do not share their purposes.

Of course, such killer compromises are not unknown to God’s people. The nation of Judah was led by the godly king Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:3-4) while their northern kindred had grown apostate and were ruled by the wicked king Ahab (1 Kings 21:25). Through the marriage of their children the two kings became allies (2 Kings 8:17-18, 2 Chronicles 18:1). For this reason, Jehu the prophet of God upbraided Jehoshaphat, saying, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Therefore the wrath of the LORD is upon you (2 Chronicles 19:2).” Not only did this daughter of Ahab corrupt Jehoshaphat’s son, the entire nation suffered and she murdered all but one of Jehoshaphat’s heirs (2 Kings 11:1-2). Jehoshaphat’s agreement to serve with the idolatrous King Ahab was literally a killer compromise that nearly ruined his nation and almost eradicated his royal line.

After returning from captivity a remnant of Jews returned to Jerusalem to being to rebuild city’s walls and temple. Having been persecuted strongly in their efforts a group of Samaritans approached them and asked to assist them, asserting that they served the same God (Ezra 4:1-4). On the surface this seems like a harmless request but Zerubbabel knew that the Samaritans worship of Jehovah had been corrupted by the introduction of idols so he refused allow them to collaborate in the Jewish mission to rebuild the city and her temple. As the governor of the people he stayed on mission and rejected their offer of a killer compromise.

More than anytime, time since perhaps her infancy, the church is being pressed to compromise with this world on many fronts and some are all too eager to bend to these pressures. Whether it be in organization, worship, or doctrine Christians are being tempted to make killer compromises with the world’s ways. As Paul would ask, “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:15)?

Unfortunately, doctrine is becoming a dirty word among some Christians but it should not be. Biblical instruction acts as an inoculation against the deadly compromises with the world (Romans 12:2). Doctrine is as much a part of church’s charter in the Great Commission as making disciples and baptizing them (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ’s teachings cannot be compromised (2 John 9). Teaching these critical truths to the church in new effective ways is not in itself compromise and it essential if we are to truly remain the “called out.”

But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).”


1Crothers, A. G. 2005. “Quaker Merchants and Slavery in Early National Alexandria, Virginia: The Ordeal of William Hartshorne.” Journal of the Early Republic 25: 47-77. http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/docview/220964217?accountid=3783.



Unrelated: Would you be able to explain to someone what the fish symbol with the Greek letters (often seen on the back of cars) actually means? A few days ago at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, we took a few minutes to review the meaning of the ickthus or ickthys.

September 7, 2018

A Higher Life

No, the title isn’t a reference to recreational drug use, though if that’s what brought you here, let me offer you something better.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
 Hebrews 10:24 NLT

In a recent article at CT Women (part of Christianity Today) titled Why You Can’t Name the Virtues, Karen Swallow Prior looks at the underlying foundation that is often not discussed for moral behavior, which is more frequently seen.

For the past several decades, American evangelicalism has been concerned about morality—and for good reason. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, divorce, materialism, racism, and countless other ills so permeate our culture—even among the churched—that they seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But moral choices flow from moral character. Perhaps if we wish to reform morality, we should turn more attention to the formation of character.

Indeed, you can’t legislate morality, neither can you force it to be part of religious observance; but morality flows from core character. You need to have a certain bent (or if you prefer, predilection) to want to behave morally. It’s the same way in which we don’t engage in certain behaviors or practices as Christians because we must, but rather, these come out of the overflow of the heart.

She continues,

The early church fathers found much biblical wisdom in the Greek philosopher’s teachings on virtue. After all, the Bible speaks extensively about virtue. Faith, hope, and love, which Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13, are referred to as the theological virtues. 2 Peter 1:5–7 instructs believers to diligently “add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (NKJV). The Book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about virtues. The Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22–23—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—are virtues, as well. All of these qualities constitute the marks of good Christian character, or virtue.

One of the most intriguing and insightful aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy is that virtue is a mean between two extremes—an extreme of excess and an extreme of deficiency, both of which are vices. For example, the virtue of generosity is the mean between the vice of miserliness (a deficiency of giving) and the vice of wastefulness (an excess of giving). For example, healthy self-regard—or humility—is a mark of good character because it means being truthful about oneself, which is a moderation between the extremes of esteeming oneself too little (deprecation) or overmuch (boasting). This idea of virtue as the mean between two extremes is captured in the King James translation of Philippians 4:5, which tells us to let our “moderation” be known to all.

So what are those virtues? At the website Changing Minds,

When Pope Gregory defined the seven deadly sins that we should avoid, he also included a counter-balancing set of values that we should espouse and adopt. These are:

Faith is belief in the right things (including the virtues!).
Hope is taking a positive future view, that good will prevail.
Charity is concern for, and active helping of, others.
Fortitude is never giving up.
Justice is being fair and equitable with others.
Prudence is care of and moderation with money.
Temperance is moderation of needed things and abstinence from things which are not needed.

The first three of these are known as the Spiritual Virtues, whilst the last four are called the Chief or Natural Virtues. The Natural Virtues had already been defined by Greek philosophers, whilst the Spiritual Virtues are a slight variation on St. Paul’s trio of Love, Hope and Faith (due to variation in translation from the original: Charity and Love arguably have a high level of overlap)…

…The Seven Contrary Virtues are specific opposites to the Seven Deadly Sins: Humility against pride, Kindness against envy, Abstinence against gluttony, Chastity against lust, Patience against anger, Liberality against greed, and Diligence against sloth.

(We covered some of this a year ago Thinking Out Loud.)

Some would argue that this character cultivation begins with the thought life; that it begins with the mind. Just a few verses past the one alluded to above, in Philippians 4:8 we read,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
  (NIV)

As we’ve quoted before:

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a lifestyle.

Karen Swallow Prior continues:

…How do we go about cultivating virtue? Through something we sorely need today: good habits. A person is not in possession of a virtue by exhibiting a trait now and then. It must be routinely practiced for it to be considered a virtue.

Many of the commands, obligations, and exhortations that the Bible places on believers require intentionality, practice, and habit. It is, as Aristotle says, “a working of the soul in the way of excellence.” Or, as Paul says, a working out of our salvation “with fear and trembling” in order to fulfill God’s “good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13) the way that is most excellent…


Karen Swallow Prior’s newest book is, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books.

 

September 5, 2018

Revelation Brings the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth

We draw on resources from a variety of writers, spanning the spectrum from conservative Reformed to Charismatic. Today is the latter as we return to an excellent devotional from Rick Joyner of Morningstar Ministries.

Go to Heaven, Now

Genesis 28:12-17 tells of a remarkable experience that Jacob had, which is also relevant to us today:

And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth
with its top reaching to heaven; and behold,
the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

And behold, the LORD stood above it and said,
“I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac;
the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.

Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth,
and you shall spread out to the west and to the east
and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants
shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

And behold, 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.”

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said,
“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”
And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

The first point that we should observe here is that to Jacob the dream was real. Dreams can be a window into the heavenly realm. For this reason dreams have been one of the primary ways the Lord has spoken to His people from the beginning. In Acts 2, we see it will continue to be one of the primary ways that He speaks to us at the end. It is becoming increasingly crucial as we proceed toward the end of this age that we understand dreams, be ableto discern those that are from the Lord from those that are not, and be able to interpret them.

The second point is that Jacob saw a gate into heaven, and when he saw into heaven he was given a revelation of his purpose on earth. The purpose of all true prophetic revelations is so His kingdom will come to earth, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. True prophetic revelation will always be practical.

The third point is that the word translated “angel” in the text above is the Hebrew word mal’ak (mal-awk’), which Strong’s defines as: “from an unused root meaning to dispatch as a deputy; a messenger; specifically, of God, i.e. an angel (also a prophet, priest or teacher): KJV—ambassador, angel, king, messenger.” The point is the messengers that are to ascend and descend upon this ladder are not just angelic beings, but God’s messengers, which we are called to be.

The fourth point is that the messengers of God are called to ascend and descend upon this ladder. A primary purpose of prophetic revelation is to call the church to rise above the earth and to dwell in the heavenly realm now. Just as the revelation to Jacob spoke of the land he was lying on, the purpose of our entering into the heavenly realm is to bring the blessings and benefits of that realm to earth.

For the next point we need to read John 1:49-51:

Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God;
You are the King of Israel.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you
that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?
You shall see greater things than these.”
And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened,
and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Here we see that Jesus is Jacob’s ladder. The rungs on the ladder are the progressive revelations of Jesus. When we come to know Him as our Savior we take a step. When we come to know Him as our Lord we take another. When we come to know Him as the Lord above all lords we go higher. When we see Him as the One through whom and for whom all things were made, we take another step, etc.

The purpose of our study is to see our step-by-step progression to spiritual maturity. Understanding Jacob’s ladder is the center-piece of our study, and our calling. It is the calling of every Christian to be a messenger of God, to continually enter into the heavenly realm—where we get our message or blessing for the earth. We do this by increasing our knowledge and understanding of Jesus, who He is and where He now sits—above all rule, authority, and power.

We must become more than comfortable in the heavenly realm; it must be our home—where we are more at home there than we are on this earth. I saw a sign by a church that said, “We are just a waiting room for heaven.” That is not what we are called to be. We are called to be a gateway to heaven through which people can enter into and begin to experience heaven now! Every time we ascend we will descend with a blessing for the earth. The blessing we come back with is a piece of heaven—evidence of its existence.

In this way, we should be turning every place where we are called—our churches, jobs, and homes, even the places where we shop into an outpost of heaven. The way we do this is the Way, Jesus. Even heaven would not be heaven without Him. The Lord is what makes it heaven. As we ascend by the progressive revelation of who He is, we will see more glory, and we will carry that glory with us. This is the call of Revelation 4:1-2:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven,
and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet
speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you
what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit;
and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.

That same door is open for you right now. The Lord is calling us to come up to where He sits. Just as there seems to be no limit to the expanding universe that we can see, neither is there a limit to the one we can only see with the eyes of our hearts. He has not limited how far we can go, even to sitting with Him on His throne. What could we possibly have better to do?

You can find additional Scriptures regarding this teaching in Ephesians 1:18-23 and 2:4-7.

~Rick Joyner


Subscribers: We again apologize for the lateness of today’s devotional.

August 28, 2018

You are a Slave: Who is Your Master?

by Russell Young

How often have you heard a passage put in a context that seems to make sense without giving its meaning second thought? Romans 6:23 may be one of them. “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This passage is often used in the evangelizing process to confront people with the fate that awaits sinners and to reveal the hope provided by Christ; however, the context of this passage makes it more expansive than often appreciated. It is directed to both those who have confessed faith in Christ and to those who have not. Paul is addressing the question of whether those who claim to be believers should go on sinning “that grace may increase” (v 1) and has stated that we should “count” ourselves, or consider ourselves, to have died to the practice of sin which our baptism has pledged. He has proclaimed that sin should not be our master because we are no longer under the law. In addressing slavery to sin his words are:

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:16 Italics added)

In his encouragement, he has added, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (v 18) The freedom to which he refers is from past sin and from slavery to sin since breaking the law is sin and the law has been nailed to the cross. Paul wrote to the Colossians,

“When you were dead in your sins and in the circumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code (the law) with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:1314)

Old Covenant law does not apply to those under the New Covenant, therefore sin cannot be acquired by breaking its prescriptions. He has commended their slavery to righteousness since they were obeying the teaching that he had given. Paul went on to explain that although they used to offer their bodies in slavery to sin, they were to “now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (v 19) Further he explained, “but now that you have been set free from sin (past Heb 9:15) and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (v 22) His position is that slavery to righteousness leads to eternal life. It is in this context that he wrote, “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Many confessors have taken the last clause, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” to over-rule the first. A “gift” is normally something given unconditionally. Paul has not promoted the idea of a “gift” anywhere in this chapter, however. In keeping with his teaching on “slavery” a more understandable and a better rendering of charisma, the Greek from which “gift” has been translated, can be gained.

The Liddle and Scott Greek Dictionary presents charisma to mean “grace, favour.” The online Ancient Greek Dictionary (to 1453), Glosbe, represents charisma to mean “personal charm or magnetism; (Christianity) an extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit; the ability to influence without the use of logic; a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables you to influence others; personal magnetism or charm.” This chapter does not mention “gift,” nor hint of a gift, but of a life of slavery.

Gift” as used in Romans 6:23 is misleading. Charisma refers to the idea of the appeal or magnetism of God and implies a response by the one who has been attracted or charmed and influenced. Some confessors will not see the charisma of God and to others the influence of a holy God will not endure; they will be claimed by the world once more. It is the appeal of God’s magnetism (attractiveness) which motivates a person’s soul to pursue God and to become a slave to righteousness that provides eternal life. Christ is to be recognized as lord or master and it is through obedience to him (Heb 5:9) that he is able to accomplish the believer’s eternal salvation. Paul has presented that while slavery to sin –which is the continuation of sinning and rebellion against the Spirit—results in death the influence or appeal of Christ entices slavery to righteousness which results in eternal life.

Verse 23 is a summation of his address to the question concerning whether we should go on sinning so that God’s grace should increase. Those who don’t live in slavery to Christ as their master and lord by default become slaves to sin which will result in death. Confessors have the freedom to choose their master. However, the wages of sin is death but the charisma of God provides eternal life through Jesus our Lord, our Master. The sin issue cannot be resolved until the mastery issue is resolved.

Although the first covenant law has lost the power to enslave the confessor, a law still exists that can be broken. Paul said that he was not free from God’s law but was under “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21), which he has also called “the law of the Spirit of life”. (Rom 8:2) Breaking Christ’s law brings death. John wrote, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) If life over death for a brother can be gained by forgiving a sin, neither pardon for sin nor certainty of life must have been established for the brother.

The Lord addressed the issue of slavery, as well. He stated, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:3435 Italics added) A son is one who is led by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:14), who in slavery to righteousness, through which he or she honors Christ’s law.

Confessors would be wise to consider Paul’s words in their context and to choose their master carefully.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

 

 

August 27, 2018

Is Sin a Condition or a State of Being?

Today we’re introducing you to a new (to us) website, Faith, Fiction and Fatherhood. The writer holds a law degree from Baylor and attends a United Methodist Church in Texas. Click the title below and then check out other articles.

Is Sin Phenomenal or Existential?

In Matthew 5:28, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”

That’s a tough statement, especially given the following advice that if a body part is causing us to sin we ought to cut it off.

But let’s take a step back and think about this on a level deeper than the surface–and the shock that goes along with it. I’m a firm believer that many times when Jesus says something that seems very condemning, what he’s doing is simply laying out for us how the world works and what the natural consequences of a thing are. For instance, when Jesus tells us that, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” in Matthew 19:24, he’s not saying “God condemns rich people for being rich and no one should be.” Rather, I think, he’s saying, “The money and power that go along with wealth–and the accompanying desire to hold onto that money and power–make it very difficult to focus on what is good and true and righteous, because the love of power is seductive and addictive. Be wary that such things do not make you see the world in the wrong way, but keep focused on the way that I have told you to see the world.”

Likewise, in Matthew 5:28, while Jesus does say something that, if we’re being honest with ourselves, reminds us all of our sins, I think that his purpose is less about shaming us and more about telling us about the very nature of sin.

And that’s why this post is titled, “Is sin phenomonal or existential?” If you’ve read many of my other posts, you already know where I fall on this issue, but I’d like to develop the idea a bit more specifically.

When I ask if sin is phenomenal, what I mean to ask is whether sin is a matter of discrete and observable actions, specific behaviors violative of what is righteous. When I ask if sin is existential, I’m asking if, rather than being a matter of specific and easily-identifiable behaviors, sin is a condition or state of being.

The real answer, of course, is that it’s both of these things at once. What the question(s) really seek to answer is whether it is particular actions that lead to a particular state of sin or whether particular actions are the result of a state of being. Again, the best argument is likely that there’s a dialectic between these two things–bad acts make it easier to choose bad acts in the future, deepening a state of sinfulness, but without some existentially sinful condition, there would never be any sinful action, so the influence of one on the other must be mutually reinforcing. So, what should we focus on as primary when dealing with and discussing sin–actions or a state of being.

In Matthew 5:28, Jesus appears to be arguing against the legalism of the Old Testament law (here making specific allusion to the Ten Commandments) and instead showing us that sinfulness is a matter of mindset, perspective (compared to the objective, I mean to intimate no relativistic thought here), paradigm.

There are two quotations I prefer (and have used on the blog before) to encapsulate this idea, which is central and fundamental to existential thought. Having been a professional student and scholar of the Renaissance and early modern periods, both quotations are derived from that most elevated and rarified literary era.

First, some John Milton, from Book I of Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Second, Shakespeare: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.

Following existential thought in general, and Paul Tillich (my favorite theologian) in particular, we argue that humans, as a matter of course and necessity, make meaning in the world. We do this by relating things to one another in their existential aspects and phenomena, creating those relationships through storytelling. The “secular” existentialists see this as the fundamental cause of “existential angst”–we fail to detect any inherent and objective meaning in the things which we observe and with which we interact. But the Christian existentialist takes this farther, first positing that there is ultimate and objective meaning that comes from God, though we may detect such only through divine revelation; and, second, marvelling at the great opportunity, pleasure, power and responsibility we have been given in co-creating with God by establishing meaning through our own narratives, big and small. This process, as a fundamental aspect of man’s existence, is clear from the beginning of Creation–is not Adam creating meaning and relationships by naming the creatures of the Earth?

Upon recognition of this divinely-granted human power, we must immediately recognize the source of sin–the creation of meanings and relationships that are not in line with God’s plan and intentions. Put bluntly, seeing and thinking about the world in the wrong way.

And this is what Jesus warns about in Matthew 5:28–it’s not sin only when you take action to commit adultery; if you have created a mental concept of existence that sees women merely as objects of your lust, that permits infidelity and betrayal for the most fleeting of passions, you’re doing it wrong and you’re already in a state of sinfulness. It’s not enough to refrain from the commission of the action; you must change the way you think about and see the world and how all the things in it relate to one another.

When we compare this concept to other moral teachings of Jesus, we find great support for it. Jesus usually seems to be less concerned about specific actions and more concerned with the ideologies, social structures, theologies and existential states that lead to those actions: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” When we think about sin existentially, sin becomes about relationships, results and intents, not arbitrary restrictions. This comports perfectly with the Greatest Commandments.

Just as the plain language of Jesus’s words make clear, this is a higher standard of morality than avoiding the consummation of unrighteous intents; it is war on unrighteous intent itself. And it makes perfect sense; if you fall into the trap of lusting after people in your mind, that objectification likely affects more than just the questions of adultery and fidelity. In many ways, such thought is about a reduction of the humanity of a person into a personification of of desire and temptation, an indulgence of the self by the self that only needs the other person as a tool of that self-indulgence. Once we’ve stripped such a person of their humanity, however small a slice we may cut away at a time, we will treat them differently, and not in a better way, though the injury to the person may be so subtle as to go generally unnoticed without deep introspection or close observation.

But to focus on just how fallen the idea that sin is existential and caused by our own ordering of our idea of Creation makes us is to miss the point. The strong implication, as Milton shows us, is that just as unrighteous narrative and mental/idealist/ideological relationships make us sinful, righteous ones bring us closer to God. Every time we shift our conception of the world closer to God’s intention for those relationships as demonstrated in Jesus, we are both personally participating in the Kingdom of God and, as we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, working to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.

In simpler terms, Jesus is implicating here that we create our own reality. Again, not in some relativistic way, because God’s intention for Creation establishes objective truth, but in the way we personally interact with the world and believe it to be. We have been given an astounding power of sub-creation inherent to our free will, but we are also called to use that power to seek righteousness, to become, as Jesus later calls us to become in the Sermon on the Mount: Perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

The scope of the Sermon on the Mount is not a collection of warnings and prohibitions; it is a call to participate in the infinite joy of existence as a child of God by seeking to create the kinds of narratives and mental conceptions that God would have us create.

 

 

 

August 21, 2018

Role Models Who Live With the People They’re Leading

Several years ago we visited a blog called Biblical Diagnosis and today I decided to check back in where I discovered this excellent article. Click the title to read at source and look around the rest of the site.

Starving for Role Models

Role models.

Oh that we could use some role models. Whether we attribute it to modern-day living, or to a more sinister cause such as the fact that the Spirit of the Anti-Christ is already at work, it is hard to argue that today, we hardly know people well-enough for them to serve as role models for us, or for us to serve as such for them.

Yet, it is by this Role Model template that the Holy Spirit of God moved in spectacular fashion in the early church, converting people by the masses and keeping them on the walk of faith. Consider the following text, in a letter that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy wrote to the Church members of Thessalonica.

1 Thessalonians 2: 1-12 – For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

They reminded the church members of the lifestyle they themselves had when there were among them. Earlier in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, we learn that those members once converted, became followers of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. Here, we read the details of how those three gentlemen preached the word to them. Their preaching were not just words, but a combination of words and a lifestyle that aligned with those words.

How effective do you suppose is this form of preaching, where those you preach not only hear you, but can also see you in action, and acquaint themselves with the practical aspects of your preaching?

Paul says,

For you yourselves know that…

we never came with words of flattery

… we did not seek glory from people, whether from you or from others

… we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children

… we were ready to share with you our own selves

… we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you WHILE we proclaimed to you the gospel

… You are witnesses how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you

… you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God

The Thessalonians knew that all those things were true because they witnessed it. Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy lived right among them, providing the Thessalonians with the most effective demonstration and blueprint for what the Christians life looks like. This is in fact, effective preaching.

To the Corinthians, Paul says something similar

1 Corinthians 2:2,3 – …I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power

He says…“I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling”. So it must be that the Corinthians also so how Paul handled himself and exercised his faith in those moments, thereby providing them with powerful practical lessons that they could rely on. The ultimate purpose being…

1 Corinthians 2:4 – …so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

We have to do a better job as being present for each other, that all may see how practically we walk in the Spirit. Much preaching without concrete evidence will only go so far, for the Spirit of God is a Spirit of Actions!

Do you consider yourself a faithful Christian – not a perfect one of course – then to whom do you evidently display yourself, so they may see you, know you, and learn from you?

Are you a great preacher? Do the people you preach – at least those who live in your city – know you just as much for your preaching as for your lifestyle? Or are the people left to suppose what that lifestyle may be?

We are indeed starving for role models. But it need not stay this way.

After all, wasn’t this the commandment of Christ…

Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy showed us how exactly we ought to do it. Let us follow them.

August 18, 2018

The Word of God Reinforces God’s Word

You’re looking at today’s title and saying, “Which is which?” I’ll just leave it at that!

Today’s writer has been linked at Thinking Out Loud but is being featured here for the first time. John Rothra’s website contains many great articles and I encourage you to look around. For this one in particular, click the title below.

The Hidden Message of the Old Testament that’s Buried in Plain Sight

While reading Joshua 1:8 the other day, I remembered something interesting I discovered while in seminary. Placed right at the front of various Old Testament books was a message from God.

Of course, this isn’t some sort of hidden, secret Bible code.  It’s not numerology or some sort of word twisting.  Rather, it’s something that’s in the ordinary language and that relates to how the Jews organize the Old Testament.

To understand the beauty of it all, we first need to have a basic understanding of the organization of the Old Testament, or the Tanakh.

The Three-Part Organization of the Tanakh

The Jewish Bible is called the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament), and it is divided into three parts:

  • Torah (aka, The Law/Teachings, the Pentateuch) – begins with Genesis
  • Nevi’im (aka, the Prophets) – begins with Joshua
  • Ketuvim (aka, the Writings) – begins with Psalms

The Tanakh gets its name from the first letter of the three sections: TaNaKh.

The books found in each section are as follows:

Torah

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Nevi’im

Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2  Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Ketuvim

Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon (Songs), Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles

Take note of the first book of each section because that’s vital!

The Not-So-Hidden Message of the Old Testament

As read Joshua 1, God reminded me of this three-part structure and how the beginning of each section reveals a message from God to us.  First, Genesis (the Law):

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Genesis 1:3 (ESV)

Notice that God spoke here.  God said words.  Thus, at the very beginning we have God speaking something, making his words and his will known.  In this case his will was to create light (and later the rest of creation).

Now let’s turn Joshua (the Prophets):

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Joshua 1:8 (ESV)

At the beginning of Joshua we have directions to meditate on God’s word.  Again, God’s word is in focus here.  Why meditate on it?  Because God wants his word and will to be known.

Now let’s look at the final section by looking at Psalms (the Writings):

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2 (ESV)

Just as with Joshua, we have an edict to mediate on God’s word along with a promise to the one who does.  Again, God clearly wants his word and will to be known and followed.

So let’s put all this together.

The Old Testament is comprised of three parts.  Each section begins with God’s word.  I believe God is trying to say something here.

Furthermore, there’s a pattern to it:

  1. Genesis (Torah): God speaks, reveals his word
  2. Joshua (Nevi’im): God tells us to mediate on his word
  3. Psalms (Ketuvim): God again tells us to heed his word

So the message from God, essentially, is this:

Here is my word → listen to it → listen to it

Are we getting the point?

Oh, on a related note, the Gospel of John, which begins by quoting Genesis 1:1, also begins with the word of God, this time the Living Word: Jesus.  The final book of the Bible, Revelation (also written by John), closes with the Living Word.

So, are we seeing the message?

Bringing it Home

While the tripartite structure is a human creation, I believe God foresaw it and providentially guided the process so that this message would be included.  God wants to reveal his word.  God wants us to listen to his word.  God wants us to learn from and meditate on his word.  God will bless those who do.

But it’s not just the written word.  God wants us to know, follow, and obey the Living Word: Jesus!

As you look at your life, are you heeding God’s word, the written and living ones?  Are you reading, learning, and applying the Bible?  Are you seeking, drawing closer to, and following Jesus?

God’s message is simple:

This is my word. Listen to my word. Listen to my Word.

July 23, 2018

Seeing Jesus in Those Around Us

A year ago we introduced you to Ed Cyzewski who we’ve mentioned many times at Thinking Out Loud, but that was his first appearance at C201. We recently paid another visit and found an article we hope connects with people here. Click the title below to read at source.

Do I See Jesus in the People Around Me?

Why don’t I help people who are in need?

The possible reasons are plentiful:

Am I in a hurry? Are financial concerns making me less generous? Do I have other priorities for my time and resources? Do I think someone isn’t worthy of help and needs to be more responsible? Do I believe the other person is just looking for a way to take advantage of me? Do I feel unsafe because the person in need may be high or intoxicated?

Depending on the situation, I’ve been all over the map when it comes to helping others. Sometimes I’ve initiated help, sometimes I’ve responded positively, sometimes I’ve offered limited help, and sometimes I have not offered any help at all. Perhaps money really is tight during that month, but other times I just don’t want to be a sucker. Thoughts of self-preservation can be legitimate at times, but often it’s just a convenient way to sound reasonable in my own selfishness.

When I refuse to help others, the focus is often myself. I’m considering my needs and my personal comfort. I don’t identify with them. That is what makes a passage like Matthew 25 so striking. Jesus identifies with those in need to the point that any generous act toward others is considered a generous act toward Jesus.

Am I able see Jesus in other people?

More importantly, do I see Jesus in the people I am most likely to overlook or to dismiss?

That is the whole crux of how Jesus judged those who helped or neglected to help the sick, immigrant, poorly clothed, imprisoned, and hungry. Those who cared for these people were the ones who, perhaps unexpectedly, served Jesus by serving the overlooked people of this world. Those who neglected them had neglected Jesus himself.

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
Matthew 25:40, NRSV

“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
Matthew 25:45, NRSV

It’s as if Jesus is trying to snap us out of our self-centered daily outlooks in order to perceive the God-given worth and dignity of each person.  He wants us to imagine that we are serving Jesus himself so that we don’t get lost in the situation or the worthiness of the other person.

And if imagining such a thing remains a stretch for us when we serve others, perhaps we have a clue to consider the state of our own hearts and our awareness of God’s love for us. If we are even uninclined to serve Jesus himself, then we know we have a focus on self that must be addressed.

The hope is that the generous love of God in our lives transforms us, reminds us daily of how great God’s mercy has been for us, and prompts us to show the same love and mercy to others.

 

July 17, 2018

Seeking God’s Righteousness

by Russell Young

David wrote of the agony of his soul and pleaded for the Lord’s mercy to be restored after his adultery with Bathsheba. He knew that he had transgressed God’s law. He knew that God desired righteousness. He wanted joy and gladness to be restored to him through a pure and cleansed heart. (Ps 51) His sin had brought him unrest, sleepless nights, and separation from the closeness that he had enjoyed with his God. Sin separates; it did then, and it does today.

Many suffer from the same discomfort that plagued David. Their lives have become empty and unfruitful for the kingdom. They even find it difficult to bless their families or their friends. They live in desolate circumstances. It is easy to get caught up in disillusionment and loss of hope when God seems quite distant and prayers are left unanswered.

Modern teaching would dismiss the possibility of a confessor’s spiritual separation from God. Those teaching would cover sin with God’s grace and “unconditional love.” However, the Word reveals that destruction can come from sinful practices. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God will not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction. The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:78) And, “He will punish those who do not know (appreciate) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:89) God expects his people to walk fearfully before him, to be righteous in his sight. The believer is to be a slave to God. (Rom 6:22) Righteousness must be lived.

James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (Jas 5:16) He did not say that the prayers of “Christians” are powerful and effective but that efficacy rests with the righteous. John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) The grace of God provides all that is needed for life and godliness and the Lord’s blessings rest on those who are seeking his kingdom and his righteousness through an obedient walk.

The Lord has promised: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) He was referencing a person’s needs–food and clothing. These are provisions granted those seeking to live righteously and who are seeking God’s kingdom. Ignoring conviction of sin is not living righteously and quenching the Spirit keeps people from enjoying the fullness and richness of God. Believers are cautioned against loving the world and the things in it. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV) Those who are surrounded by riches feel entitled to pursue them. In God’s sight such interest is sin. He does not bless the confessor who craves the things of this world or who pursues them but honors the person whose heart is established on righteousness, on him, and on his kingdom purposes.

The Lord does not bless those who defy him. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Pet 3:12) David had felt abandoned following his act of disobedience. His bones felt dry. Although we would not like to admit it, confessors can be too ready to excuse ungodly thoughts and actions, especially considering the wickedness about them. God is not so generous, however. That lesson will be learned through his punishment and discipline either today or at his judgment seat. Distress in life is not caused by sin alone, however. The righteous can suffer in pursuit of holiness as they are refined. Those who are walking with Christ, even though enduring tribulations will never feel abandoned but will recognize his presence and peace.

David repented and found joy again. In fact, God described him as, “a man after [his] own heart.” (Acts 13:33) Believers are to be men and women after God’s own heart. They are to enjoy fellowship with him, never feeling the dryness in spiritual life that comes from separation. The point is that God does not bless wickedness regardless of the utterances of those who would profess his “unconditional love.” He demands righteous practices from his people and blesses those who forgo sin and pursue his kingdom purposes. The LORD has said, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2)


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

 

July 13, 2018

The Washing of Regeneration

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re back again with Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog and I chose this one because it’s part of one of my favorite Bible passages.

Titus 3:5

…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5

This continues the thought of the previous verse, but it is tied into the whole package of thought since verse 3:1. Paul exhorted the believers through Titus in verses 1 & 2 to be subject to rulers, to obey, to be ready for every good work, and to do so in a peaceable, gentle, and humble attitude. Then in verse 3, he spoke of the wretched state that we all were in prior to being saved by Christ. That was immediately followed up in verse 4 with, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared…

That now brings in the words of verse 5. Paul begins with, “not by works of righteousness which we have done.” This is being contrasted to the state we were in, and it is complementing the “every good work” of verse 1. We were in a state of disobedience, living in a manner contrary to what God expects of us. In that fallen state, God initiated the process of our change by sending Jesus. We had not yet done any good works in order to merit His favor. Even if people before coming to Christ did good things, they could never meet the high standard of righteousness that God expects. Our deeds were tainted by sin. But even more, they were done in a state of unbelief.

Without belief in Christ (faith), there can be no merit for our works. Our state was fallen, and so nothing we did could meet God’s bar of what is considered “righteous.” And so Paul says that our works are wholly excluded from merit before Him. He sent Jesus before any such works of righteousness were possible. Thus, the sending of Jesus was an act of pure grace; unmerited favor. And it was in a condition of needed mercy. We needed to not get the righteous justice that was due to us.

And this is exactly what God provided. God sent His Son to us not in a state of merited favor, “but according to His mercy.” God’s extended mercy implies that we needed mercy. If so (and it is so), then it means that we actually deserved His punishment. We had not worked our way out of the pit of destruction. Instead, we wallowed in it. Remember also, Paul was an observant Jew. And not only was he observant, but he was the cream of the crop; a Pharisee. And yet, he includes himself in the equation. He was as in need of God’s mercy as all others. Jesus said as much to the people of Israel –

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20

Obviously, if the most observant Jews of all could not enter the kingdom of heaven through their own merit, then it shows that something much greater was needed. This is what Paul now speaks of in Titus. God sent Jesus to us as a merciful offering. It is in this act that “He saved us.” The only way we could be brought out of the pit of destruction in which we lived was for God to initiate the process. In that, and through that, we can be saved. Paul is speaking only to believers here. The words, “He saved us,” are speaking only of those who are actually saved by God through the work of Christ. However, it is inclusive of all who are saved – past, present, and future. Paul’s words are written as doctrine for the church age.

He then explains how this salvation came about. It was, “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Reformed theologians say that a person cannot be saved unless God first regenerates them in order to believe. They then believe, and after that, they are saved. They then say that being “born again” in John 3:3 is that process. In other words, a person who is born again isn’t yet saved. He is simply regenerated in order to believe at that point. Only after that will he will then believe and be saved. If that isn’t the craziest theology imaginable!

Paul’s words here completely refute such illogical doctrine. The “washing of regeneration” literally signifies “water for washing.” It is baptism (of the Holy Spirit) that Paul speaks of here. The only other time he uses this term is in Ephesians 5:26. There he says (while speaking of the church) –

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, Ephesians 5:26, 27

It is first through the word that one is washed. The word is given by the Spirit of God. This then needs to be brought back further, to Romans 10 –

“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:16, 17

Paul’s words clearly show that “not all have obeyed the gospel.” There is a choice (free will) which is involved in the process. That choice is based on the word which has been given by the Spirit of God. In hearing the word, a choice is made (belief). In that choice, faith is exercised. In the exercising of that faith, man receives “the washing of regeneration.” That is the baptism (of the Holy Spirit) spoken of by Paul here, and which leads to “the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” This is what Paul means when he said in the previous verse, “He saved us.” It takes us again to Romans 10 –

“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

The entire process is initiated by God, but it must be acted upon by man (faith). The moment that faith in the gospel is exercised, Paul then tells us what the result is. This is found recorded in Ephesians 1:13, 14 –

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

The sealing of the Holy Spirit which Paul speaks of in Ephesians 1 is the same thing he is referring to in Titus 3. Through the word, we “hear.” In hearing, we believe. In believing, we are sealed with the Spirit and are saved. The entire process is of God, and not of our own works. Faith is not considered a work (Romans 3:27), and it is something we must exercise as a part of this process.

Finally, the “renewing of the Holy Spirit” means that we are now acceptable to God. Though we are still capable of wrongdoing, that wrongdoing is not imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:19). Rather, God accepts us because of Christ, and our works are now made acceptable to Him through Christ as well. That is the “every good work” which Paul cited in verse 3:1.

Life application: It seems as if such a long commentary on what Paul says at times is unnecessary. His words are clear and precise. But because so many people have come in and muddied the theological waters, even to the point where there is complete confusion in how Paul’s words are presented, there actually needs to be a highly detailed explanation of his thoughts at times. Always be ready to dig into the word, keep the waters clear, and accept the basics as they are given (such as free-will) from the start. Once we divert from the obvious, the pure flowing river becomes tainted. In the end, it is all about Jesus who has come to give us the remedy to the state which we are in.

Lord God, thank You for the Holy Bible; Your precious word. Help us to read it daily, apply it to our lives always, and to never muddy its purity with unsound theology. Your word is a wonderful light, and it is the purest of water. Thank You for your precious word. Amen.

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