Christianity 201

May 16, 2017

Seeking God’s Approval

Today we’re paying a return visit to Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty. Click the title below to read at source.

A difficult transition

One of the things about the Christian life that I have had the most difficulty with is fully appreciating my identity in Christ and the implications of that identity.

I have nearly completed my sixth decade of life, all but five years of it as a believer, yet I find myself trying to earn the approval of both God and the people around me. I need to transition from trying to earn God’s approval to responding to the love and acceptance that I already have. Rather than trying to be an initiator, I need to be a responder.

In the case of God, my head knows that he already approves of me. I do not need to earn his love. By doing so, I am trying to earn what I already possess.

In the case of the people around me, it is a fools errand to try to please them due to a combination of my propensity to failure and their own similar struggles. My experience is (John Lydgate not withstanding) that I can’t please some of the people all of the time. I can’t even please myself all of the time.

Yet, I am reminded that while I do not need to earn God’s approval, my life goes better when I am obedient to what he calls me to do. While I cannot earn God’s love, nor earn my salvation, I can act in such a way that brings pleasure to God. In the parable of the talents, Jesus enjoins us to faithfulness so that in the end we hear “Well done, good and faithful slave . . .” (Matthew 25:21).

But I find this complicated by the distractions both within and around me. My life has been a process of transitioning from being a man-pleaser to being first and foremost a God-pleaser. I feel that I should be so much farther along than I am in making this transition.

I am very good at making excuses for my lack of progress. I might blame it on personality (indirectly blaming it on God who made me), I might blame the way I was brought up or I might blame it on the people in my life. While these often make it more difficult, they are not the reason for my lack of progress.

My lack of progress in making this transition is due to my pride. I want to be in charge. I want to earn what I am given. I want to be admired for what I have done. I want to finally conquer the lingering feelings of inadequacy through hard work and determination. I. I. I. I ad infinitum.

My only hope is what Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:4-7:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

I should follow God’s advice and cease striving and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10) and let him do the work that only he can do.

May 15, 2017

Focusing More on What Unites Us

NIV John 17:20-21 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…”

Today we’re again paying a return visit to Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church. I think they do a better than average job of presenting that perspective and that’s why I’ve chosen them to return here today. Besides, to think otherwise would be to completely miss the spirit of today’s devotional!

Divisions in the Body of Christ Should Not Be

It is sad that Christianity is divided into so many different groups. We all have a little different interpretation of the bible and a little different understanding of doctrine. Obviously, we are not going to agree on everything but we certainly should be able to love one another and accept each other even when we differ on these things.

It is hard to understand why this is when God tells us we are to be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Yet, we understand that we are human and it is easy to lose sight of our first love. If we could only stay focused on Christ, listening for his voice and the guidance of the Spirit, loving God and loving others as God intended, then we could begin to look past our differences.

The problem seems to be that we are unwilling to see any other viewpoint other than our own. There are those such as my wife and I that do not attend an organized church. There are those who attend a church every time the doors are open. Some attend a house church, some meet with fellow believers at cafés, parks or restaurants and others meet in their homes over dinner. We should accept these differences and love one another rather than argue over who is right and who is wrong.

There really is not a right or wrong way to assemble together and we need to stop expecting everyone to do things exactly the same way. We should respect others viewpoints and focus on loving them rather than expecting them to see things our way.

Things will not change until we start focusing on what is common in our lives rather than the differences. The common focus should be on Christ, the head of the body. After that we should focus on loving others rather than arguing about the differences in interpretation and doctrine.

We also need to keep in mind that we are all constantly changing as God brings new truth to us. We are all learning and changing as we are ready to accept new truths. The interpretations I had five years ago are completely different from some of the interpretations I have now. I am sure in another five years they will change again as God leads me into more truth.

Sometimes we are afraid to accept others interpretations because we feel if we do not hold to our way of thinking we are compromising and not standing up for what we believe. We do not have to give up how we interpret the bible, but neither should we think everyone else is wrong. Besides, we really are not responsible for convicting people of sin or leading them into truth or even saving them. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. We are told to love God and love others.

When we realize we are each equally important functioning parts of the body and Christ is the head, we can start to change how we feel about those who do not see things exactly the way we do. We can begin to accept the differences in our brothers and sisters in Christ as we realize we are all following after our Father and our goal is to show His love to all people.

 

May 13, 2017

Jesus Builds His Core Team

Sometimes I have been guilty of using terminology incorrectly. I know in my younger days this was true with disciples versus apostles. To be clear, Jesus chose 12 apostles, but had many disciples. In Luke 6 we see a turning point where he, to use a modern church term, chooses his board members. …Actually, that may not be a great analogy; make that Jesus chooses his ministry staff.

12 During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. 13 At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles

When did this take place in the overall chronology? Meyers N.T. Commentary states:

According to Matthew, the choice of the Twelve had not yet occurred before the Sermon on the Mount; nevertheless it is implied in Matthew, not, indeed, sooner than at Luke 10:1 [the sending out of the 72] but after the call of Matthew himself. Luke in substance follows Mark in what concerns the choice of the apostles. But he here assigns to the Sermon on the Mount—which Mark has not got at all—a position different from that in Matthew, following a tradition which attached itself to the locality of the choice of the apostles (τὸ ὄρος) as readily as to the description and the contents of the sermon.

The important takeaway from the passage is not chronology, however. The thing we’re meant to see with greatest clarity is that Jesus made the decision after much prayer. At Heartlight we read:

Few events were more important in Jesus’ ministry than his selection of apostles. How would Jesus select 12 from the mob that followed him? These men would have to change the world. Could he actually find 12 that could do that? Jesus knew what was in the hearts of people. Would anyone be able to stand up to the challenges that he would have to face as one of Jesus’ chosen 12? Jesus withdrew to the mountains to be alone with God and pray as he faced this momentous decision. He didn’t choose 12 and then ask God to bless his choice. No, he spent the night in prayer before he chose the 12. When faced with decisions, whether they appear important or not, we need to follow the example of our Lord!

At Redeeming God there is an excellent article — also on audio — on this passage. We can’t reproduce it all here, but I want to share some of it; click here to read it all (including a biography of each one).

We often think of the twelve apostles as the only disciples Jesus had. But that is simply not true. He had hundreds, if not thousands of other disciples. Out of them, He chose twelve to pour most of His time, energy and attention into. The twelve are named apostles, which means “sent ones.” The question though, is why did He pick twelve, and why these twelve? At that time, when a teacher wanted to focus his time and energy on a few specially selected students, the teacher would pick only one or two, at the most three students to train. If you have ever done any serious discipling, you know that adequately teaching and training even one person is almost a full time task. But Jesus picks twelve! Why twelve?

A. Rulers

The main reason is probably because Jesus was picking men to rule in His kingdom. He was, in a way, inaugurating a new Israel in Himself. Originally, the twelve tribes of Israel were to rule over the nations, and they will again one day, but with the twelve apostles ruling over the twelve tribes (Matt. 19:28). Before that happens, Jesus has something new to establish – the church. And the apostles will be the ones to help establish it. When Jesus picks twelve, he was indicating to them and everyone else, that these were the ones who would help Him rule when He came into His kingdom. They represented a whole new Israel.

This would be a great encouragement to them when they faced trials and tribulations later in life. It can be a great encouragement to you also. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, you also will rule. You cannot be an apostle, but you can be a disciple, and many passages in the Bible tell us that Jesus Christ is calling you to be His disciple. If you respond and follow Him, you will later be given the right to rule with him (Luke 19:11-27). Not to the same level as the apostles, but still in a very special and significant way. By picking twelve, Jesus was reminding the apostles that if they followed Him faithfully, they would rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. We need to be reminded that if we follow Him faithfully, we too will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. There is great motivation and incentive in that Biblical truth.

You say, “Yeah, but I’m not disciple quality. Jesus wouldn’t pick me.” Guess what? These twelve Jesus picked weren’t quality either. We sometimes elevate them and put them on pedestals, but they were human just like us.

B. Ordinary Men

They were perfectly ordinary in every way. Not one was known for being scholarly or well trained in the Bible. Not one was a great speaker, writer or theologian. None of them had outstanding talents or abilities. To the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, failures of faith, and bitter resentment toward others. Even the leader of the group, Peter, was forever sticking his foot in his mouth. In fact, at times, Jesus is amazed at how slow they are to learn and how spiritually dense they are (Luke 24:25).

Furthermore, we see from them that God loves variety. There is not one perfect mold that all Christians must fit into. Some of them were fishermen. Two of them, one a tax collector and the other a religious zealot, under any other circumstance, would have been trying to kill one another. Some of them were brothers to one another. Some of them were married, some single. Some were probably craftsmen and tradesmen, or maybe farmers. Don’t ever think that you don’t qualify to be a disciple of Christ. If these men qualify, you qualify. Though these men may not amount to much in the eyes of the world, they are exactly what God is looking for…

…God’s way of doing things is not man’s way. According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, God chooses the humble, the lowly, the weak and the meek. He doesn’t choose the strong and the talented, the powerful and the rich. He chooses those who would never be chosen so that when He works powerfully through them, everybody knows that only God could do such things. The people we would pick are not the ones God picks. If you feel like you are not qualified to be a follower of Jesus, then you are just right. If you feel, however, that you are just what God needs, then you may have some things to learn before God can start using you…

So Christ picked these twelve to show that He was choosing some rulers for His kingdom, and He also picked these twelve to show us that we don’t have to have great training or popularity to be one of His disciples.

C. Students

What is most curious about Christ’s choice is that at first, it seemed these apostles had nothing to do but follow Jesus around and listen to His teachings. They thought they were going to be put to some grand task, and given some great responsibility, but all they did was sit around, go to parties, watch Jesus interact with other people, and listen to Him teach.

Similarly, when you first become a follower of Jesus Christ, it may seem that God is giving you nothing significant to do. It may seem that Jesus has called you to be his disciple, but then He forgot about you, or doesn’t have any true purpose for you to fulfill. But this is because, frequently, God’s first will for your life is to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Before you can live like Jesus, you must learn from Jesus. Before you can do His will, you must know His will. If it seems like you are not being used by God, then you should take the opportunity to patiently learn from God. There is nothing wrong with sitting and learning, as long as you are willing and ready to go when Jesus says, “Go!” In fact, he will not send you, until you have learned what He wants you to know.

Even once they were trained, they were not perfect. After their training was complete, the first night on their own, they all deserted, betrayed and denied Jesus Christ. Afterwards, some of them even tried to go back to their original occupation of fishing, but they failed at that too…until Jesus showed up and got them back on course (John 21). To be a disciple means first and foremost to be a learner. A lot of people think that following Christ is all about doing what Christ would do. That is why we had that fad a few years back where everyone bracelets and T-shirts that said “What Would Jesus Do?”

The problem is that we cannot do what Jesus would do, unless we first become like Jesus, and we cannot become like Jesus until we know Jesus. Not “know” Jesus as in “I know about Jesus” but know Jesus as in “I know Him as if he were my best friend.” And the only way you can become the best friend of Jesus is by spending lots of time with Him. That’s what he wants from you. He doesn’t want you to do great things for Him. He wants to do great things for you and through you. But the only way that is going to happen is if you get to know Jesus. Listen to Him teach. Ask Him questions. Watch how He deals with people. Let Him encourage you, lovingly correct you, and patiently instruct you. As you go through this process, He will eventually give you an assignment. First a small one, then larger and larger until you will be amazed at the things God is doing through you. But it all begins with sitting at His feet and learning…

…continue reading here

 

April 22, 2017

The Essence of Our Lives: To God and To the World

Once again we’re paying a return visit to the daily devotional section of the online Bible resource Blue Letter Bible and also returning to the subsection, Pastor Bob Hoekstra’s Day by Day by Grace.  These are related devotionals which ran a day apart and so we’re including links for both parts.

A Fragrance of Christ to God

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge…For we are to God the fragrance of Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

In addition to the characteristic of triumphant living, God also wants to develop in our lives the fragrance of Christ. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.”

Just as there are physical fragrances that can be noticed by our physical senses, there are also spiritual fragrances that can impact us spiritually. If a woman generously applies perfume to herself, others will certainly notice the fragrance of that perfume. If a person consistently presses on to know the Lord, others will definitely be impacted by the fragrance of His knowledge.” This is described as the fragrance of Christ.” This is that spiritual aroma that emanates from the lives of those who are getting to know the Lord. It is a validating reality that the Lord Jesus Christ is dwelling in their lives and is being evidenced through their lives.

As we are getting to know the Lord more and more, this spiritual aroma of Christ blesses even God Himself. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.” Yes, God is the first one who savors this Christlike fragrance.

Our ministry and testimony is always primarily unto the Lord. We who believe in Jesus Christ are to be finding out what is acceptable to the Lord (Ephesians 5:10). We are not here on earth to please ourselves. “Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). We are here to please our God. “Brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

What ultimately pleases our heavenly Father is His beloved Son. When the Father looked down from heaven at the baptism of His Son, He exclaimed, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). When our Father looks down upon our lives today, He wants to enjoy the fragrance of His Son emanating forth from our lives. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.

Heavenly Father, I long to bless You by the fragrance of Christ through my life. I am sorry that the stench of selfish flesh is what sometimes emanates from me. Lord, help me to get to know You more and more, so that the knowledge of You can produce the aroma of Christ in and through me, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Fragrance of Christ to Every Person

Now thanks be to God who…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

The fragrance of Christ is one of the great characteristics that God wants to build into our lives by His grace. “Now thanks be to God who… through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.” This spiritual aroma, which results from getting to know the Lord, blesses the heart of God. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.” The Father loves to see the life of His Son being expressed in and through our humanity, even though this requires our dying to self. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11).

As we are getting to know the Lord more and more, our God is not the only one who is impacted. This spiritual aroma of Christ impacts every person we meet. “God…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” This includes both the saved and the unsaved. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

This fragrance affects those who know the Lord: “the fragrance of Christ…among those who are being saved.” For those who are enjoying life in Christ, that heavenly scent in our lives is “the aroma of life to life.” Christ’s fragrance in us draws them to seek abundant measures of that life which they have already entered.

This spiritual scent also influences those who do not yet know our Lord: “the fragrance of Christ…among those who are perishing.” To them it is “the aroma of death to death.” They are dead in their sins, and this aroma makes them more aware of their deadness, more aware of their need for Christ.

When this fragrance is emanating from our lives, we are not the cause. God is the active agent, working in and through us to bring forth this heavenly scent. “Now thanks be to God who…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.” This work of God’s grace is available to us every day we live and every place we go: “the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”

Father God, I long to know You more and more. I want to have this fragrance of Christ emanating up to You and out to every one I meet. I praise You that this is a work You do by Your grace. So, I humbly bow, trusting You to work in me this way, through Christ, my Lord, Amen.

 

April 20, 2017

How Easter Cures Our Religion Addiction

by Clarke Dixon

We can become addicted to religion. Behind this there can be a sense of “if I do the right things, and say the wright words, God will have to love me and be good to me.” Religion has “me” as its focus. What I do. What I say. What I think I deserve. When we are addicted to religion we put ourselves, rather than God, at the centre.

The Christians in Colossae were being pressured into becoming more religious. Some scholars think that the pressure was coming from Jews who thought you needed to practice the Jewish religion to be a Christian. Other scholars think that it was an early form of the religious philosophy “gnosticism” that was the source of the pressure. Either way, in his letter to the Colossians the apostle Paul wants to set the record straight. In chapter two Paul lays out clearly our part in being Christian, but also what we cannot accomplish. Let’s take a look.

First out part:

Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV) As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Notice, first off, that Paul’s encouragement is not “since you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, now get very religious, doing the right religious looking observances, saying the right religious sounding words.” That would actually be too easy, for you can do that kind of thing on your spare time. What is called for is something far more profound; “live your lives in him.” The requirement is not in doing religion, but living life. It is an every moment thing. The focus is not the religion, but the Person of Jesus. It is a relationship thing.

Sceptics like to say that religion is a man made thing. Paul would agree:

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.

Paul is not speaking against philosophy as an academic endeavour here. Philosophy, like all the arts and sciences are worthy pursuits. Paul is warning against, more literally “the philosophy”, that is, a particular way of thinking being foisted on the Christians at Colossae. He is arguing against becoming too religious “according to human tradition.” Rather than pursuing man-made religion, we are to pursue Christ himself.

We could sum up Paul’s line of thought here with “live your lives in him rather than practice religion.” That is our part. Next Paul points us to God’s part. Religion highlights the things we do. In the following passage I have highlighted [in darker type] the things God has done.

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

The focus is on God’s activity. As Paul warns the Christians at Colossae against false religion, he puts the focus on what God has done in Christ. While religion points us to our activity, relationship with God as revealed in the Bible has always been first about what God has done. He created. He Made a covenant with Noah. He called Abraham with his promise of blessing that would touch the world. He rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He gave His chosen people the law at Sinai. He gave them the promised land. He called the prophets and gave them the words to speak. He came to us incarnate in Jesus. He, God the Father, raised Jesus, God the Son, from the dead. While religion has what we can do as its focus, Christianity has as its focus, something we could never do, that is, raise the dead.

Because Jesus is risen, we do not practice Christianity as a religion, we relate to Jesus as a living Person. We serve Him, we worship Him, we adore Him, we learn from Him. This may give the appearance of being religious as prayer, the Bible, and church become expressions of that. These religious looking things are not the practice of religion, but rather part of how we live our lives in Christ. Living our lives in Christ goes way deeper than doing “religious duties,” it goes to walking with the Spirit and being transformed from the inside out: “. . .the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Compared to character transformation, being merely religious would be far too easy!

Paul continues his argument against being religious:

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Religion fills us with pride as we point to what we have done. The events of Easter fill us with humility as they point to what we have done. We committed a reprehensible crime when we crucified Jesus. We fell short of the glory of God. The events of Easter also point to what God has done. He has reconciled us to Himself. Our part is to live in Christ, “holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” Are you addicted to religion? God has done for you through the events at Easter what religion never could. Why dedicate yourself to religion, when you can dedicate yourself to the One Who loves you?

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more at Clarke’s blog Sundays Shrunk Sermon

April 18, 2017

The Crucifixion in Street Language

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:5, NKJV and NLT


From The Street Bible by the late Rob Lacey*

The macabre scene moves slowly up Skull Hill. They get there and the Roman Death Squad shove a cocktail made of wine with myrrh into Jesus’ face. He takes a sip but spits it out, flat refusing to drink the stuff.

They pin Jesus to the rough crossbar leaving him to die. Him and the two hardened criminals — one on either side. Jesus says, “Dad! Don’t hold this against these people — wipe their slates clean. They’ve got no idea what’s going on here!”

The Death Squad rip his clothes off and start playing gambling games to see who “inherits” the clothing mementos.

Time check: Friday 9 AM. One of the soldiers grabs the multi-use Offence Placard, writes up Jesus’ “crime” and then pins it just above his head. It reads, “Jesus: King of the Jews”.

The other two victims with him — the terrorists — one on either side of the central focus point, Jesus… bite back their excruciating pain and add their jibes to the mix… “Aren’t you supposed to be The Liberator? Get liberating, won’t you? You need it and we need it!”

But the other guy calls across, “Don’t you have no respect for God? You’re getting what you had coming to you, but this guy’s done nothing wrong. So shut it!”

The second career criminal turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, don’t forget me when you sit on your throne, okay?”

Jesus answers him, “I’ll tell you today — no lie — you and me, we’ll be in paradise together.”

Time check: 12 midday. It goes dark, totally dark, for three full hours right across Judah. Nothing except the chilling sound track of three men inching toward Death. Later, about three in the afternoon, Jesus freaks those still left there by shouting, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Translation: “My God, my God, why’ve you abandoned me?”

Some of those within earshot hear the “Eli, Eli” bit and get the wrong end of the stick, saying, “Listen, he’s trying to connect with Elijah!”

Knee-jerk reaction for one guy was to offer some soured wine to the sufferer, hoisting a soaked sponge of the stuff up to Jesus on a stick. Others are going, “Whoa! Hang on. Wait to see if Elijah’s going to turn up like a one-man SWAT team and rescue him.”

Jesus shouts on out one more time and finally allows his spirit to be torn out of his broken body.

He cries out, “Dad, I trust you with my spirit!”

His last words.

He dies.


Quotations about The Cross:

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, “I love you.” ~ Billy Graham


All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. –E. M Bounds


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin. ~ Watchman Nee


Today Jesus Christ is being dispatched as the Figurehead of a Religion, a mere example. He is that, but he is infinitely more; He is salvation itself, He is the Gospel of God. –Oswald Chambers


The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. ~ John Stott


*Note to overseas friends: In the USA and Canada, The Street Bible was published as The Word on the Street.

April 14, 2017

Appeasement or Deliverance?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Mel Wild is senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and as director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin USA. We’re introducing him to readers at C201 today for the first time and I was thrilled to find an article which would be a such a good fit for Good Friday.

As always, click the title below to read at his blog, In My Father’s House.

Christ, the Passover Lamb (Part One)

How is Christ is Lamb of God? Is the emphasis on appeasement, like with the animal sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, or is it about deliverance?

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Jewish Passover, but we’re going to look at the first Passover and see how that might answer the question for us.

First, here’s how Paul made the connection between Christ and the Passover:

Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. (1 Cor.5:7 *)

This passage also brings up another question: in what way does it mean that Christ was sacrificed? I’ll address that question next time.

In my series, “Jesus Christ: Savior of the world,” I made the point that the Cross of Christ delivered us from Satan’s societal construct in alienation from God called “this world.” From what we learned from the series, let’s take a fresh look at how Christ fulfilled the Passover.

What are we being saved from?

We see the Passover instituted in Exodus 12, but the promise is made earlier. I want you to notice the nature of this promise. I’ve highlighted the salient points for our discussion:

And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  (Exod. 6:5-7 *)

Looking at this passage, which the New Testament says Christ fulfills as a type for our salvation, is there any mention of God needing to be paid in order to forgive us? (I’ll come back to this in part two.)

What is the context here? “I will bring you out from under the burdens”…”I will rescue you from their bondage…”

Is this not talking about deliverance from bondage? In Israel’s case, from the Egyptians? In our case, from “Egypt” as a biblical archetype for “this world?”

Let me ask you another question while we’re here. What is the difference between being forgiven and being saved from your sins?

21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt.1:21 *)

Forgiveness speaks of forbearance. The criminal is pardoned. But to be freed from your sins is much more than this!

Israel being delivered from their slavery in Egypt is the best way to see this. But, with us, it’s a slavery of another kind.

First, we see Moses as a type of Israel’s Messiah to come:

So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to PharaohAnd the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exod.7:1, 5 *)

Notice that it says that God will bring Israel out from among them. It speaks of removal from what’s keeping them in slavery. For us, “Pharaoh” represents the “god of this age” (2 Cor.4:4), and “Egypt” represents the societal structure in alienation from God that he controls called “this world.”  The New Testament writers understood that Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment.

37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ (Acts 7:37 *)

So, Jesus, as a type of Moses, came to free us from our slavery to this world system:

34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:34-38 *)

who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal.1:4 *)

He didn’t come just to forgive us (although we are forgiven), or even to take us out of the physical world. He came to free us from Satan’s construct in this world that has enslaved us. I go into this in much greater detail in my post, “The sin of the world.”

13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col.1:13 *)

We will look at how we might understand Jesus as our ransom and how He purchased our freedom as the Passover Lamb when I conclude tomorrow.

* Unless otherwise noted, New King James Bible translation. All emphasis added.

 

April 11, 2017

The One Where a Snake Foreshadows Jesus on the Cross

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NIV Numbers 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[*] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

*Or the Sea of Reeds

Today we return to the writing of pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. This is a passage that we’ve discussed here before as I believe it is pivotal to understanding the ‘invisible transaction’ that takes place when we acknowledge Christ.  Click the title below to link to this one directly:

Why does a serpent represent what Jesus did on the cross?

Q.  In the gospel of John, when Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, why does he liken Himself to the serpent that was lifted up in the desert in the Old Testament, considering that serpents are usually associated with Satan? Why was a serpent chosen as a type/foreshadowing of what Jesus would do on the cross, especially in light of the Bible always emphasizing the “lamb” that was slain? I’ve thought that perhaps in a sense sin/evil was on the cross since Jesus “became sin” to put an end to it, but other than that it just seems weird to me.

A.  Jesus refers to the way Moses made a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole in order to make one specific point to Nicodemus.  Jesus has just told him that he needs to be “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus has misunderstood this and thinks that Jesus is describing something physical rather than something spiritual.  (This happens often in Jesus’ conversations with people in this gospel, as I explain in my study guide to John.)  “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asks.

Jesus tries to explain that he’s talking about being “born of the Spirit,” but Nicodemus still asks, “How can this be?”  So Jesus uses the episode of the bronze serpent to explain more precisely what he means by being “born again.”

This episode is related in the book of Numbers.  The Israelites are traveling through the wilderness and they start complaining about the very manna that God has been providing miraculously to feed them in the desert.  (They say, “We detest this miserable food!”)  As a punishment for their ingratitude, God sends poisonous snakes among them and many of the Israelites start dying from snake bites.  So they come to Moses and admit, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.”  They ask him to “pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”  God forgives the people and tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.”  God promises, “Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

In other words, an admission of sin and a response of hopeful faith, looking to the means God provided for deliverance, was how the Israelites could be rescued from physical death in this instance.  Jesus is telling Nicodemus that the same thing will be true, on a much grander scale in the spiritual realm, when he is “lifted up” onto the cross.  Anyone who is sincerely sorry for the way they’ve disobeyed and offended God, and who looks in hopeful faith to Jesus’ death on the cross for their sake, will be rescued spiritually and given the chance to live anew.  This is what it means to be “born again.”

So that is the single point of comparison:  just as the Israelites needed to look in hopeful faith to God’s provision for their physical deliverance in the wilderness, so Nicodemus (and anyone else, ever since, who hears about Jesus’ conversation with him) needs to look in hopeful faith to God’s provision for their spiritual deliverance in the form of Jesus’ death on the cross.

We should not make any further points of comparison, such as “Jesus must be like a serpent in some way, rather than a lamb, because he said he had to be lifted up just as the serpent was lifted up.”

However, we should keep in mind that in the gospel of John, there are always multiple levels of meaning at work.  Behind physical references there is often spiritual significance.  We’ve already seen that this is true when Jesus speaks about being “born,” and it’s also true when he speaks of himself being “lifted up.”  This can mean simply being raised onto the cross, but as a footnote in the NIV explains each time this phrase occurs in John, “The Greek for lifted up also means exalted.”  We need to recognize that this spiritual meaning is also in view when Jesus says things like, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

April 5, 2017

Giving Our Very Best

Jim Thornber writes at what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog” and he’s been featured here many times previously. Click the title below to read at source. There’s also a link to another one of his pieces in today’s link list at what Jim probably calls “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.”

Presenting My Best

“So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Hurry . . . and bake some bread.’ Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready . . . he served it to the men. ” – Genesis 18:6-8

After reading this passage about Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord and the two angels, it occurred to me that sometimes I am either too lazy or too impatient to give to the Lord in the manner of this marvelous man.

As it happens, one day Abe is sitting in front of his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, sipping sweet tea and listening to the tree frogs, when he looks up and notices three men standing nearby. He must have figured they weren’t normal beings since one moment no one is there and the next moment they’re standing nearby. Since he didn’t see them approaching from the distance, their appearance is Abe’s first clue to be nice.

Realizing he has heavenly guests in his front yard, Abraham goes into high gear and asks if he may treat them to a chair in the shade, a foot bath and a fresh meal. They say “Okay,” and Abraham rushes off to arrange a nice lunch for his guests.

As I was reading this, I wondered why Abraham would go to all this trouble. Undoubtedly, Abraham and Sarah had food in the tent. They weren’t poor and lacking. With all the people Abraham had in his company, it is inconceivable that there wasn’t some meat and bread in the pantry left over from last night’s dinner.

But that isn’t the way of Abraham. Instead, he makes sure to prepare the freshest food for the Lord.  He didn’t give his guests day-old bread and yesterday’s meat, but warm bread and a tender calf. It was a lot of effort and time, but the Lord is gracious to Abraham and allows him the time necessary to make the arrangements.

I wonder: How often does God get my leftovers because I’m too stingy, lazy, preoccupied or even self-conscious to arrange to give Him my best? Sure, I may be thinking I don’t want to try the Lord’s patience by making Him wait until I’ve prepared, but this scene with Abraham tells me that the Lord is already prepared to wait for me to give my best. I’m the only one who is in a hurry.

I also see that giving my best means I may impose upon others in order to give the best, the way Abe got Sarah and the servant involved in the meal. It means that in order for me to give God the best I have to give, I sometimes need the help of other people. Abraham never hesitated to ask for help in giving to the Lord. That is something I need to learn.

Abraham’s reaction to the Lord’s presence in his home is a reminder that: 1) God knows who I am, 2) God’s knows where I live, and 3) God is prepared to wait for my best. I may be impatient to “get on with it,” but the Lord is not in a hurry to receive my leftovers. If the Lord is willing to wait for me, I should be willing to give Him my best.


Behind the scenes at C201 is my wife, Ruth Wilkinson who is often involved in the preparation of this daily devotional study through discussions about a particular writer’s perspective or additional research into the context or meaning of verses. Also, on the days you see a longer excerpt from a print source, it’s probably Ruth who typed it out. So today I wanted to do something I’ve never done here, which is to say thanks and wish her a Happy Birthday.

April 4, 2017

External Acts Represent an Inner Reality

When I was younger, one writer and pastor who had a major influence on me was Stuart Briscoe. Our family traveled to his church in Milwaukee, and years later I got to hear him in Toronto. Stuart has a devotional page at LightSource.com where this was posted recently. His target audience for this page is men, but there are good thoughts for everyone in his writing. This is our second visit to his writing at LightSource. To read more by him, click to this link. The readings there are excerpts from the One Year Book of Devotions for Men, published by Tyndale.

Ceremonies And Traditions – One Year Devotions for Men

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings. – Mark 7:7

Most parents require their children to wash their hands before mealtime. In many instances, this appears to create great hardship for the children, if their reluctance to obey is anything to go by. But basic hygiene demands that the ritual be fulfilled before food is handled. It’s a matter of hygiene—and nothing more. In Jesus’ day, what had started out as basic hygiene had developed into something quite different. Simple hand washing before eating or after returning home from the market had developed into an elaborate ceremony with purported spiritual significance. Instead of simply eradicating unpleasant dirt when they followed “the usual Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating” (Mark 7:2), the religious Jews believed that they were ensuring a religious purity before God by their action. By their ablutions on returning home from market, they believed they were underlining their divinely-approved separation from the contaminating world.

As time went by, these “ancient traditions” (7:3) took on such importance that a person’s spiritual standing was evaluated by his adherence to the ritual—or lack thereof. In some instances, a person who failed to go through the ritual, for any reason whatever, would be regarded as ceremonially unclean and therefore be banned from worship.

This was what lay behind the question asked by the Jerusalem leaders when they traveled to confront Jesus: “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old customs? For they eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony” (7:5). Jesus replied with surprising vehemence. “You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings” (7:6-7).

Jesus was exposing the age-old problem of religious ritual devoid of spiritual reality. The charge of hypocrisy was well-founded. In those days, a hypocrite was literally an actor who would convey an emotion by holding a mask over his face. Religious externalism does just that: it portrays on the outside that which may not be present on the inside. That was the problem—the Jerusalem religious leaders lacked a real spirituality. They were faking it!

Adherence to religious rituals such as baptism or communion is to be encouraged, provided that the external act represents an inner reality. But if the familiar act has degenerated into an empty symbol, that which claims to be a spiritual experience may be nothing more than a gross distortion. What outwardly purports to demonstrate a deep spirituality may be nothing more than a blatant lie. Religious ritual is intended to portray spiritual reality, not to become a substitute for it.

So here’s a healthy exercise. Check on the religious rituals in which you have participated in the past or in which you still participate, explore their hidden significance, and see if the significance is as real in your heart as the participation is part of your life.

For Further Study: Mark 7:1-13

April 3, 2017

Pray for People in High Positions

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I’m not sure who recommended it, but I have had it bookmarked in my computer for some time to introduce you to Thomas Mathew whose website banner is ‘Praise the Lord Jesus Christ.’ also known as Believer Blogs. I had a really hard time choosing which article to post here, so you’re encouraged to click the title below and then surf the site for more interesting and helpful articles.

Pray for Kings

1Tim 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior

Dear friends, I thank God for the freedom that we enjoy in many nations in this world to worship Jesus in spirit and truth and to proclaim our faith freely. But not every place has this privilege. Always, everywhere, the “spirit of the world” is opposed to the proclaiming of the truth! In the apostolic times, we see the men of God much taunted and persecuted for their passionate preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In such a context, Paul exhorts the church to pray for all people, especially to those who are in authority & the kings especially.

Why should we do this ? Because it’s pleasing in God’s sight. Because, this prayer will help the authorities to change their mind concerning our faith and will cause us to lead our lives in a quiet & peaceful manner with the precious fruits of godliness & honesty.

These people may even come to the faith!! Verse 4 says: It’s God’s will that all men are saved and that they should come to the knowledge of Truth. Dear child of God, the Lord has uniquely positioned you to minister the gospel to certain people who may be your friends, relatives and colleagues. No other evangelist may reach them, but the Lord has given them into your hands to lead them to a knowledge of Truth.

A verse in Phil 4:22 is a great encouragement for me. It says: All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. Someone in those times had the anointing and calling to go into the Caesar’s palace to proclaim the gospel to them, and as a result many were saved there.

I thank God for all the blessed missionaries who are taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unreached nations and people groups. But that leaves a lot of people within our reach: Whom we can reach with the message of God’s love, if only we are filled with God’s love for them, and boldness for declaring the gospel to them. Like Paul says, we need to come to the stage where we say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the power of God to salvation!”

Pray for all people without ceasing! Pray for Kings and rulers and governments! Pray for nations! Pray for your near & dear! Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send His chosen ones into the fields. Ask the Lord to show you the people whom you should be reaching with the Gospel. As we pray faithfully, we will see the hand of the Lord moving in our nations and turning the hearts of even the rulers towards the Lord Jesus.

God bless you !

March 30, 2017

The DNA of the Very First Church

During the week of March 13th, Andy Elmes from the UK Ministry Great Big Life ran a series of five devotionals that he called “Characteristics of a Blueprint Church.” Space doesn’t permit us to run all five here, but I wanted to include some highlights from each day. See the bottom of today’s piece for information on how you can get material like this in your inbox each weekday.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church

Acts 2:41-43, NIV
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

They devoted themselves

Here we find the first ingredient to their effectiveness. There was within the church, not just the leadership, a spirit of self devotion. People daily “devoted themselves”. They had great preachers, but they were not spoon fed; they were self feeders taking responsibility to get the spiritual nourishment they needed. They had great meetings and fellowship but did not need to be constantly phoned or dragged there or reminded with constant bulletins like they had memory problems; they got themselves were they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

So much of modern church is sadly about motivating people to do what they should naturally want to do, encouraging people to do things that really should be their spiritual lifestyle. Imagine if we could get even more self devotion into the DNA of the modern western Church – how much more effective would our local churches be if each member took personal responsibility for even the little things, like getting to Church on time so church services could start as strong as they could do, serving on the teams that needed them and turning up when it was their turn without a text, being faithful in honouring God with their finances and time without subtle reminders and encouragements from the stage?

I am always amazed at how people can downgrade the “God bit” of their life and sentence it to a lesser devotion than the other bits; one great example again being time keeping. In every other area of life they are on time: meetings with the dentist, bank manager, work – but why not church? What is that switch that needs to be fixed? Surely the greatest of our devotion belongs to God, right? Surely the place we manifest the greatest personal self devotion should be in His House? Imagine what we could achieve if just this one thing was to change – suddenly no challenge would be too great. Hey we might even see 3000 people get saved on our Sunday morning: 3000 people moved by His message but also moved by a group of people so sold out and devoted to what and who they believed in.

Apostles Doctrine

…The Dictionary says that Doctrine is, “Teaching, instruction, the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Basically, the Apostles’ doctrine was the teaching of the first Church Leaders (apostles). The foundational teaching for the new testament church was based on their teaching, especially Paul’s. Their teaching formed the “branch of belief” for what we still believe, live by and hold to as true today in regard to everything including God, His Church and how we are to live.

I suppose the challenge today is, do we teach and personally live by the truths found in the Apostles’ doctrine (teaching)? Does it still form the margins of what we believe today to be truth or do we attempt to mix it with other doctrines (teachings)? Notice that it does not say they devoted themselves to the doctrine of Moses or the doctrine of religion; no, it clearly says they devoted themselves to the doctrine of the Apostles (leaders of the early church).

The doctrine of Moses was not wrong for its time or dispensation, but as Paul stood up to preach daily everything had indeed changed. Christ had now died for the sins of the world, the old covenant was no longer effective or relevant because a new covenant had been established and had replaced it – a covenant (agreement) cut with the very blood of God’s only Son, not of bulls and goats that could only provide a mere covering for sin that would last a moment. Full punishment for sin had now been placed on Christ as He hung on the cross as our substitute; full forgiveness had now been given and God’s wrath towards us settled because of His one-time redemptive work. So much had now changed. It wasn’t that Paul could not or did not refer to Moses, the law or the previous covenant, but now what he taught, and the doctrine he was establishing, was based on the grace of God and the perfect finished work of the cross, and nothing else. The doctrine he now preached and established would leave a person redeemed and free outside of their own performance or merit; it would give the offer of a new beginning to all who would believe based on faith not works; it would reveal God’s eternal plan to get His life inside the life of the believer, to empower a person to overcome and live the new life they had been freely given…

…[A]re you living and building by the Apostles’ teaching or are you trying to add a bit of Moses, or maybe a bit of law, maybe a dash of your reasoning?

…When I started to think about “the Apostles Doctrine” I was intrigued to find out exactly what it was, to make sure I was not guilty of mixing covenants in a wrong way, or of believing partial or diluted truth. I studied a bit deeper than normal and found out what the epicenter of the Apostles Doctrine was. I was not surprised but certainly encouraged as I discovered the Apostles Doctrine orbited and found its strength in a couple of basic truths or realities. Firstly the finished redemptive work of Christ and secondly the reality of the new creation.

Think about that: everything that Paul taught and established was based and rooted in the simple yet profound truth that when anyone believes in Jesus as Saviour they become a “new creation” – they are born again, and it is as if they had never lived before or ever sinned in the sight of God.

One of Paul’s foundational truths for all he taught in regard to this reality was of course this one found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. The NIV translation puts it like this: “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”. Paul had a deep set revelation that the new creation was God’s master plan – not a patch up job of the old man, behaviour modification or a rust maintenance program, rather a brand new beginning for a person based on God’s unfailing grace.

The truth is when a person believes in Christ they identify with His death, burial and resurrection and come in by faith to a brand new existence based on Christ alone (Romans 6:3-6). As God’s word says in Romans 6, the old man is crucified with Christ and, as Paul said so well, our only boast is in the cross where we were separated from the world and who we were to be who God has called us to be (Galatians 6:14). As you read on in that verse you actually see Paul defy or replace the doctrine of Moses with this new creation reality.

Galatians 6:15, NIV
Neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

…Are you attending meetings or doing life with the church?

We have been looking at what the first church devoted themselves to. We saw that the Apostles’ teaching was a very high priority and that each person who called that first church home had a personal devotion to it. Next on the list comes the word fellowship, this was another high priority to them and needs to be to us. So what does it mean by fellowship? I love the way The Message translation puts this verse:

“They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.”

I love that statement and the image it creates: they devoted themselves to “the life together”. The early church put great emphasis on simply “doing life together”, they never defined their church experience as two hours on Sunday but rather committed to live more community-minded in their relationship with the Church…

Acts 2:42-44, AMP
And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.

We have looked at how the original blueprint church devoted itself to doctrine (teaching) and fellowship (doing life together); next on the list comes the breaking of bread. Did this mean that they spent all day doing communion? I don’t think it did. I like the way that the Amplified version puts it: “to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper]”. Personally I think this fits well with the culture of Israel at that time and links well with previous value and priority of doing life together. Remember, when Jesus instituted the original communion, or breaking of bread as we know it today, where was He? In a synagogue? No, He was at a meal with His friends, hanging out with them, eating and breaking bread with them, then He takes the bread and wine and talked His friends through what has become a significant ordinance still in His Church today.

Is God saying in this verse that we are to devote ourselves to the act or ordinance of communion? That we are to do it all day and everyday? Or, like the Amplified version says, that we are to be taking time to eat and fellowship together and, in the midst of that ongoing fellowship, we are to make time to take bread and wine to specifically remember what He has done like He instructed us to do). This feels more natural and ‘lifestyle’ to me than just making the bread and wine something we do in certain meetings we hold together?

Again, I don’t think it is an issue of “either, or”, rather “both”. I think we should still have significant Bread and Wine (communion) times together when we meet corporately, but also as we build the community side of the church. As we meet together not just to pray but to fellowship and eat, in the midst of us doing that we take time to give thanks and remember what He did for us when He gave His Body (represented by the bread) and shed His Blood (represented by the wine or grape juice)…


I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. Click the link to have it delivered to your inbox each weekday.

 

March 27, 2017

New Creation? Or “Pretty much who I have always been?”

NLT 2 Cor. 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Today we’re introducing a new writer, Tara who blogs at PursuePeaceBlog. Click to look around, I love her writing style and how she wrestles with the text. Click the title below to read today’s thoughts with photo images.

A New Creation

I’m dead.

Yep, dead as a door nail.

Nail down the coffin, people.

I am entirely unresponsive to the world around me.

Dead.

Don’t plan my funeral yet though, that would just be weird.

Allow me to explain…

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Bible says that in Christ, we are a new creation. In fact, Paul explains it further by saying that old things have passed away and all things have become new. Notice that Paul does not say some things have become new, or you have become new, or the world has become new. No. Paul says all things have become new for those who live in Christ Jesus.

I have always had a rather ambivalent relationship with Paul’s words. There is nothing more encouraging or edifying to know that Christ frees us in such a way that we become a brand new creation.

Just as many times as this verse has encouraged me, it has confounded and alarmed me. I am not certain when I became a Christian; I pretty much just always loved Jesus. I could tell you when my faith became my own, instead of my parents’, but I did not have a defining moment where the Lord saved me. I often wonder if Paul’s words would have a more potent impact upon me if I hadn’t always been a Christian—if I had a “me before Jesus” with which to compare myself.

I know I have grown more in love with Christ as I have entered adulthood, and I know my faith has matured in immeasurable ways; however, I don’t know that I see myself as a new creation. I am still pretty much who I have always been. I continue to struggle with the same sins I was struggling with as a young girl; they may look different now, but they are the same. I can be unimaginably prideful, and impeccably self-absorbed; I tend to envy one’s success long before I rejoice in it; I seek my own glory before I seek my Father’s, and I am impatient beyond logic.

How is this kind of mess a new creation?

Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Read that verse again. I mean, really read it.

Paul says we were buried with Him…Whoa. I don’t recall being held up in a tomb for three days with the Son of God. I guarantee I would not have been as chill about it as Jesus was.

Colossians 2:11 also describes Christians as being buried with Jesus through baptism, but it goes further to say not only was Christ raised from the dead, but so were we.

Colossians 3 reminds us again that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

This begs the question that if we are dead, how then should we live on this earth?

It’s hard to be dead and alive at the same time, even for the most gifted of people.

Colossians 3 says more, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Christ is life. Christ is life. Christ is life.

There are countless verses that address being dead to the world and alive in Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians touches on this same concept in chapter 2 by saying a Christian puts off the body of the things of the flesh…

If my faith in Christ allows me to drape Him over my shoulders like a blanket and traipse around like a beacon for Jesus, then I must simultaneously clothe myself in newness of life—my new man—killing my old self.  

In fact, Ephesians 4 says this of a Christian: putting off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Despite all this evidence, the problem many Christians have with this idea is that our old self seems to still live, lurking in the shadows of our hearts, revealing himself or herself countless times throughout the course of one day—this old self is our sin, and it has the power to eat us alive if we don’t let Christ fight it.

Our old self fears sin, fears the world, fears failure—fears everything. Putting on Christ each day and making Him our life does not mean sin no longer exists within us: it means that sin no longer controls us; it becomes so powerless, in fact, that it is dead. Christ has given us a weapon with which to fight this sin, and the ultimate gift when we lose that fight – forgiveness.

For many of us, choosing to truly believe this is half the battle.

Jesus was buried with our sin, our muck, our nastiness, our filth. It is no longer ours, but His. Being a new creation does not mean that I no longer sin. When the world looks at me, it sees little change between who I am and who I once was. However, it is what God sees when He looks at me that truly makes the difference.

He sees His pristine and perfect child, dead to the world, yet alive and well in Christ. He sees a woman who has her mind set on things above.

My master is no longer sin; my master is God.

This is freedom.

March 23, 2017

Feeling Less Than Perfect? Romans 8: 4-14

 . . . so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:1-8 (emphasis mine)

by Clarke Dixon

There is good news here for those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This of course will raise within the Christian the question “am I walking in the Spirit?” And to many, “how could I possibly be walking in the Spirit when I find myself, well, less than perfect?” This is a very important question to answer since most of us, when honest, find ourselves feeling less than perfect. Contrary to some eulogies I have heard, I have never officiated at a funeral for a perfect Christian. Experience teaches us that there has never been a perfect person except One. Are we walking according to the Spirit if we are less than perfect?

First off, we can note that the language of Romans chapter 8 does not push us toward thinking we ought to find ourselves perfect. To “walk according to” is not “to be just like in every way.” Similarly, “to set your mind” on something is not to be so consumed by something that you cannot possibly think of anything else. If you have no musical experience or instruments and you set your mind on learning guitar, you are going to want to walk out of a music store with a guitar and not a drum kit. You are going to want to sign up for guitar lessons, and not clarinet lessons. To do otherwise is to not have your mind set on learning guitar. But picking up the sticks and having a go on a friend’s drum kit is not inconsistent with having your mind set on learning guitar. Spiritually, being less than perfect is not inconsistent with having our minds set on the things of the Spirit. Of course we want to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), however being less than perfect does not disqualify us from being people who walk according to the Spirit.

Second, God’s leadership in our lives is never described in terms that would make us conclude that we will achieve instant perfection. We are now used to living in an instant world. It is with some excitement that I download updates to my phone’s operating system. Each update comes with old problems fixed and new features added. Perhaps we expect receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit to be exactly like receiving an update that changes everything instantly. While some people experience miraculous deliverance from addictions and the like when coming to Jesus, most of us don’t feel a big instant change. The Bible never suggests our relationship with God will be like a computer user receiving a big update. The Bible points instead to a shepherd with the sheep, a father with a child, and a vine with the branches. These are all enduring mentoring relationships which require time and lead to development.

It takes time for sheep to learn and know the voice of the shepherd. It will take us time to discern the voice of God in our lives. Of course vines and branches take time to bear fruit as any gardener can confirm. Likewise, parenting takes time. Parenting takes so much time, in fact, that on average, for a parent to raise a child from birth to the age of eighteen requires about eighteen years! No parent I know expects his or her child to be perfect over those eighteen years. Our relationship with God is consistently described in ways that point to the passage of time and to development. There is no promise of instant perfection.

So if perfection is not evidence of “walking according to the Spirit,” then what is? The evidence that a shepherd and sheep are in relationship is the sheep’s response to the shepherd’s voice. Our listening may not be perfect, but we will be listening. There is a desire to hear the Lord’s voice. The evidence that branches are abiding in the vine is fruit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) The Christian does not experience perfection in every way upon receiving the Holy Spirit, but in walking according to the Spirit will be developing in these character traits and more.

Perfectionism is not a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, perfectionism can be a tool of the devil. While I have largely given up on perfectionism, there is one area of my life where I am still a perfectionist. It is an area of my life in which I struggle with frustration and where I am most likely to sin through losing my cool: renovations. It is not that I cannot do it. It is that I cannot do it perfectly. My aunt expressed wonder at my recent bathroom renovation. By recent, I mean completed recently, though started three years ago! She exclaimed “Wow! You did this?” When I walk into that same bathroom, I see the poor drywalling work to the left and think, “yes, I did that.” Don’t fail to celebrate the fruit of the Spirit in your life because you are too focused on your imperfections. The devil is happy when we do. Perfectionism will not lead you into greater righteousness. An enduring relationship with God will.

As a rhythm guitar player I would be thrilled if my favourite guitar player, Peter Townshend, were to come to my home and offer to give me guitar lessons. I could be a glass-half-empty guitarist and say “I will never be able to play like that.” Or I could be a glass-half-full guitarist and say “with Pete’s help I will be able to play better today than yesterday.” Of far greater significance and wonder, the Lord of the universe has taken his place by our side, and on the inside, as our shepherd, father, and friend. We can be glass-half-empty Christians and say “I am not perfect and feel like I never will never be perfect. I therefore doubt I have the Holy Spirit and am beginning to doubt I am a Christian.” Or we can be glass-half-full Christians and say “I may not be perfect, but with the Holy Spirit on the inside helping me, I can be better today than I was yesterday.”

There is a wonderful affirmation in verse 9 “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Since you have the Holy Spirit, since you have God inside, live as you are; not perfect, but a growing child of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Romans 8:14

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV)

Click here to read this at Clarke’s webpage, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 14, 2017

After Suffering for 12 Years, A Woman Encounters Jesus

Kelsey Lewis is currently a full time seminary student working on her MDiv at Emory University in Atlanta. She wrote what follows to be part of an oral presentation, but after reading it on her blog Faith(,) in Words I asked her for permission to share it here. Many of us are familiar with the first scripture portion, but it takes the second one to put it in context. Click the title below to read at source.

Within Reach

The following is a manuscript from a short sermon I preached in my Preaching class on February 23, 2017.

 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5: 24-34

I would like to read one more passage for you. From the book of Leviticus:

19 “ ‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 “ ‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. … 25 “ ‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. … 29 On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge. 31 “ ‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.’ ”

Leviticus 15:19-31

This is not a passage that you or I have likely heard read aloud in church. However, I wanted to lead with it as I introduced you all to our subject today because these laws followed her everywhere she went. In fact, the words in Mark used to describe her condition, “spring of her blood” were a direct reference to this Levitical passage. She—along with every woman of sexual maturity—but especially she, would have been very familiar with such laws. It was this passage that added insult to the injury of her suffering, keeping her in a perpetual state of uncleanness, unable to touch without contaminating.

All three synoptic gospels give an account of this woman’s story but Mark, usually the most succinct, gives us the most details into her background. The passage characterizes her as one who has suffered. And her suffering is threefold:

  1. She suffers bodily from what is a likely a painful condition, which persists for twelve years of her life. Despite having seen countless doctors, her condition continues to worsen.
  2. She suffers financially, having spent everything she has on failed medical treatment.
  3. She suffers socially.

As alluded to in the passage and as was customary, such a condition would have required her to live outside of the city wall, on the literal margins of society and everyone who came into contact with her would have had to go there too to offer a sacrifice in a purifying ritual, and wait until evening to be ritually clean again. The gospel writer would have us know this about her so that we understand the scandal and the audacity of what happens next.

In an act of desperation, she reaches out for Jesus, touching his robe. . . and it works! She feels herself healed inside. As Christ says, it is her faith that has healed her.

More amazing still is Jesus’ reaction to her touch. I can imagine her fear as Jesus looks around for her and she realizes she has been caught and cannot go unnoticed. But he shows no concern for her impurity. In fact, just after this passage—presumably within the same day in the narrative—he goes to Jairus’ home and grasps the hand of a dead Gentile girl, an act which may have set a record for most purity laws broken at once.

In a stunning reinterpretation of the law, Christ not only liberates her from her bodily physical suffering, he liberates the community around her from fear of her impurity. He shows us this: It is not her impurity which goes forth onto Jesus, but his power that goes out upon her touch. It is not her impurity that is the contagion, but Christ’s power which cannot be contained. Impurity which kept her ostracized for 12 years has no power in the presence of God’s holiness.

No matter how far on the margins you are, no matter how unclean or unfit you or others perceive you to be, Jesus is not beyond your reach. In fact he may be closer than you can imagine. You see, a study of this word “suffering” which in this passage is associated with the pain this woman has endured for twelve years reveals that every other use in the book of Mark and 11 times out of 12 in the entirety of the gospels reveals that suffering is connected with Jesus Christ as the sufferer. The Biblical author would have us associate suffering with the suffering Servant himself.

As the author of Hebrews writes in chapter 13, verse 12:  “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.”

You see, not only does Christ situate himself so that we may reach him in the city among the “pure” folk, but he comes to us, and inhabits that outside, marginal space with the suffering. That is the power of God’s contagious love over our suffering. God has come down, not to contain Godself to the holy of holies, but as an uncontained, unbridled force, extending far beyond the limits of our social constructs, lighting up the darkest corners of unmentionable pain, even out beyond the city gates where the “impure” and “unholy” reside. In Jesus, God climbs down into our suffering with us and redeems it with God’s holy presence, so that as we reach out, we can be assured that God’s power goes out to meet us.

 

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