Christianity 201

November 6, 2017

Developing the Discernment to Call Out False Prophets

I am grateful for the writers and musicians who speak into my spiritual life. But it’s only through God’s Word that I have a framework to know if they speak from God authentically. I need to be assured that their words resonate with scripture before I allow them to resonate with me.

Today we return to Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him in This World. Click the title to read at source.

All the Voices

Scripture

Then the prophet Jeremiah told the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord did not send you! You are making these people trust in a lie!
Jeremiah 28:15 NET

Observation
Believers need to understand that not everything that proclaims to be from the Lord is truly from the Lord.

In Bible times, there were prophets whose message was different from each other. Both proclaimed to be prophets of God. Both proclaimed to have a message from God. But both had very different messages, one from God, one from wishful thinking.

Because people don’t necessarily want to hear a message of repentance and becoming holy, they usually listened to the false prophets. They listened to the wrong prophet.

At the most basic level, people who followed the false prophets we’re lazy. They didn’t care to know what the Word of God said. They didn’t examine or question the religious leaders. They new Jewish history, but they thought they were different.

And today, we have more access to the Word of God than any other time in history. Are you trusting what others say, or are you getting in the Word for yourself?

Application
There are so many voices vying for our attention. As a Believer, you should want the only voice you respond to, to be the true voice of God.

This means that you need to know Him, His Word, His presence!

Don’t rely on someone else to give you insight into spiritual matters only. Don’t fall into the trap of false teaching and false prophets, because there is much out there today! Don’t be lazy!

Start reading the Word today! Start praying today! Start walking with Him on a deeper level today. Nothing else compares.

Prayer
Lord, I desire to know You fully. Reveal Yourself to me as I read Your Word and I pray. Show me Your ways.

 

November 4, 2017

The Lord Will Rescue His Servants

Today, our second visit with David Kitz who writes at I Love the Psalms. Recently he spent two days in Psalm 51, so if you’re familiar with David’s confessional Psalm and would like to read more about it, click either the title below or the mention of his blog in the previous sentence and look for the October 31 and November 1 readings. Today we’re in Psalm 34.

A Trouble Free Life?

Reading:  Psalm 34

(Verses 19-22)
The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the L
ORD delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.
Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The L
ORD will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned
(NIV).

Reflection
This final portion of Psalm 34 reflects David’s faith in a God who saves. He began this psalm with praise because he experienced the saving power of God. Now David states that the LORD delivers, protects and rescues. But for these words to be meaningful, the LORD must deliver, protect and rescue from various forms of trouble and adversity. There is no rescue if there is no danger. There is no deliverance if there is no oppression.

If you choose to follow the LORD, you are not guaranteed a trouble-free life. Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Many of us believe that if we do our best to lead a good life, following the commandments as found in the Bible, God will exempt us from hardship and trouble. But Jesus, the sinless Son of God, did not have a trouble-free life. Why should we expect our lives to be trouble free? God has not promised me a trouble-free life; He has promised to be with me when trouble and adversity comes.

About three years ago a close friend of mine suffered a debilitating stroke. He lost his position as a teacher, his finances took a hit and he struggled mightily to get his mobility back. In an instant every movement became much more difficult for him—every step a monumental effort. Last week he made a startling confession. He said, “If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t return to my pre-stroke days. God has drawn me so much closer to Himself through this. I wouldn’t wish this on any man. But God has changed me and used me in new ways that wouldn’t have been possible unless this happened.”

All of us desperately try to avoid the furnace of affliction. It’s too hard—too unpleasant—full of things we cannot bear. But God meets us there. He bears us up on eagle’s wings. When our resources and abilities run out, He takes over. He becomes our help and our deliverer in ways we cannot fathom. God is present in times of trouble.

His promises are tried, tested and true: The LORD will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Response: Heavenly Father, I can’t always see what is genuinely in my best interest, especially when that involves adversity. Be my sure help and protection in troubled times. May your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in you. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Your Turn: Has God met with you in a time of trouble? Do you know Him as your strength and rescuer in times of hardship and difficulty?


 

October 30, 2017

How Was Jesus Involved in His Own Resurrection?

It’s just been six months, but we’re back with pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. This one is certainly interesting; click the title below to read it at their site.  (Note: Underlined sections in scripture quotes are passage links.)

Did the Holy Spirit raise Jesus from the dead?

Q. Paul writes in Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” Can this statement be used in support the idea that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead?

For this particular statement to be used that way, it would have to refer to “the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead” rather than “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” However, there’s another interesting statement in Romans that suggests that the Holy Spirit might indeed have had a role in raising Jesus from the dead. Paul says something a little earlier in the letter that’s parallel to this later statement: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Here Jesus’ resurrection is not attributed directly to the Father, but to something (or someone?) associated with the Father.

We may observe more generally that all of the activities of the Trinity involve all of its persons, so it would have been uncharacteristic for the Father alone to have raised the Son, without the involvement of the Spirit. As Christian thinkers in the first few centuries after Jesus tried to wrap their minds around the Trinity, one thing they agreed on was that it would be inaccurate to distinguish between the persons of the Trinity by appealing to their roles or responsibilities. That is, we shouldn’t say, “The Father does this while the Son does that and the Spirit does this other thing,” or, “The Father is responsible for this, and the Son for something else, and the Spirit for yet another area.”

We have some vivid pictures in the Bible of the persons of the Trinity all working together to accomplish important things. For example, in the Genesis creation account, God the Father creates through the Word while the Spirit hovers over the waters. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens open and the Father speaks while the Spirit descends like a dove. While he was on earth, Jesus himself said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also.” I think we can legitimately expand this to say, “Whatever the Father and the Son do, the Spirit does also.”

So in some way the Spirit must have been involved in the resurrection of Jesus. I picture it as being something like the way the “two witnesses” in the book of Revelation are raised from the dead: “The Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet.” (Many English translations say “breath of life” or “spirit of life” instead, but I think the text could well be referring to the Holy Spirit.)

This raises another very interesting question: If all three persons of the Trinity work together in every one of their activities, was Jesus involved in his own resurrection? The book of Hebrews makes this interesting statement: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Jesus actually did die an earthly death, on the cross, and so this statement that his prayers to be saved from death were heard seems to be describing his resurrection. In that case, Jesus was involved in his own resurrection through his prayers and submission, that is, his trust in God.

Hebrews goes on to say, “Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” This, too, would suggest that the Second Person of the Trinity was involved in his own resurrection through his trusting obedience, and in that way he contributed to the achievement of salvation for humanity that the whole Trinity was working for together.

 

October 23, 2017

We Need Daily Encouragement

On Saturday, our online friends, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber celebrated 21 years of writing Daily Encouragement. We thought we’d encourage them by making more of you aware of their ministry. As always, click the title below to read this at source.

“But Barnabas”

“When he (Saul, later known as Paul) came to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles” (Acts 9:26,27).

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

…October 21st…is  the very day this ministry started 21 years ago in 1996 with a short email to just two email addresses (both still receive these messages). I had preached a sermon the night before from Hebrews on encouraging one another daily and that was the leading I had from the Holy Spirit, although I would have no idea at that time it would continue the next day, then the next day, and now here we are 21 years later!

Barnabas is one of our favorite Bible characters to write about. Earlier this week we had a message highlighting two words concerning Barnabas “even Barnabas”. “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray” (Galatians 2:13).

Consider his influence; no book in the Bible was written by him, we don’t have the text of any sermon he preached as we do Peter, Stephen and Paul. In fact I am unable to find even a single quote attributed exclusively to Barnabas. All the information we have about him are brief, biographical snippets. But these snippets tell a lot about him.

He first comes on the scene in Acts 4:36 as “Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement)“. Thus Barnabas is essentially a nickname and every single future reference to him in Scripture uses this nickname given by the apostles!

The first daily text is so typical of his ministry as an encourager. I can sure understand the apprehension of the disciples concerning the recently converted Saul! After all he had a vicious reputation. His newfound conversion might have been a mere ruse to get in closed quarters with the disciples.

Note just the two words, “But Barnabas.” His action is so indicative of an encourager. Barnabas believed in the power of Jesus Christ to perform the miracle of transformation. And Saul (who became Paul) was genuinely transformed. Consider the tremendous contribution Paul made to the church in his apostolic ministry and letters. I am sure thankful for Barnabas who chose to stand up for him!

Barnabas is an encourager and additional references in Scripture demonstrate this. We are all indebted to encouragers even though it certainly is not considered one of the more prominent ministries, such as a polished preacher or a dynamic worship leader or powerful vocalist.

A subtheme of this ministry is “Everyone Needs Encouragement.” We sure believe that.

There are matters in our lives that can easily bring on discouragement but thankfully most of us don’t live in a state of discouragement. And yet I don’t believe there will ever come a time that I’d say, “I don’t need any more encouragement. I’ve had enough for today. Thanks anyway.” I am always receptive to other’s encouragement since in a sense I can store it up! And I expect that you feel the same way, so on the 21st anniversary of this ministry, let us once again declare to you; Be encouraged today!

Daily prayer: Father, we’re reminded of the important role people like Barnabas play in our lives. They give us the benefit of the doubt; they reach out to us when others turn away; they see our need even when we don’t verbally express it; they steer us in the right direction when we’ve taken a wrong turn; they model for us the reflection of Christ. I thank You, Father, for Your Spirit manifested through these encouragers who physically, emotionally, and spiritually bless my life by their encouraging words and actions toward me. Prompt me often to spread the same kind of encouragement to those whom I have opportunity to bless.  In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen

 

October 20, 2017

The Troubler of Israel

NIV 1 Kings 18.21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

Today we are back paying a return visit to Neal Pollard who is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. Click the title below to read at Preacher Pollard’s Blog.  The passage under consideration immediately precedes one of my favorite Bible narratives, Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.

Who Is The “Troubler Of Israel”?

Ahab was the most wicked king in Israel’s history (1 Kings 16:30). To top it off, he was married to perhaps the most immoral woman revealed to us during the time of the divided kingdom in the Old Testament. Her name, Jezebel, is still somewhat infamous today. She destroyed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4). The prophets who survived feared for their lives because of Ahab (18:9). Instead, Jezebel kept a stable of false prophets, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (18:19). Read this section of 1 Kings and the first nine chapters of 2 Kings to get the full flavor of who this notorious couple was.

How ironic that when Elijah appears to Ahab before the prophet’s infamous confrontation with the false prophets on Mount Carmel, Ahab’s first words to him were, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” (18:17). There was controversy, division, problems, and trouble in the land, but Ahab’s narrative was distorted. Ahab was like a reckless drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic and blaming a law-abiding pedestrian for being in his way on the sidewalk. Elijah was not the troubler of Israel for daring to oppose the false ways of Ahab and Jezebel. He was doing exactly what God wanted him to do!

In our present, lawless age, there are so many “prophets” who come along with a message appealing to right ideas like peace, grace, unity, and love. Many of them package themselves in the garments of relevance, using our culture as their props and stage. The causes célèbre which our age reveres, some of which are diametrically opposed to the doctrine, ethics, and morality outlined in Scripture, are pushed at God’s people—who are shamed and made to feel unrighteous if they dare protest what is said. In some circles, it is asserted that anyone teaching that the Bible is authoritative, contains a pattern, and is God’s objective truth for all times, is Pharisaical, consumed with self-righteousness, hateful, mean-spirited, and divisive. In short, that they are “troublers of Israel.”

As a quick side-note, there are some who do press their personal proclivities, traditions, and convictions as divine truth. This is as accursed a thing as seeking to nullify what God has bound in heaven (cf. Mat. 16:19; Rev. 22:18-19). Such folks manufacture trouble rather than trouble people by faithfully sharing God’s Word. These occupy unenviable ground, in view of the end of all things.

Yet, anyone who conscientiously tries to follow God’s blueprint for how to share His truth (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Col. 4:6), who takes care to handle Scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15), is going to invariably encounter the Ahabs, Jezebels, Baalites, and Asherahists. Teach the singular, undenominational nature of the church (Eph. 4:4), the role of women in the church (1 Tim. 2:9-12), the essentiality of baptism in God’s saving plan (Acts 2:38), God’s plan for marriage and sexuality (Mat. 19:1-9; Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:26-27), and the like, and it will come. The Ahabs will label you the troublemaker and the source of the problem.

In what may sound dark and grim, Paul warns Timothy that difficult times will come (2 Tim. 3:1). He speaks of men immoral in nature and inaccurate in message who succeed with the weak and impulsive (3:6), who themselves are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:7), who in fact “oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (3:8). Ultimately, they will not carry the day (3:9). But they will always have their eager followers who “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3-4).

Suppress the victim mentality if you are trying to be an Elijah in this Ahab society. On the job, at home, in the community, within the religious community at large, and even at times within the church, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Do it with great patience and instruction, as Paul counsels. Don’t be a troubler in God’s eyes, but know that you will be seen as one in the eyes of some in this world. Keeping company with Elijah is not a bad thing.

October 9, 2017

Prayer is not Cathartic

Today we’re paying our second visit with Joe Waller at the blog As I Learn to Walk. Click the title below to read this at the original page or to leave comments.

A Realization

Asking for prayer is not just a sanctified sympathy request (though I often unconsciously see it that way).

Verses such as 1 Peter 5:7, where Peter calls believers to “[cast] all your anxieties on [God], because he cares for you,” bring great comfort to Christians. We revel in the fact that God comforts the downcast, that he cares about us though we are as fleeting mists before him. As the psalmist testifies, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19). God, the creator and the sustainer of all, gives ear to his children. Though infinitely transcendent, God is also beautifully immanent.

In spite of this profound truth, I live like God is only transcendent, separate from my life and experiences. When I find myself struggling, in need of support, I often desire the sympathy of my friends rather than the strengthening of God. I ask those near me for prayer, but, recently, I’ve noticed that I share those requests in part to get attention, not simply to seek the Lord. (To clarify, I don’t mean to say that all of my prayer requests are solely for the sake of attention; I’m simply highlighting a problematic tendency I’ve noticed in my walk.) I’ve noticed the issue extend into my personal prayers as well. I pour out my heart to God, yet I do so in some ways more for catharsis than for the pursuit of God’s help. I pray, but I don’t consider the fact that God may answer, that God may speak.

As I considered this trend, I realized that such a practice is completely bogus. Biblically, God not only cares about our needs, but he responds to our prayers. James writes that God will give wisdom to those who ask him (James 1:5-8). Toward the end of his short book, he calls believers to pray for one another, citing the example of Elijah who “was a man with a nature like ours, [who] prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:16-18). The psalmists also speak of God’s faithfulness to answer prayers. One writes,

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!
Psalm 66:16-20

Throughout Scripture, we find testimonies of those who prayed and were answered, of those who turned to the Lord and were heard.

I can relate to the disciples who asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). I am no expert on prayer. In fact, I regularly feel inadequate when I pray. Slowly, graciously, God is teaching me to pray, to come before him in humility and in hope. God’s Word changes how I think about prayer and about prayer requests by changing how I think about myself and how I think about God. Meditating on Scripture, mining the depths of God’s self-revelation, turns my gaze away from myself and fixes it upon him. I worry less about feeling better and focus more on honoring him. Suffering becomes an avenue of sanctification (James 1:2-4), and joys become opportunities to praise (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This week, let us live, and pray, for his glory, trusting that our good is found in the pursuit of his kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

October 5, 2017

Longing for a Christian Government?

by Clarke Dixon (Note to infrequent readers: Clarke is a Canadian pastor. You need to know that today!)

Do you ever wish our nation could be best described as a Christian nation? A nation with Christian laws and leaders reflecting Christian values? A nation made up of people that reflect Christian character? Perhaps this is something worth aiming for? Perhaps it is worth fighting for?

Leave Canada for a moment and let us travel to Rome in the year 57AD. Societal values are a lot further from Christian values than those of our own time and place as is reflected both in the laws and the customs of the people. You head to the gathering of the church, held at this point in someone’s home, and you listen to the elder read a letter from the apostle Paul. “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) sticks in your mind. You begin to wonder, if we are not to be conformed to this world, then why conform to the demands of an ungodly government? In fact, since God’s values are better than Rome’s, why don’t we make it our aim to install a Christian government? Why don’t we aim at replacing the Roman Empire with what we think God’s Kingdom should look like?

Rebellion is already in the air. Bible scholars give three reasons for this. First, the Roman emperor Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome in 49 AD, which included Jewish-Christians. That left a bad taste in your mouth. Second, the Romans were not happy with extra taxes in the 50’s. That was as frustrating to Romans then as it is to Canadians today. Third, there was a growing sense of rebellion among the Jews in Judea which eventually resulted in outright war between Jerusalem and Rome beginning in 66AD. Perhaps as a Christian not conforming to this world you should join in the rebellious spirit of a people who are seeking a theocracy? Paul anticipates your thoughts in his letter:

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Romans 13:1-7 (NRSV)

Still feel like joining in a rebellion against Rome and taking the government for the Lord? That door has been shut: “Be subject to the governing authorities”. There is no need to set up a theocracy, for in fact, God is already sovereign over all: “for there is no authority except from God”. He does not need help in coming to power. Jesus reminds Pilate of this very thing:

10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above. . . John 19:10-11 (NRSV)

All governments are therefore accountable to God, even the ones that won’t recognize His existence!

The focus for the Christian is the renewal of our minds, not the replacement of our governments. Using power to overthrow the government and enforce some form of Christian agenda is actually to be thinking with the old mind. The Romans pointed to the cross as the means of keeping control. For them it is a symbol of brute force. Christians point to the cross as the means of salvation through Christ and the new way to live in the Spirit. It is a symbol of grace, mercy, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, justice, and the like. The focus in the New Testament for Christians is always on being disciples of Jesus and making disciples through the sharing of the Good News. That is how the Kingdom grows. It is through invitation, not compulsion. Jesus confirms that His Kingdom is not a matter of brute force to Pilate:

My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. John 18:36 (NRSV)

So let us leave Rome and come back to Canada today. What are the main lessons for us?

First, understand our priorities as Christians. The priority is not to seek the enforcement of Christian values on all Canadians by replacing secular laws with specifically Christian ones. The priority is summarized in the Great Commission:

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV) “18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Notice that a) Jesus already has all authority, there is no need for us to try and create a theocracy, b) that we are to make disciples, not laws, and c) we are to teach disciples to obey, not make everyone obey.

Second, understand what the separation of Church and State does and does not mean.

It does mean we do not impose our values on everyone else, which as we have seen is not to be our priority anyway. According to Romans 13 the Christian is to be subject to the governing authorities and not the other way around.

It does not mean that we cannot share our opinions on what values are good for society. So, to give an example, suppose our government decided that there should be no such thing as marriage anymore. We would be well within our rights to point out the positive impact marriage has for society. Since God’s values are demonstrably good values, we can to point to the evidence. Many a Christian value can be promoted through philosophy and science.

The Christian voice has been an important voice in the formation of our nation. We currently enjoy the best of both worlds; a secular nation with a Christian foundation. Many a secular state has been repulsive for the lack of a good foundation. Many a religious state has been repulsive for a lack of freedom. As the values of our society change it is important that we point out the blessings of values aligned with Christianity. However, we are to do so as disciple-making disciples motivated by love, rather than religious zealots seeking power through force. If the Roman Christians were to be subject to pagan Rome, then how much more should we be known for respect within secular Canada.

Read more at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

September 29, 2017

Getting to Know the Real Esther

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast  for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
 -Esther 4:16 KJV

We had the website Adorate recommended to us, and we’ve been tracking it for a week now. There are some great articles here. For the one we chose to feature here, click the title below and read this at source instead, then navigate the site to read other articles.

Demythologizing Esther

by Dr. Tom Larson

Esther is a great story of redemption – one that comes about in a great crisis forced upon Esther. But, we often re-tell it as a Christian fairy-tale – one that equates her beauty with goodness (just like all fairy-tales seem to do).

Of the course, the storyline framework of “pretty girl” equals the “good girl” and star of the story has all kinds of problems, especially if you think about the consequences on young girls. The truth is that Esther enters (some may read it as she is coerced into entering) a contest that is not about simply being the prettiest or with the best homemaking skills. The contest centers on a series of comparative sexual performances for the Persian monarch.

Esther lives months within the Royal Harem with no one seemingly knowing she’s Jewish. As the book of Daniel makes clear, this would have to mean she is making no effort to maintain the dietary laws of Moses. The contest involves spending a night with the King – and the one “who pleases the King” (yep, that’s what the text says) the most wins. Esther does not win by having devotions with the King or just by being pretty. Also, when news comes to her of the impending assault on the Jewish people, her own un-coerced response is hardly commendable. It’s close to, “Gee, that’s a tough break for you guys. But, there’s nothing I’m going to do about it.”

Mordecai’s response to Esther’s less-than-desired reaction is clearly both a threat (don’t think people won’t quickly find out who and what you really are, little Miss Jewish Princess) and a challenge (it just may be that you’ve been brought to this place, this position, and this moment for this very purpose). And it is then, and perhaps only then, that we see the remarkable woman emerging from all too human girl.

Like stories about real people, and not children’s fairy tales, Esther begins with a the real person. A young woman who may be beautiful, but is also self-serving, skilled at whatever sexual skills Persian monarchs expected, and certainly not showing any signs of tremendous personal religious convictions. But, pushed by events she hardly expected or wanted, she comes to a time of crisis that changes her, as surely as it results in the protection of the Jewish people. Her last words before preparing to enter into the King’s court, “And, if I perish… Well, then I perish” are a seminal example of what people used to mean by the word “courage.”

September 26, 2017

Humility We Must Sing to Imagine

Today’s thoughts are from Chaplain Mike Mercer at the website Internet Monk. I chose a passage in the online series; Philippians: Friends in the Gospel. At the bottom you’ll see the most up-to-date links I have to other installments in the series. Out of necessity today, in addition to stealing the article, we had to steal a graphic! So please click through and read this at its source page.

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (10)

There are some things that can, perhaps, only be said in poetry, and perhaps this [Phil 2:5-11] is one of them. 
• Tom Wright

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became humanHaving become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

As we mentioned last week, this is one of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus.

Gerald F. Hawthorne’s interpretation of Phil. 2:5-11 is one of my favorite commentary passages that I have read in biblical studies.

He first describes the near universal agreement that “vv 6-11 constitute a beautiful example of a very early hymn of the Christian church.” Scholars, however, have a number of different ideas about how the hymn might have been structured. Whatever the versification of the hymn might have been, it is clear that it has two basic parts. There are four main verbs: the first two have Jesus as the subject, the second two have God. The hymn then naturally falls into the story of (1) Jesus’ acts of humbling himself, and (2) God’s act of exalting Jesus.

Hawthorne notes that Paul himself may be the author of the hymn or it may come from another source. The striking insight that I learned many years ago from him when considering this passage is that it appears to be a meditation on an event recorded in the Gospel of John.

“…may be the result of deep meditation…on one particular event from the life of Christ as recorded in the gospel tradition — Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17). Although verbal parallels between John 13:3-17 and Phil 2:6-11 are few, but nonetheless significant, the parallels in thought and in the progression of action are startling. So precise in fact are these parallels that it is difficult to consider them the result of mere coincidence.

Hawthorne uses the following diagram to portray these parallels:

This hymn, whether Paul wrote it or not, emphasizes Jesus’ act of humility using an “descent-ascent motif that is prominent in the Johannine story.”

Gerald Hawthorne also notes another important parallel between the way both John and this epistle reflect on the foot-washing story:

It is also interesting and instructive to note that the purpose of each pericope is similar. The Johannine account is an acted parable to summarize the essence of Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to hold the first place among you must be everybody’s slave” (Mark 10:43-44), while the Philippian text is a hymn to illustrate powerfully Paul’s teaching, which at this point is identical with that of Jesus:  humble, self-sacrificing service to one another done in love is a must for a Christian disciple who would live as a Christian disciple should (Phil 2:3-4).

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

September 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Worship is not Something We Experience

NCV I Kings 18:36 At the time for the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah went near the altar. “Lord, you are the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” he prayed. “Prove that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant. Show these people that you commanded me to do all these things. 37 Lord, answer my prayer so these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you will change their minds.”

[full passage in NCV]

Several years ago I took some time to really drink in and absorb the book, The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson (Eerdman’s) and spread the reading out over several weeks, which is really what I needed to take it all in.

Each section of the book deals with the different “ways” of living that some choose, including Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Moses and Elijah. The study of the text is most thorough, but in each section, Peterson breaks away from the text long enough to provide contemporary application. He minces no words in his concern over the state of the modern church in the west, particularly in North America with which he is most familiar.

The study on Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal yielded these comments:


“Harlotry” is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms. While the prophetic accusation of “harlotry” has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline. “Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.” A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and is so impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant and exciting – that I “get something out of it.”

Baal’s Mount Carmel altar lacks neither action nor ecstasy. The 450 priests put on quite a show. But the altar call comes up empty.

Yahweh’s altar is presided over by the solitary prophet Elijah. It is a quiet affair, a worship that is centered on the God of the covenant. Elijah prepares the altar and prays briefly and simply. In Yahwism something is said – words that call men and women to serve, love, obey, sing, adore, act responsibly, decide. Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life. The proclamation of God’s word and our response to God’s Spirit touches everything that is involved in being human: mind and body, thinking and feeling, work and family, friends and government, buildings and flowers.

Sensory participation is not excluded – how could it be if the whole person is to be presented to God? When the people of God worship there are bodily postures of standing and kneeling and prostration in prayer. Sacred dances and antiphonal singing express community solidarity. Dress and liturgy develop dramatic energies. Solemn silence sensitizes ears to listen. But as rich and varied as the sensory life is, it is always defined and ordered by the word of God. Nothing is done simply for the sake of the sensory experience involved – which eliminates all propagandistic and emotional manipulation.

A frequently used phrase in North American culture that is symptomatic of Baalistic tendencies in worship is “let’s have a worship experience.” It is the Baalistic perversion of “let us worship God.” It is the difference between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual, and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a “worship experience”, a person sees something that excites him or her and goes about putting spiritual wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, loss, or joy and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship becomes a movement from what I see or experience or hear, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious setting. Individual feelings trump the word of God.

Biblically formed people of God do not use the term “worship” as a description of experience, such as “I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.” What that means is, “I can have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.” Which is true enough. The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experience makes up what the Christian church calls worship.

The biblical usage is very different. It talks of worship as a response to God’s word in the context of the community of God’s people. Worship in the biblical sources and in liturgical history is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. The experience develops out of the worship, not the other way around. Isaiah saw, heard, and felt on the day he received his prophetic call while at worship in the temple – but he didn’t go there in order to have a “seraphim experience”.

At the Mount Carmel Yahweh altar things are very different. Elijah prays briefly. The fire falls. The altar call brings “all the people” to their knees. They make their decision: “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” And then the rain comes.

~Eugene Peterson

September 22, 2017

Basing Decision-Making on a Carnal Mind’s Senses

The title I used today — the author’s (below) was equally long — was the best way I could wrap my head around the insight from today’s writer. We’re paying a return visit to the blog of Justin Petrick Ministries. Click the title below to read at source.

What Does it Really Mean to Walk by Faith and Not by Sight?

What does it mean to “walk by faith and not by sight,” as instructed in 2 Corinthians 5:7? This is one of the main words of wisdom or instruction you hear one giving to another, when an individual doesn’t know what to do. But is the meaning of this verse really in the context of walking blindly as so commonly believed? No, it is not.

A more accurate translation of this verse is to walk by faith, and not by what is seen, or what appears to be.  It means to not be guided by this natural realm, or what you see and experience on this earth.  Specifically, it means to not make decisions based on a carnal mind, or by using your 5 senses.  There is a big difference in not allowing yourself to be guided by this earthly realm, and to walk blindly.

When we focus on the things of this world, we will desire this world and we will pursue what it has to offer. This relationship is discussed in Romans 7 when it speaks of carnality and the law of the mind.  It is natural for us to be guided by our carnal mind, or by what is seen.  On the other hand, God does not expect us to walk blindly in this world.  We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), we have access to the direction of the Holy Spirit who is intimately connected to us in this earthly realm that He guides our steps (Proverbs 16:9). God is so intimately connected to you that He desires to direct your steps.  To me, that is not walking blindly.  We can feel like were walking blindly when we are distracted from God’s presence, and we don’t hear His still small voice among the loud circumstances of everyday life.

But was does it mean to walk by faith? Just like God instructs us not to make decisions based on what we see, when we walk in faith, it is also speaking of our decision-making process. Let us look at the definition of faith in Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:1 (KJV): Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Most people believe faith is believing in what is not seen.  Although true, it is only half the definition in that they leave out the substance of hope.  Substance means something that you can tangibly see, or measure objectively. In other words, when one has faith, it can be observed. How can faith be observed?  It can be observed through making decisions with the confident expectation of God’s goodness.  This is how faith manifests in everyday life, when you make decisions with a confident expectation that God’s Word will do what it promises you. You will make decisions that are grounded in the peace and love of Christ. It is the opposite of making decisions based on fear, stress, anxiety, and worry, or through not believing God will do what He says in His Word.

Therefore, when we walk by faith and not by sight, it is meaning that we are living life making decisions with a confident expectation that God will do what He has promised in His Word.  We make decisions in life knowing that God is faithful, that we are loved, and that we are saved, healed, delivered prospered, protected, preserved, and made whole.  It means that we won’t make decisions based on fear, but in the security that God has everything under compete control.

So, do you walk by faith and not by sight?  Do you make decisions based on God’s faithfulness, or are decisions made with the motivation of fear and worry?

1 John 4:18 (KJV): There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

 

September 11, 2017

Jesus: Opening Move

Jesus Commences His Ministry

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

It takes Matthew four chapters to get to this:

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

Then He calls The Twelve.

In Mark the story is similar:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why does all this matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 7, 2017

Life as a Living Sacrifice: Sounds Like Fun?

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

September 5, 2017

The Issue of Forgiving

by Russell Young

(scripture verses italics added for emphasis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

September 4, 2017

God Explains Judgment and Punishment to Ezekiel

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

Highlights:

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

Ezekiel 14 to Ezekiel 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thought for Today:

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

Christ Revealed:

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

Word Study:

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

Memory Verse:

John 15:1-5

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

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

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