Christianity 201

February 15, 2019

Mercy in the Middle of Judgment

This is our second visit to the site, Life Walk With Marlene. Click the header below to read this at source.

Re-Discovering God’s Mercy

Exodus 9:31 (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they ripen late.)

I have read the 10 plagues more than 10 times and this reading is the first time that I noticed this verse. What does this verse imply?

I realise that even in God’s powerful sovereignty, there is still mercy. Even when the hail struck every man and beast and tree in the land (vv.24-25), the wheat and spelt were not destroyed. Spelt is an old kind of wheat with bearded ears and spikelets that each contain two narrow grains, not widely grown but favoured as a health food.

As I read through the last 6 plagues, I wonder if anyone died in the first 9. Only in the last plague was recorded that people died. Amidst all the calamities that God sent to Egypt, He was merciful to them – giving chances again and again for Pharaoh to set the people free. Even when God knew that Pharaoh would go back on his word, God still stopped the plague each time Pharaoh asked Moses to intercede for them. We often thought but it was said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – so how He could count it against Pharaoh? Did Pharaoh know that? Did he not have a choice? God knew his pride and hardened heart, yet and so God gave him 9 chances to change his mind. In all the 10 plagues, God’s purpose was to reveal himself – that you may know I am the Lord. (7:17, 9:16, 10:1-2)

I am reminded of what I learned in our Old Testament 1 class. We often let our familiarity of/with the Bible hinder us from new discoveries and lessons to learn. The 10 plagues in Exodus are so familiar that I can memorise all of them (though never tried to remember their particular order except the 1st and the last.) The professor said that when she was studying at a certain school, some of her classmates who were not as familiar with the Bible sometimes shared fresh and new perspectives from reading certain bible passages.

I have read through the entire Bible for the past few years and still there are new lessons to learn even for the same passages read many times. The Holy Spirit helps us to read and understand and apply what we read. We just need to persist and disciplined ourselves to read the Bible regularly with a desire to know God more and apply Biblical truths in our daily living. Sometimes I get lazy, I get complacent and I falter. I read for the sake of reading. Still I continue. It might be an up and down journey but God persists – He does not let me go. So dear friends, just keep reading the Bible.

When life is not easy and God is still merciful. There is something new in the old; a fresh truth to hold in the familiar trials of life. God’s mercies are new every morning.


After we’d formatted today’s devotional, we realized it was shorter than many we run, so we decided to give you a double feature from the same author. The title of this one may intrigue you. These were several days apart, but both are rooted in the book of Exodus.


Mr. Christian, A.T.L.C.

I’ve been reading from Exodus all the details of making the Tabernacle and all the things in it. Once from the instructions of the Lord for the Israelites what to give, what to do and how to do (Exo. 25-28) a second time – a narration of all the people did. (Exo. 36-40)

I wondered what is there for me to take away from all the details in the description and construction of this grand project. But one phrase kept coming up: ATLC

As the Lord commanded… as the Lord commanded Moses/him…

1) Moses was a good listener. He listened attentively and correctly to all of God’s instructions.
2) Moses was a good teacher. He passed on God’s instructions accurately for the people to execute.
3) The people were good followers. They did all that were needed as the Lord commanded.

Applications:
A good listener listens attentively but more importantly, listens with discernment and understanding from the One true source of knowledge and wisdom.

A good teacher teaches diligently making sure the instructions are carried out to the last detail. A good teacher sows not just knowledge but reaps actions and results from the application of the knowledge.

A good follower listens and does as instructed. He hears, he listens and he works with his hands.

Mr. XXX M.D.; Ms. YYY Ph.D.; Mr. ZZZ D.M.D. I always wonder what all the letters after the doctor’s name mean. I surmise that the more letters, the more degrees, the more expertise, the more accomplishments, the more prestigious.

What a different and more impactful Christian witness the world would have if Christians were to have ATLC at the end of their names… not just letters but the spirit of the letters that form the words As the Lord commanded!

How do we know then that ATLC is as what it should be?

Exodus 40
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

In the Old Testament, the cloud represents God’s presence. The glory of the Lord refers to His presence – it signifies that God is living among them – right in their midst, in their company.

God’s presence
The cloud covered… A covering that encompassed and surrounded all of my being… The cloud settled… A settling – lasting and staying presence that continuously guides my doing…

Is God present in my life? Am I aware that He sees, He hears, He listens, He covers and He settles?

God’s glory
The glory of the Lord filled… A filling that leaves no space for anything else… a filling that overflows so that nothing else occupies… no vacuum… no emptiness

Does God’s glory shine through in my being and doing? Do my words and actions point people to God?

Let me ask myself… Ms. Christian ATLC… how are you doing?

Dear Holy Spirit, help me today to be and do as the Lord commands. Amen


Previously by the same author:

February 12, 2019

Aaron’s Golden Calf Today

by Russell Young

For those who think that Aaron’s golden calf was an historical event in Israel’s past, they should think again. The problem is that the calf is being worshipped so much that people do not recognize it as an idol.

I have been admonished by people because my words are not often seen as uplifting, not affirming the assurance of their eternal hope. Over the years I have been told to present a word more supportive and encouraging concerning their spiritual state. Like Balak, they seek a blessing even though their living may be in defiance of truth.

Moses had gone up Mt Sinai to meet with God (Ex 31:18) concerning his people. While absent, the Israelites felt it safe to vent their anger to Aaron, the priest. They had yearned for Egypt and the desirable offerings of that land and had grumbled about Moses’ leadership. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Num 11:5) “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Ex 32:1)

Aaron should have known better. His claim was that because they were “prone to evil” he had fashioned the calf. There is no evidence that he had tried to resist. The people had wanted the idol, so he had complied with their wishes. He did not defend God or righteousness but had submitted to their wickedness. He asked for their gold and fashioned a calf. This practice is certainly prevalent with many televangelists today. Give them your gold and they will fashion a god to your liking. They assure their audience that this (their created god) god is the one who will bless them. Unfortunately, many teachers and spiritual leaders are also of this faction. When fear of man supersedes fear of God, the line has been crossed and the golden calf is being shaped.

Aaron did not hesitate to encourage their delusion. He pronounced, “’These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.’ And when Aaron saw this (probably that it pleased them), he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord’.” (Ex 32: 4−5) He tried to restore them to God, but he did not destroy their idol. Consequently, after presenting their fellowship offerings they ate and drank and indulged in revelry. Fear of God had left them.

The Exodus of Israel was not pleasant. They had been taken into the desert for testing by God, so that he would know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commands. (Deut 8:2) The Old Testament reveals God’s history with the Israelites as he tried to forge attitudes of obedience and righteousness in their relationship with him. Because of their weakened, “sinful nature” (Rom 8:3) he could never accomplish it; he was unable to overcome their love for other gods and the rule and accommodation of their flesh.

There are many “Aarons” who have taken and are taking the gold of the people and are fashioning an idol that pleases the people. The sinful nature thrives on approval and on being appeased. When even false blessings are promised, people will gather to enjoy the hope given by the idol that has been fashioned. They do not want to hear about God’s righteous judgment, of the need for the obedient living that restricts their life choices. They want a god who is accepting of their right to self-rule and who offers encouragement concerning their practices, and who even promises an eternal hope despite their disobedience. They want good news as they see it. “For a time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3) These teachers will suffer the destruction that is promised to those who present “destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” (2 Pet 2:1) “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly.” (1 Thess 5:3) It may do well to remember that while God loved Moses, most of the people did not, and only one of the first generation who had been redeemed from Egypt (the world) entered the Promised Land; the rest died in the wilderness without passing the test.

While Moses was meeting with God the people had “become corrupt” in God’s sight. (Ex 32:7) Aaron had let the people get out of control and they had become a laughingstock to their enemies. (Ex 32:25). Many were put to death (Ex 32:27) and the rest who had sinned were struck with a plague. (Ex 32:25)

The journey of the Israelites was filled with trials and hardships, even death and destruction for disobedience. Their plight should be understood and taken seriously. The same one and only God is sovereign and rules today despite the gods that are being proffered. He is seeking a holy nation, a people who will honor his sovereignty and who will live in obedience to his commands. (Mt 7:21, 19:17, 28:20; Lk11:28; Jn 14:23; Rom 6:16; Heb 5:9; 1 Jn 2:3, 3:24; Rev 14:12) Those Israelites who disobeyed the LORD while in the wilderness found their hope dashed (Heb 3:18), and those who display lack of faith through disobedience today will also find disappointment. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9)

Believers are destined for trials. “You know quite well that we were destined for them (trials). (1 Thess: 3:3) The Lord said on the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kind of evil against you. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Mt 5:11) He did not call his servants to distort his truths to appease their listeners and to gain their gold. James taught that trials should be joyfully accepted because they produce faith that matures the believer. (Jas 1:2−4)

The gospel is a gospel of hope, but it is an eternal hope not one that promises peace and enjoyment from this world. There are many cautions that need to be realized and personal issues to be overcome if a person is to become an acceptable offering to God and to gain his kingdom. Those who seek a “golden calf” to provide comfort in this world, like the rebellious Israelites, will only reap destruction. (Gal 6:7) When God returns who will he find worshipping him in truth and obedience, and through trials? Who will you be found bowing to a golden calf?



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

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

Other book promotions posted at C201 do not originate with us.

February 9, 2019

Trashing Our Own House of Worship

We’re back for a second time at John Rothra’s website. There were a number of articles I looked at today, I hope you’ll visit by either clicking the link in the previous sentence, or the header for the article which follows.

Dear Church: We Have Much to Rebuild

Under the leadership of Titus, Roman soldiers destroyed the Jewish Temple in AD 70, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy from a few decades earlier (Luke 21:5-6). Since that time, Jews have longed to rebuild the Temple. The Temple Institute was created and has been constructing many of the items used in in Temple ceremonies, including building the sacrificial altar (this is not the same one you’ve probably seen all over YouTube, which was constructed and dedicated by “Temple activist organizations”).

As we learn from Scripture, though (and taught by the Jew of Jews, Pharisee, and zealous defender of the Torah, Paul), the House of the Lord isn’t a temple built by human hands (Acts 17:24). Rather, God makes his home in the hearts and lives of every believer in Christ Jesus as the risen Savior (Eph 3:17; James 4:5).

We, the Church, are the House of the Lord.  Yet, throughout history, we’ve found ways to tear the temple down.

The Church Often Tears Down the Temple

Over the centuries, the Church has persecuted and killed people they deemed heretics.  If you dare deviate from what a priest thinks you should believe or do, then you faced torture and death.  The Church even persecuted fellow believers for reading the Bible in their own language.

Supposed Christians decided to rescue Jerusalem from infidels (mostly Muslims), and attacked and slaughtered many during the Crusades.  Of course, they also killed Jews and other Christians they considered heretics.

And all this in the name of Jesus.

Although some things may have changed over time, the Church still finds ways to tear down the true temple.

In America, self-proclaimed Christians have used the Bible and Jesus to justify racism, segregation, slavery, and other evils (cf. Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women, Herald Press, 1983).  Today, many preachers continue to swindle people out of their money by making unbiblical promises of health and wealth.  The Church spends much effort making sure the world knows everything we oppose and how sinful people are, while often neglecting our own faults and sins.

Christian leaders and local churches attack other Christians over small matters that don’t really affect the biblical gospel.  If another Christian doesn’t hold to our opinions, interpretations, and personal tastes, then they are somehow lower than us, less holy, or outright non-Christian.

One need only look online at how Christians often behave toward each other and the world.  Egotistical pride abounds and ad hominems are standard rhetorical practice.  We cry victim anytime someone does something we don’t like or that we believe impedes our freedoms, yet often refuse to grant those same freedoms to those of other beliefs.

And all in Jesus’ name.

We Have Much to Rebuild

As the bride of Christ, and as the true House of God, we need to speak the truth in love rather than in judgment.  We need to help the downtrodden and helpless (Gal 6:2; Jas 1:27).  We need to preach and practice the gospel, letting love, mercy, and grace flow in and through us.

As God commands us through the prophet Isaiah,

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:16-17

We need to show the world not merely what we oppose, but whom we love.  We need to go out into the world rather than wonder why the world won’t come to us.  We need to seek the lost, comfort the hurting, and care for the needy.  Only then will we start to repair what we so often tear down.

We are the House of the Lord, and we have much to rebuild.

 

January 22, 2019

Saying Nothing: We Condone Sin by Our Silence

Judge not, that you be not judged.”- Matthew 7:1

Judge with righteous judgment.” – John 7:24


The one who gives an answer before he listens–this is foolishness and disgrace for him.
 – Proverbs 18:13 CSB

Seven is the perfect number (or so it is said) and this is our seventh time featuring the writing of Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California.  Today’s devotional is from Shane’s personal blog, click the title below to read at source.

Naming Names—Should We Ever Confront Others Publicly?

Whether it’s regarding a worship leader wavering on biblical truth or a pastor speaking error from the pulpit, should others ever speak out? When a podcast addressing a recent concern was released, the amount of positive feedback was very encouraging. However, some are angry when I name names. On the surface, I can understand. As a youth (and even today) I had the tendency to isolate myself to prevent future pain. I became an approval seeker, something you would find hard to believe if you heard my preaching. Angry people scare me, and personal criticism hurts more deeply than it should. So I, of all people, understand the need to build people up instead of pulling them down.

But here is the kicker: We don’t have to pull people down to address important issues. We can also use it as an opportunity to speak the truth in love and redirect them back to God’s Word. When a well-known person wavers on or makes an incorrect public statement about God’s Word that could potentially give millions the wrong idea about God, possibly validating or encouraging sin, those who have been given a platform should pray about tilting the scale back in the direction of truth. New Testament writers would name names from time to time for this very reason.

If a prominent Christian says they aren’t sure if pornography or adultery is wrong today, I’m sure most would agree that we would have a moral obligation to respond. But why must we remain quiet when it comes to the issue of homosexuality? Why are those who are simply clarifying what the Bible says scorned?

When a person, including myself, makes public statements, we open ourselves up for public scrutiny. Freedom of speech comes with social responsibility. We can’t always say whatever we want and hope that others leave us alone. Our words must be weighed carefully. Granted, I have concerns about some “heresy hunters” and modern-day Pharisees who lack love and humility in their blogs. They are proud, unteachable, and eager to dispute. They are doing a lot of damage and should be publicly rebuked. We should err on the side of grace whenever possible. Finding the balance between being bold or passive is difficult—I myself fluctuate—but it can be done if we look at the biblical course and remember that it’s not what we say but how we say it that determines the impact.

Those who strongly believe in the Bible and God’s will regarding sexual behavior also strongly believe in unconditional love and forgiveness. To say that authentic Christians hate or fear those trapped in the homosexual lifestyle demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the Christian faith. To truly “confront in love” simply comes from a desire to honor God and to sincerely love and care for others. The ability to relate to people on their level, show genuine concern, and love them regardless of their lifestyle is the mark of true Christianity (read more here).

Sadly, many churches take the easy route by avoiding confrontation. But saying nothing is saying something: we are condoning sin by our silence. True, we should not rush to judgment; grace, mercy, and forgiveness must be underscored, but we also must speak up now and then. God’s patience with us is a good example to follow. If someone is caught in sin, we should restore that person gently while being careful not to fall into temptation as well (see Galatians 6:1). Here are a few ways:

Examine your heart first. Believe it or not, Jesus actually encourages us to judge others (read more here). Because our sinful tendency is to point out the flaws in others, judgment must begin with us by removing the plank from our own eye. This means we should refrain from eager judgmentalism. Before appearing on Fox News to debate the topic of homosexuality (you can listen to the full audio here and a short clip here), I spent a month praying and fasting. I needed to examine my heart first. As a result, the peace, boldness, and love I felt while at the studio was a true gift from God.

Research the facts. Proverbs 18:13 says that we should not make a decision before hearing both sides. Be patient, and ask God to reveal what’s really going on. Don’t be quick to assume.

Don’t move too quickly. Moving too quickly can hinder our decision-making and damage communication. But on the flip side, moving too slowly has pitfalls as well. Sometimes we must intervene immediately, as in the case of outlandish media statements. But even then, I try to pray for a day or two on whether I should I say anything. Wisdom is needed here.

Lovingly confront the person when possible. This is often not the time for anger but for tears. Lovingly and graciously challenge the person. It may also be appropriate to walk them through relevant Scriptures, reminding them that poor choices have consequences, but there is grace and forgiveness via repentance. However, public figures are rarely able to do this; therefore, our public critique must be tear-stained and seasoned with grace.  It should not be something we want to do but something we need to do.

Offer a solution. Saying “I will walk through this with you” offers great hope if you can talk to the person individually. The man addicted to porn needs to show he is serious by installing accountability software, the wife who left her husband needs to end the affair immediately, and so on. Accountability often starts the process of lasting change. Here are some helpful articles and sermons on addressing sin in the local church.

When confronting, don’t forget about the emotional state of the person, as well as their family, especially if children are involved. Their spiritual well-being and emotional health are just as important as ours. When I write or speak against something, I try to imagine the person or their family reading or hearing it. Am I humble and broken before God? Am I seasoning my words with grace and hope? Am I encouraging them in their walk and reminding them that we all make mistakes—including me? I could write articles daily against things I see or hear, but I try to be very selective. We shouldn’t be eager to critique others. If we are, something is wrong in our own heart, and we need to back off until God deals with us. As a final thought, how can we warn if we won’t confront, correct if we won’t challenge, and contend if we won’t question? We must speak the truth in love if God opens that door.

 

January 17, 2019

Compelling Truth

by Clarke Dixon

How can you know that anything is true? If Christianity is not true, it is not truly compelling. So if we can’t know anything to be true, how can we be sure Christianity is true?

The idea of truth permeates the arrest of Jesus in John chapter 18. We have Jesus appealing to truth in verses 19-23, Peter denying the truth in verses 25-27,  the religious leaders lying in verses 30-31, and Pilate trying to get to the truth in verses 33-37. This is all capped off with Pilate’s famous words:

37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:37-38 (emphasis added)

What was Pilate’s tone of voice when he asked “what is truth?” If you were an actor how would you portray it? Would you make Pilate sound like a philosopher on a quest for knowledge? “Hmmm, an interesting question I would love to spend some time pondering.” Or would you make Pilate sound like a busy man who wanted to get back to his own plans for the day? “What does your version of truth matter when I’ve got so much more to worry about?”

Whichever you would choose, these are two approaches to truth today. There are those who get all philosophical about truth and say “We cannot be sure of anything, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Then there are those who could care less; “It just doesn’t matter, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Are they correct?

Can we know the truth?

How do we know that the entirety of our lives is not just some big dream and we will wake up some day to an entirely different world? How do we know we are not stuck in some sort of matrix kept alive by machines or aliens in state of dreaming as in the Matrix movies? Can we be 100% sure Christianity is true if we cannot be 100% sure anything is true? Can we be certain beyond all possible doubt?

Here’s the thing; we do not live as as if we cannot know anything. We live as people who know stuff! We are never 100% sure of anything before we make decisions. Even Pilate, after he asked “what is truth?”, immediately went to the people to report what he knew to be true:

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” John 18:38

Pilate knew enough to be able to form an opinion and make a decision. This is how we live. I had a scary experience many years ago. The roads were icy and I lost control of my car causing me to be on the wrong side of the road. I did not take the time to ponder if in fact it was all a dream, or that possibly the truck bearing down on me was just a hallucination, or a trick being played on me by aliens. After all, anything is possible. I knew I was in trouble, I made the right decisions and got the car under control again. This is how we live, not knowing things beyond a possible doubt, but knowing them beyond a reasonable doubt. We make decisions all the time, not because we can be 100% certain we are correct, but because it is reasonable to assume that we are.

Now consider that ordinary people experienced the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure about him as I could be sure about my situation in a skidding car. With the exception of Paul and his Damascus road experience, those who experienced Jesus experienced him in the same way they would experience anyone. This is true before Easter, when ordinary people heard his extraordinary teaching and witnessed his extraordinary miracles in ordinary ways. This is also true following Easter when people saw Jesus alive again. Yes, he was even more extraordinary that before, but again, ordinary people were experiencing his extraordinary presence in normal ways. They were not having visions or dreams, they were living life, but there was Jesus in front of them. They could see him and touch him. They knew him to be real, just as they would know anything to be real:

1 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. 1 John 1:1-4 (emphasis added)

All those who saw Jesus risen from the dead were ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure of him as they could be sure of anything. Sure you can always say “it was possible that the risen Jesus was actually an alien imposter,” for anything is possible. But we don’t live that way. Neither did people 2000 years ago. They knew beyond a reasonable doubt that this was the risen Jesus. The truth of Christianity continues to be beyond a reasonable doubt in our day. We will be looking at some reasons to think so in the weeks to come.

So can we know anything? Yes, we reasonably know things to be true, but . . .

Does truth matter?

We live as if truth matters, a lot. Back to my scary experience in the car. I knew that moment could have changed my life for the rest of my days, if I had any more days left in this life. Reality matters! What is true with respect to Jesus matters incredibly. Grasping the reality of Jesus is not the same as forming an opinion on whether Coke is a better cola than Pepsi, or whether the Boston Bruins are a better team than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is more like grasping the reality of a truck bearing down on you. It impacts every moment of your future. Why do people often live as if truth matters, but when it comes to spiritual things, it suddenly does not? You could say it matters more! Truth matters and spiritual truths matter, a lot.

Why has truth been challenged in our day? 

Deceit and deception are at the heart of the Fall as described in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve were deceived, and in that deception sinned creating a wedge between themselves and God. There are deceptions today which keep that wedge in place. For example, that knowing truth is impossible or does not matter. Deceit and deception also run through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate was being deceived by the ones who wanted Jesus dead. Pilate was not totally deceived by them, knowing that Jesus was innocent of their accusations. However, he failed to recognize that the deception mattered. He thought his relationship with the people under his charge was more important the his relationship with the one now under his judgement, the One under whose charge he himself was.

Ironically, while the crucifixion of Jesus happened because of failure to apprehend the truth, it is a clear window into the truth, that

. . . God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:8-10

Deception ran through the Fall. Deception ran through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t let deception run through your life! God is love. That is a truth which can be known and which matters more than anything!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast here.

January 11, 2019

Paul’s Perspective

Again we’re back highlighting The Life Project written by Don Merritt who is currently in the book of Philippians. If you’re looking for more in your Bible study time, this will be an excellent overview of one my personal favorite epistles.

Paul’s Unique Way of Looking at Things

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Philippians 1:15-18a

Paul has been telling the Philippians that he is rejoicing because as a result of his imprisonment the gospel is being preached in Rome, and now he continues his thoughts on that subject. It would seem that there are people who are preaching the gospel with impure motives, that they would like to stir up trouble for Paul.  He hasn’t told us exactly how this would happen for him, so I will leave the speculation to others, but let’s be honest; there are those today who preach for the wrong motives as well.

I have seen and heard of some who preach out of envy and rivalry, have you?  I have seen some who simply can’t stand the thought of anybody else serving Christ in that way, who are always afraid that someone might supplant them or their ministry.  Maybe they are afraid for their job or their position, or maybe they just have a sense of inferiority. Whatever the reason, they are only good “team players” if everyone else is on their team.  It’s sad really, for it should never be this way in the Body of believers, for all of us are on His Team!  Most that I have seen, however, serve out of goodwill.  As Paul has noted here, they serve out of love for others. As Paul put it, they know that he was put here for the defense of the gospel.  Yes, isn’t that why all of us are “put here”?

“Selfish ambition” may be a reason that many preach, thinking that they can “be somebody” by attracting followers, just as a celebrity might attract fans.  This sort of thing has no place in the church, and yet perhaps it is more common than we might like to admit.

I know about a particular case where there was a minster leading a growing church. He was doing good work, and yet like all of us, wasn’t good at everything. His leadership considered adding an “associate” to staff who was much more experienced and who could handle the areas that the minister had problems in.  When the minister heard about this, he became quite upset; all he could see was that the leaders were thinking he wasn’t doing the job right.  He felt that if they added someone to help him, the people would see him as having been rebuked in some way.  When the other guy heard of this, he removed himself from consideration, not wanting to cause any division.  Was the growth and health of that church damaged by this?  Would it have been even more vibrant had things worked out differently? We will never know; maybe that guy coming on board just wasn’t God’s plan, but I think you get the idea of what can happen… Right about now, we might want to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation and indignation, but before we do, maybe we should see how Paul reacts…

Paul recognized the situation, and while he did not endorse false motives in any way, he saw that good was coming out of it in spite of everything.  What did it matter anyway? For whatever reason, the gospel of Christ was being proclaimed, and that is the most important thing.

Have you noticed how Paul views things?  He isn’t overly concerned with his unfortunate circumstances, he isn’t overly concerned that everything isn’t always ideal, his sole concern is that the gospel of Jesus Christ goes forth so that some will be saved, that their sins may be forgiven, and that they may inherit eternal life.

I wonder, is there a lesson in this for us today?

 

 

 

December 8, 2018

Taking Responsibility for What You Read Here

This is an updated re-post of an article I wrote which appeared here in 2014.

Gal 6:11(NIV) See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology? Would he have a blog? It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising. Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that. I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of sign-off at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight. Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off.

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s. No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point.

I think it’s interesting that the first century Christ-followers were forging the doctrines we now follow. In a way, they were looking at the things Jesus taught and did, and then, in light of the resurrection and ascension, asked themselves the question that in our day was the title of a popular Christian book, “How shall we then live.” In other words, ‘Where do we go from here?’ Or, ‘What is the application of the Messiah’s teaching to our everyday lives, our work, our marriages, our parenting, our church-attending?’

With the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute! I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which borrows  content from other writers?” Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into a new year, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown. They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong.

And while we’ll include something every once in awhile from a pastor or author who is worth of name-dropping, most of what appears here is from people you’ve never heard of! People like you and me.

And so as I myself move forward into a new year, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite. But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. My hope is that like the Bereans, you’ll ‘search the scriptures’ to see if a writer’s take on a particular passage or topic is consistent with the rest of what scripture teaches.

I might not always pick the very best, but I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

…well today, anyway.

December 4, 2018

Repentance Must Be Proven

by Russell Young

Concerning his ministry Paul wrote: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) The Lord also told some Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to be baptized, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt 3:7─8) He further taught, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch in me that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful,” (Jn 15:1─2) and added, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me he can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Producing good fruit is the proof of a person’s repentance.

The need to repent of sins and to prove that repentance through deeds, is vital to understanding the fullness of the gospel. It is the part that has been excluded from modern teaching. Paul was instructive about the need for more to take place than justification through the blood of Christ. “Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 Italics added) It needs to be appreciated that reconciliation with God is not the full need of those who will dwell eternally with him. Reconciliation restores relationship with God so that he or she can get the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) In his letter to the Colossians Paul wrote, “To the [saints] he 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) The “life” of Christ that is “the more” is Christ in the believer, the Spirit, and he is to be obeyed. (Heb 5:9)

Modern philosophical constructs have twisted the Word to offer eternal salvation as a “gift” of God. (Salvation or deliverance from past sins and from the requirements of the Old Covenant is a gift; however, eternal salvation which provides freedom from judgment is not a direct gift.) Surely, they would argue, if eternal salvation is a “gift,” there can be no “more” required. By making such an assertion, they deny the “more” and the need to prove repentance by deeds. Those who live so boldly before God by rejecting the Lord’s leadership as Spirit (Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18; Jn 10:27), will have to suffer his wrath.

The gospel as taught by Paul, and the teaching of Christ, is that the saints are to prove their repentance by their deeds. Proving it requires living a life that is consistent with repentance and does not rest on an utterance once made. Paul wrote that believers are to work out (finish, complete) their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), and the Lord admonished his listeners, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 Italics added) Although philosopher-theologians have protected believers through the cloak of Christ’s great love and mercy, neither Paul nor the Lord have allowed such freedom. Repentance must be proven. Only the holy will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

When have you last heard teaching on the need for obedience, or on judgment for disobedience? Have you been told that having to endure God’s wrath is still a possibility? God’s love is expansive but not unconditional; it does not cover defiance and disobedience. He is building a kingdom of love and respect for his sovereignty. God gave his Son as propitiation for the sins of humankind and he gifted the Spirit so that his righteous requirements might be met. (Rom 8:4) The Spirit was given so that those who believe the Lord’s testimony and by their will submit in obedience to him are able to prove their repentance and avoid God’s wrath. “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10) As Malachi prophesied, “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Mal 3:18)

Those who fail to prove their repentance will find themselves separated from the Lord. “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) The separation will be based on their “doing” and willingness to submit to their Lord or whether or not they have truly repented for their rebellion and defiance.


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

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

November 29, 2018

Who’s In Charge Down Here?

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Clarke Dixon’s ordination. Congratulations on two decades of faithful service!


by Clarke Dixon

Who is in charge down here? Life can make us wonder. Is God in charge? Are we ever in charge? It might feel like the battle goes to the strong and the bullies are in charge. World history reads like a list of bullies giving way to bigger bullies. Personal relationships are marked by bullies taking charge. This past Sunday marked the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women. How long has humanity been around and women are still being bullied by men? Perhaps disease is in charge, or finances, or whatever we might be addicted to. Who is in charge down here?

It is a question the people of God in Daniel’s day could ask. They were well acquainted with big, brutal empires. If it is not the Egyptians, it is the Assyrians, and if not them it is the Persians. The first part of Daniel chapter seven affirms that this has been and will be the experience of God’s people. Daniel was given a vision of four terrible beasts arising out of the Sea. This is symbolic of the rise of four successive empires that are brutal. Bible scholars have seen these as symbolic of a mix of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Whichever empires they refer to, the bullies are in charge. This is an affirmation of what God’s people were experiencing; yes, it seems that bullies are in control down here.

However, there is a crucial moment spoken of in Daniel 7:

As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened. Daniel 7:9-10 (NRSV)

Brutal empires seem to be charge down here, but that is only until we are reminded Who really sits on the throne in the heavens. The imagery used in the passage above speaks to the wisdom of God and to judgement. Indeed, judgement comes next:

I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. Daniel 7:11-12 (NRSV)

The Kingdoms are stripped of power.  So who is in charge?

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)

The Son of Man is in charge. In other words, the beast-like empires give way to someone who knows how to rule like a real gentleman. According to some Bible scholars, the original readers would have focused on this as a promise to the whole people of God rather than to the Messiah. That is, Israel will someday rule instead of these empires. However, Jesus did something remarkable. At various times he referred to himself as “son of man.” He goes on to explicitly make himself the focus of Daniel 7:

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! Mark 14:60-64 (NRSV emphasis added)

Looking back to Daniel 7, Jesus is the one who “approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (Daniel 7:13). We see elements of this is what we call the ascension of Jesus:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (NRSV)

While the disciples were asking about the kingdom of Israel as a political entity, fact is, Jesus is now the king. As per Daniel 7, Jesus has taken his rightful place as the one in charge, now all nations are to worship him. His disciples are to be members of His kingdom, calling others to trust and worship the true king:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

Jesus is the rightful ruler, the better ruler, the one who reigns as a good and humane king unlike the empires that were described as beasts in Daniel 7. Jesus is a better ruler than anyone or anything else that tries to take charge in our world or in our lives. The awful things in life can make us wonder who is in charge. It might not feel like God is. It certainly might not feel like we are. Part of trusting Jesus, is to trust that Jesus is the king,  the good king, the coming king, and we are already his kingdom people.

Though the bullies may take charge and we may be victimized by life circumstances, when all is said and done we are not victims, but victors in Christ. Let the bullies do their worst, the true king has done and will do his best!

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 21, 2018

Surrendered to the Cross

We’re back once again with Rick Morgan, who writes in the UK at the site, Digging the Word. Click the title below to read this there, and then check out other recent articles, or “Today’s Top Ten” article links in the right margin.

Your Will Be Done

John 17:1-5 After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so He can give glory back to You. 2 For You have given Him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one You have given Him.

3 And this is the way to have eternal life–to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One You sent to earth. 4 I brought glory to You here on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. 5 Now, Father, bring Me into the glory We shared before the world began.


When we hear somebody mention the Lord’s Prayer we think about the prayer that Jesus said when his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Maybe you never thought about it but Jesus didn’t actually pray that prayer, Jesus wouldn’t have asked God to forgive his sins, he spoke that prayer as an example for us. (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4)

The prayer in John 17:1-26 is the longest prayer of Jesus that we have recorded in the Bible. It is our best opportunity to listen in as Jesus talks to his Father, it shows us the courage that Jesus had to stay with God’s plan despite the great sacrifice that it would require.

Jesus begins this prayer completely surrendered, safety and comfort are not on his mind, he is only thinking about God’s will and timing in his life. It is odd that the Giver of Life who would never have to die, willingly submits in obedience, He will choose to be subject to the curse of death. (Philippians 2:8)

God’s Timing In Jesus Life
(John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20, 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32)

Jesus never lost sight of his mission and purpose for being here. Imagine knowing that you came for a purpose and having to wait thirty-three years for God’s timing so that you can complete your mission. We can learn a lot from Jesus about how we handle delay in our lives, we get anxious and want God to hurry up, Jesus left the timing of events up to his Father.

Now the time is right and the shame and the pain would not keep him from completing his work. Jesus shows us that if we are going to do God’s will in this hostile world then we need to submit without hesitation to God’s sovereign plan to glorify Himself.

You will be inconvenienced and you will get dirty, you may have to go toward dangerous situations, live with uncertainty, or embarrassment. Life is full of risk, but the life that is lived for Jesus is even riskier, the side effect of living in the rescuing power of the gospel and being willing to rescue someone else is that you will have to live by faith.

Risk It All To Glorify God
(1 Samuel 14:1-23 / 2 Samuel 10:12 / Esther 4:15-16 / Daniel 3:16-18)

Jesus surrendered to the cross and we must do the same, He told us to pick up our cross daily and follow him, that certainly involves risk. God’s people have always been called to take risk, that’s the very nature of living by faith, we cannot see the outcome or the pathway but we step out because we are told to do so.

When we risk losing face or money or life because we believe God will always help us and use our loss, in the end, to make us more glad in his glory, then it’s not we who get the praise because of our courage; it’s God who gets the praise because of his care. In this way risk reflects God’s value, not our valor.

-John Piper “Risk Is Right”

God is most glorified in my life when I step out and rely on him no matter what is going on around me and how foolish my obedience looks to the rest of the world. The glory goes to God when the world sees me trusting him with absolutely everything.

It is difficult to value our forever life that we cannot see over our temporary life that we can see. The ability to put our lives completely into God’s hands and follow no matter what is a real struggle that most of us want to avoid. Very few people in our safety minded culture come to the point that the disciples came to.

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

-Apostle Paul

How radical am I for God’s will? We pray a lot about knowing God’s will, but few of us really want to know what that looks like. The number one prayer request from Christ followers living in the safest country on the planet is for safety. I don’t know of anybody praying like that in the Bible. God’s people chose to do God’s will despite the risk that was involved and they prayed that they would have even more boldness. (Acts 4:23-31)

In every life that is lived for the Lord there will be a moment when a radical step of faith is required in order to please God. I need to be willing to allow God to achieve his agenda through my life and I need to be okay with being uncomfortable and insecure when God shows me his agenda.

 

November 18, 2018

We Ask for What We Want; God Gives Us What We Need

This is our seventh time at the website Borrowed Light. This time around the author is Geoff Box.

Begging for Serpents

I’m in the process of preparing to preach through James. James is an intensely practical book. If you want to know how to live as a Christian, James will tell you. One of the overarching themes in James’ letter is that God is faithful to give what is needed to His people. To prove this point, we often quote James 1:17 which says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

One fascinating fact about the book of James is how heavily James relies on Jesus’ teachings in his letter. James 1:17 above is clearly connected in thought to Matthew 7:7-11 which says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

These two passages of Scripture got me thinking. Why do we often feel like God is giving us stones and serpents? Scripture is clear that our Father is good and will not do such things, but often when I look at the gift in my hands, I don’t see what I was wanting.

The problem is clearly not with God. I have a desire and perception problem. I don’t rightly know what I need, and often end up asking for stones and snakes, then when God gives me what I truly need, I get frustrated with Him. I look at the bread in my hand, and because of lack of faith, sin, or whatever reason, I see a stone. Instead of gratefully receiving the fish that I need to sustain me, I throw it away as if it is a snake that would harm me. And so I repeat the process of begging God for more serpents, receiving fish, then rejecting His provision and casting it aside.

What I really ought to be doing is as James suggests, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James1:2-4 The bread and fish of trials and suffering are good for me. I need them to become more perfect and complete. I need them to become more like Jesus.

I also need to more clearly see the gifts that God gives me. When I reject the gifts God is giving, I am essentially saying that God doesn’t know what is best and is not a good Father. So, I need wisdom so that I will correctly perceive the gifts that I am given and so that that I will begin to ask for what I really need. Fortunately, James comes to the rescue again. James 1:5-6 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

I desperately need wisdom. I need God’s help in seeing that what He gives me is indeed nourishing to my soul. I also need the wisdom to ask for better gifts. I need to stop begging for the serpents which are likely to bite me.

November 12, 2018

The Bridegroom Prepares the Way for the Bride

Today we’re paying a return visit to Dylan Tarpley at the blog One Thing. He’s currently working his way very carefully through Song of Songs, with several blog posts devoted to a single verse. Click the title below to read at source.

Hephzibah | A Bridal Paradigm

Growing up in church, I only remember hearing people talk about God as a righteous, angry judge. While this is certainly a part of who He is, that is the only side of Him that I ever knew. This only produced fear, guilt, and shame in my heart. No matter how often I heard about how God was angry with my sin, it never seemed to help me grow out of the sin patterns that were in my life. I just ended up like Adam who tried to cover his sin and hide from the presence of God.

For others, God is a distant being that is uninterested and not involved in their lives on earth. He spoke the earth into existence and then sat back as it took its course. In this view, God has no interaction with us on earth.

While there are many facets of who God is, I believe that the most paramount way to view God is through the eyes of a bride who is passionately in love with her Bridegroom King. While God may act as a righteous judge who is angry because of sin, He is also a tender Father who longs to walk with us in the cool of the day, just as He did with Adam in the garden.

As a young man, I remember being afraid that my dad would get mad at me. This had a measure of impact on the way that I behaved, but for the most part I just kept doing the same things. I would just try to hide it from him. There came a transition though as I grew in maturity to where I was no longer afraid of him being angry with me. Rather, I actually wanted to please him. I wanted to make him proud of the decisions I made. I assure you that one was much easier than the other, and made for a much better relationship between us. I have found this in marriage as well. Your marriage will always be a struggle if you are constantly afraid that your spouse is going to leave you or be angry with you. However, I have found marriage to be easy as long as you are in love. The same is true in our relationship with Jesus. We must mature to a place where our obedience is no longer only motivated by fear, but instead by love. This is the only way to experience true holiness.

It’s easy for most people to recognize their affection for God. In one sense, it is easy to love God. He’s holy, He’s perfect, He’s beautiful. What is perhaps more difficult is for people to understand God’s affection towards them. We find this in the beginning of the Song when the Shulamite begins to explain to the Beloved, “I am dark!” This type of thinking has caused many people to reject the love of God in their lives because of a false humility and a faulty way of thinking that says they are dark in the eyes of God.

As we watch Jesus prepare for His ministry on earth, there is an interesting transaction that takes place between Him and the Father. In Luke 3, the heavens are opened and the Father declares, “You are my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Even Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, had to be baptized into beloved identity before operating in the fullness of what was intended for Him. We must begin to ask ourselves, if Jesus needed to receive affirmation from His Father, how badly do we?

David modeled this in his life as the man after God’s heart. After living in a compromised state for some time in Ziklag, God delivers David from harm and David’s response is profound. He says in Psalm 18:19, “He delivered me because He delighted in me.” If we are honest, none of us would respond this way. We would put ourselves in some sort of Spiritual time out where we would make ourselves suffer for awhile, beating ourselves up because of our mistakes. Not David though. He was so rooted in beloved identity that even in a season of compromise, He was confident that God delighted in Him.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is found in Isaiah 62:4-5

You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.

What a promise! There are two words that I want you to focus on: Hephzibah and Beulah. Hephzibah means, “My delight is in her.” Beulah means, “married.” Many of us are content with the idea that He no longer calls us forsaken or desolate. We’re simply happy with the idea that He has forgiven us. Jesus longs for much more though. He does not simply want to bring you out of your desolation, He wants to give you a new name called “Delightful” and “Married.”

The entire story line of the Bible was built around a Bridegroom preparing a way for His bride. What if I told you that there was more to this journey than only going to heaven, but that Jesus died so that He could marry you here and now? It sounds too good to be true, huh? I agree, and that’s the best part. Dr. Brian Simmons has an interesting commentary on Jesus’ declaration on the cross, “It is finished!” Did you know that it was possible that Jesus actually says, “It is finished, my bride!” Jesus declared that it was the joy set before Him that empowered Him to endure the cross. You were that joy. As He was beaten and tortured, He was filled with the joy of one day being married to you.

I am praying this prayer tonight, “Jesus, sing your song of love over my life. Baptize me in beloved identity. I want to know how You feel about me.” I encourage you to begin to meditate on this idea that Jesus died, not only so that you go to heaven when you die, but that He could be married to you, today. You are always on His mind. I want you to get alone with Him and allow His love to wash over you as you begin to feel His affection for you as His bride. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

November 10, 2018

Mercy and Judgement in Tandem

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Pam Larson at the blog Knowing God Through His Word.  Take a minute to carefully see what she’s noticed in this passage.

Amazing mercy from a faithful, covenant-keeping God!

In Ezekiel 27, the downfall of Tyre is compared to the shipwreck of a fine vessel.

    Now you are wrecked by the seas,
        in the depths of the waters;
    your merchandise and all your crew in your midst
        have sunk with you.—Ezekiel 27:34 ESV

Tyre was proud, thinking that they were perfect. But they were allied against Israel.

“Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD:

    “Because your heart is proud,
        and you have said, ‘I am a god,
    I sit in the seat of the gods,
        in the heart of the seas,’
    yet you are but a man, and no god,
        though you make your heart like the heart of a god— Ezekiel 28:2 ESV

And in verse 17:

Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
        you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
    I cast you to the ground;
        I exposed you before kings,
        to feast their eyes on you.—Ezekiel 28:17 ESV

The chapter goes on with a prophecy against Sidon, another one of Israel’s enemies.

Behold, I am against you, O Sidon,
and I will manifest my glory in your midst.
And they shall know that I am the Lord
when I execute judgments in her
and manifest my holiness in her. —Ezekiel 28:22

Notice the twist here.  In addition to judgment, the people of Sidon will get mercy in the form of God showing His glory, His holiness and they shall KNOW that He is the Lord! And for Israel? Amazing mercy from a faithful, covenant-keeping God! Here is how Ezekiel 28 ends:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God. —Ezekiel 28:25-26 ESV


Although Pam didn’t refer to it, some of you probably thought of this scripture from Luke 10:

13-14 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had happened in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.  But it will be more bearable at the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

This passage is also found in Matthew 11.

November 6, 2018

Have You Been Deceived?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

Paul cautioned about deception. (Gal 6:78; 1 Cor 6:9) Having been deceived is being led into believing something that is not true or accurate. It means having been led astray, to err, to be seduced, or to wander from the way. Paul cautioned the Galatians not to be deceived. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature reaps destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8) To deny God’s provision and requirement of living righteously through the Spirit is “mocking” him. “He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4 Italics added) The nature of a person’s “sowing” or living will determine his or her eternal outcome. No wonder Paul taught of the necessity to “work out (complete, finish) your own salvation with fear (terror) and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)

The necessity for righteous living has not been annulled by Christ. He came to fulfill the law through his life in the believer. (Rom 5:10; Jn 6:63) All humankind have been called to repent of their sin and the hurt that it has caused the heart of their Creator (Gen 6:6) and it must be avoided in the lives of believers. He commanded them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt 3:8; Lk 3:8) Paul described his ministry in the same manner. “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)

The Spirit saves by enabling victory over sinful practices, thereby accomplishing the righteousness for which we hope (Gal 5:5) and producing fruit that is acceptable to God in the life of believers. This can only be achieved through a humble and obedient walk with God, the Spirit, who is the Lord. “Believers” are believers because they have been convinced that Christ is their means of righteousness and of their eternal salvation and consequently cling to him because of their faith (trust) in his ability to meet their need. Avoiding the deceptions of the evil one requires a committed and intentional walk. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9─10)

Many deceptive teachings permeate modern theological thought and the person seeking an eternal hope would be wise to consider without bias and to verify the doctrines that he or she accepts as truth. Although it is true that teachers will be judged “more strictly” (Jas 3:1), all will be held accountable for the way they have treated the Word of God. Believers have been cautioned to stand firm with the belt of truth bucked around their waist (Eph 6:14) and the husband has been instructed to “cleanse his wife by making her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:26)

While many teach that eternal salvation is a “gift,” (see a previous writing: The Nature of “Gift” Concerning Eternal Salvation) Paul has revealed that something is required of the person seeking eternal life. Believers have to sow to please the Spirit. It is often repeated that eternal salvation is accomplished solely by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross; however, Paul has taught

  • that it is achieved through the Spirit (2 Thess 2:13; Jn 6:63),
  • that the believer must be led by the Spirit (Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18),
  • that it comes through obedience (Heb 5:9),
  • that the believer must be a slave to God (Rom 6:22) and to righteousness (Rom 6:18), and
  • that judgment awaits all people for what they have done in the flesh (2 Cor 5:10).

He has also presented that “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 8:14) These requirements do not indicate a “gift.”

Some promote that all sin has been forgiven allowing the belief that for the confessor the nature of his or her walk will bring no eternal consequences. Those who claim the name of Christ and who walk in sinful, rebellious ways thinking that God’s grace has covered their sins, have been deceived. Old Covenant law did not give freedom to sin; neither does the New Covenant. (1 Jn 3:9) God has not changed nor will he ever. He is building a holy nation. The “old” or first covenant was a “covenant of the letter”; the second, or “new”, is a covenant of the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:6) The first was engraved in stone; the second is entrenched in the heart which is dynamically informed by the Spirit. As the Spirit enabled Jesus to live righteously during his time on earth in the body prepared for him in the womb of Mary, he can do so in the body of each person willing to submit to his authority. Claiming right to self is having been deceived.

Although freedom has been given from Old Covenant law, Christ’s law (1 Cor 9:21) or the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) must still be honored. That “law” exists in the recognition of the Lord’s sovereignty as displayed through conformity to his commands. (Heb 5:9) Believers are to be transformed into his likeness (Rom 8:29) becoming “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16) “Living according to the Spirit” requires obeying the Spirit. (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18) Unfortunately, many have been deceived and are not aware of this need.

Effort is needed to enter through the narrow door, and although many will try, not all will gain the kingdom. (Lk 13:24) Many will be “thrown out” because they were “evildoers” (Lk 13:27; Mt 7:23) or because they are “lukewarm” (Rev 3:16), lacking commitment or conviction. Making an effort is not a passive act; it requires energy, action, and determination.

In the end, all will be judged for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10) and everything that causes sin and all who do evil will be weeded out of his kingdom. (Mt 13:41) As Malachi has recorded, “And you will see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:18)

When a proclamation is made that benefits a person, it is easy to accept it as truth. The more the falsehood is repeated and the more the speaker is esteemed, the more valid the declaration appears. The Word even prophesies that “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3) Deception will be rampant.

People readily accept as truth proclamations that appear to benefit them but submitting to the evil nature will bring destruction. Satan is always ready to encourage the flesh in pursuit of its comfort and satisfaction. Those who love and practice falsehood, who deny Christ’s God-given authority as their Sovereign and Lord, and who live contrary to the will of God, will be found forever separated from their God. In the end many will have been deceived. Be wise! Carefully examine the Scriptures for their truths.


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

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

November 2, 2018

Sin Makes People Stupid

Today and tomorrow we return to Canadian devotional writer Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith. Yes, her writing is such a good fit here that I’m taking the liberty of ‘borrowing’ two different posts, two days in a row. Click the title to read at source.

Learning from history . . .

Which one is the wiser statement: “Study the past if you would define the future.” (Confucius) or “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” (Edmund Burke)

Our ‘home group’ is studying the kings of Israel. I came away with one question. They recorded the activities and outcomes of their kings. Clearly, those who followed God prospered and those who did not did not. Each one of them made their own decisions. If they knew the historical patterns, why would any of them choose to worship idols and disobey God? These ‘evil’ kings knew yet repeated the past. It seems all they learned from any study of the past was how to replicate it in their own lives.

My conclusion may come across as crude, but it seems that sin tends to make people stupid. As we discussed this during the Bible study, we agreed that the laws of God are true and He never changes, but even the good kings occasionally pushed against the boundaries and got themselves into trouble. That is, we are doomed to repeat history even when we know it, and unless God intervenes, the past cannot help but define the future.

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7–9)

This is a spiritual law that could be called cause and effect. It is illustrated in the physical realm of agriculture. If I plant a carrot seed, I will get carrots, not peas or corn. In my spiritual life, if I plan, plant and spend my energies in activities that are self-focused and driven by my old nature, I will reap a spiritually dead crop that amounts to nothing of eternal value. If I live according to the Spirit, the results will last forever.

The ‘evil’ kings were all about power and doing their own thing. They were not measured as evil by their building programs, achievements, battles, etc. but by their response or lack of response to God. The good kings were also not measured by any accomplishments as we might measure our leaders. They were measured by their faithfulness to God and His commands.

I look back at my own history and cannot make an accurate list of “this I did for God” and “this was fleshy junk.” However, I know both will be determined at the bema judgment seat of Christ:

“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10–15)

Because of Jesus Christ, my eternal destiny is not shaped by mistakes or rebellion, but by faith in Him. What is affected by the law of cause/effect is eternal rewards. Some of life’s efforts will go up in smoke while some will shine like gold.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your Word motivates me to think about motivation and about the power behind everything on my to-do list. Some of it is obviously useless. Open my eyes and keep them open to see and obey the Holy Spirit that the resulting work not only pleases You but will pass that final test.

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