Christianity 201

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.

October 24, 2018

Taste Testing the Reality of God

This is our second feature sourced from Don’t Ask The Fish, written by Florida pastor Dr. Tommy Kiedis.

The Proof Is In The Pudding

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.
How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!

— Psalm 34:8 CSB

“Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God. We must all live in the tension of proof and faith.

Last week I read the stories of Ezekiel and John, two men who tasted the reality of God, albeit in different ways. Ezekiel was the bold prophet sent to pronounce God’s judgment on his rebellious people, while John the Baptist trumpeted the arrival of Messiah and saw him walk, talk, teach, and heal.

Their experiences got me thinking about the proverb, “The proof is in the pudding.”

Actually, “the proof is in the pudding is a new twist on a very old proverb.” So says Ben Zimmer, language columnist at the Boston Globe. Zimmer notes, “The original version is the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And what it meant was that you had to try out food in order to know whether it was good.”

In one sense, Ezekiel and John got to “try out” the food. Their experiences were first-hand, the kind most of us wish for from time-to-time: “Oh, if I could have just heard the voice of God like Ezekiel!” “If I could have just witnessed the work of Jesus like John.”

Not so fast.

Despite having seen Jesus, John the baptizer had his own crisis of faith. His doubts about Jesus spilled out as he sat in Herod’s prison. So unsure was John that sent his followers to ask:

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

— Matthew 11:3 ESV

How does Jesus respond to this temporary lapse of faith? “You go and report to John what you hear and see:”

  • The blind see
  • The lame walk
  • Lepers are cleansed
  • The deaf hear
  • The dead are raised
  • The wretched of the earth learned that God is on their side.

John, the proof is in the pudding. If this is what you were expecting, count yourself most blessed! Because you’re seeing it. The reality that I am the Messiah.

John’s problem — his nagging doubt — reminded me that we all live in the tension of proof and faith. In other words, we may get to see the pudding, but not taste it this side of heaven.

I turn the pages of my Bible to Hebrews 11, to those notables whose pictures grace the faith Hall of Fame: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and the rest of that confident cohort. They possessed a faith so strong we’re on a first-name basis. Yet, in one sense each of these only saw the pudding, never sampled it.

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.

— Hebrews 11:

The members of the Faith Hall of Fame tasted the reality of God, but walked in the unseen reality of the day-to-day. What are we to make of all this?

For starters, God does not owe you or me a tidy wrapped package that is the life of faith. “Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God.

I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words to the crowd after this encounter with John:

“How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.’ John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” — Matthew 11:16-19 The Message

Jesus is telling me that while the meal may not look the way I want it, I still need to come and eat. And as I continue to read Matthew 11, he urges me to come to his table.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

“Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God. We must all live in the tension of proof and faith. But Jesus, like the Psalmist, knows the happy person is the one who sits to dine, who comes to him.

Ezekiel, John, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab . . . they all dined with God. They trusted him — even when it didn’t seem to make sense — and found he is good.

How about you? Taste and see. The proof is in the pudding.


Note: “The proof is in the pudding is a new twist on a very old proverb . . .” from “The Origin Of ‘Proof Is In The Pudding’“, transcript of Morning Edition, August 24, 2012. National Public Radio. www.npr.org. Accessed October 15, 2018.

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

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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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.

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