Christianity 201

July 26, 2017

He Will Not Forget Your Work

Today’s thoughts are an excerpt of a devotional that appeared last week at DailyEncouragement.net by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Click the title below to read at source.

Serving Out Of The Spotlight

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

…The aspiration to do something great is commendable. Yet a sense of unworthiness can sweep over a person, who, after an honest assessment of their giftings or lack thereof, realize they’re simply unable to accomplish anything reckoned as great by others. Many have dropped the baton of service when their aspiring dream never fully materialized. They could only imagine worthiness of ministry if serving in a big way or in the spotlight.

We propose another aspiration that may initially seem rather uninspiring: “do something ordinary for God!” All of us can do that and faithfulness in the ordinary really does matter. In our view the vast, vast majority of work being done for God is done by ordinary people doing ordinary things out of the spotlight.

Now, praise God, sometimes the ordinary does become great, such as the young boy with the fish and bread that Jesus multiplied to feed the crowd. He simply offered the ordinary he had and Jesus performed the miracle. We read nothing more in Scripture of that boy again. We can assume he went on to live an ordinary life, hopefully in faithful service to Christ. Our aspiration should be to glorify God in our obedience and service to Him, not to make anything great of ourselves, let alone seek the spotlight.

Let us consider the daily verse, written to a group of people “The Hebrews”, none of whom we know by name. But as part of the Holy Scriptures we can read this verse applying it to our own lives.

God is not unjust.” That’s a simple four word phrase we do well to memorize. Unjustness permeates our world and at times God’s ways don’t make sense, even tempting us to question His justness. But the infallible Word of God proclaims, “God is not unjust”.

He will not forget your work.” Others may forget or not even notice, but God always sees and remembers!

And the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people.”  How do we show our love for God? Surely through our praises, thankfulness, obedience and in many other ways.  But this verse specifies a way that goes to the very heart of ministry and it’s generally demonstrated in ordinary ways. In some wonderful way as we help and serve God’s people, we are actually helping and serving God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

And continue to help them” The writer of Hebrews was confident that this help was active and ongoing, as he finished the sentence with this phrase.  Are you in active service for God and His people today?  If so, keep it up.  What a great blessing long-term, faithful, and dependable workers are in the kingdom of God. You may not be in the spotlight, in fact it’s likely you’re not. But He sees and will not forget your work. He generously rewards us in this life but His greater reward will be given in the life to come! Today do something ordinary for God so that He will use it for His extraordinary purposes.

Father, as You call us You also equip us to do that which You lay upon our hearts.  May we respond to those in need in whatever capacity we can help.  Certainly we can pray, we may need to write or call, and then there are the times we are to go and accomplish that which we are called to do. May our motive, in everything we say, do or think be to glorify You as we shine our light, not for our own glory, but always for Your glory and honor while also spotlighting the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

July 25, 2017

Subtracting in order to Mulitply

Today we pay a return visit to popular pastor and author Greg Laurie. Click the title to read at source. If you’re clicking in July, there is a series running on spiritual battles for which you might enjoy reading several installments.

The Importance of Right Motives

“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Jesus was becoming very popular in His ministry—maybe too much so. People followed Him in great numbers. The crowds swelled on a daily basis. But Jesus looked at these people and, being God, knew their motives.

He recognized that most of them were not interested in spiritual things at all. They wanted to be dazzled by a few miracles. Others heard that He had fed the hungry. A few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish the kingdom of God.

There were various reasons people had for following Him, but He realized many of them were following Him for the wrong reason. Thus, He made a series of statements intentionally designed to thin out the ranks. He wanted to be left with those who really wanted to follow Him—not fair-weather followers but true, committed disciples and soldiers.

In the same way in the church today, there are many people who are not really interested in the spiritual. God wants us to follow Him for the right motives.

Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . . Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14: 27, 33). Here Jesus laid out plainly what it is to be His disciple, to be a soldier in His service.

God has an unusual set of mathematics. He subtracts in order to multiply. Sometimes we think bigger is always better. But these words of Jesus show that He is more interested in quality than He is in quantity. Yes, He wants everyone to come into the Kingdom. He wants everyone to believe. But He wants us to come with the right motives, because a halfhearted soldier can be more of a liability than an asset.

 

July 24, 2017

Mystery: God’s Transcendence and God’s Friendship

Last year at this time we quote Gary Henry at WordPoints as part of a longer article. Today we’re back with two recent posts from his site which show two sides of God: That he is wholly other (transcendence) and can also be our friend (immanence).  Click the titles of each to read at source and then take some time to look around the rest of the site.

Awed by God’s Grandeur

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:17).

ON SOME LEVEL, EVERY HUMAN BEING CAN UNDERSTAND THE AMAZEMENT OF JACOB WHEN HE REALIZED WHAT HE WAS SEEING

As he slept that night at Bethel, fleeing from his brother’s wrath and with a stone as his pillow, he dreamed of “a ladder [that] was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). Above the ladder was God Himself, who spoke to Jacob words of promise and hope. And having grasped this portion of God’s greatness, Jacob was a man changed for the better.

Like Jacob, we need to contemplate the majesty of God and the marvel of His communication with His creation. Nothing is more healthy for us spiritually than to be struck by the wonderful lightning of God’s grandeur. It is a truly transforming experience.

It was Immanuel Kant who said, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe — the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The connection between these two sources of wonder is more than coincidental. We can’t give serious consideration to God’s greatness without being appalled by the huge chasm between His perfection and our imperfection. To be awed by God’s grandeur is to be moved to turn away from anything inconsistent with His glory. Thus for fallen creatures like us, there must always be strong elements of humility and repentance in worship. “Repentance is the process by which we see ourselves, day by day, as we really are: sinful, needy, dependent people. It is the process by which we see God as he is: awesome, majestic, and holy” (Charles Colson). For us, godly sorrow should be a quite natural part of our reverence.

God’s grandeur . . . our need . . . unutterable awe. These things are the very heartbeat of religion. If we really live in God, we’ll lose ourselves in wonder before Him.

For worship is a thirsty land crying out for rain,
It is a candle in the act of being kindled,
It is a drop in quest of the ocean, . . .
It is a voice in the night calling for help,
It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the universe, . . .
It is time flowing into eternity, . . .
[It is] a man climbing the altar stairs to God.
(Dwight Bradley)

What Good Is God’s Friendship?

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

COULD WE POSSIBLY PUT A PRICE TAG ON GOD’S FRIENDSHIP?

Even among all the good things that are available to us, is there anything that a wise person wouldn’t give up in order to have God? The privilege of knowing God through Christ so far surpasses the value of everything else that Paul said he would gladly “count all things loss” in order to have this one thing.

God’s friendship is good not because it “pays” us to be His friend, but simply because of God Himself. Whatever blessings may flow from God (and there are many indeed), these are only secondary benefits or by-products of our friendship with Him. If such things ever take center stage and become our primary motivation, they cease to be good things and become idols. Nothing must be allowed to take the place of God in our hearts, not even God’s own gifts to us. To have God alone is to have wealth untold, and to be without Him is the very definition of poverty.

But although God’s friendship surpasses the worth of anything else in existence, we not only fail to value it as we should, but there are times when we go so far as to trade it away. Faced with a choice between God’s friendship and that of our worldly peers, we often seek the favor of our peers by doing things that greatly damage our relationship with God. Maybe we suppose that we can have it both ways, or maybe we’re just being thoughtless. But in any case, we’re being quite foolish when we try to maintain equal measures of God’s friendship and the friendship of the world. James put it bluntly: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23,24).

“We regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire” (Gregory of Nyssa).

 

 

July 22, 2017

The Scandal of the Cross

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Today we’re paying a return visit to Think Theology. This time around the author Michael Sterns. This was published originally approaching Good Friday. Click the title below to read at source.

The Wisdom of God

1st Corinthians 1:18-25 (NRSV)

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

img 071216Anyone that I’ve spoken to in the past few months might already know that I’ve taken a special interest in the cross. I have always been fascinated with the cross of Christ, as any good Christian should be, but I’m currently working through different atonement theories. Many have written on Think Theology on the cross, and I’ll agree that there are many different metaphors and images for understanding what exactly happened on the cross. There’s the victory of Christ. There’s the suffering of Christ. There’s the ransom. There’s substitution. There’s moral example. Each of these theories are necessary for understanding what happened on the cross. But how can we really understand what was going on? What makes this Friday such a Good Friday? What’s so good about death on a cross? (I don’t know if I have to say this, but I will anyways. I’m not going to be able to write an exhaustive summary on the doctrine of atonement. I’ve chosen specifically to look at the wisdom of God in the foolishness of the cross.)

Here in 1st Corinthians, Paul lays out one of the most beautiful passages in his corpus. He argues with Old Testament support that what God has done through the cross was beyond any human understanding. This is the wisdom of God: through the crucified Messiah, God has shown his plan for redemption.

The Romans famously put crosses on busy roads or by the entrance to a city to make statements to anyone who saw the person hanging there. People would walk past these terrible scenes of slaves and rebels on crosses, and it would convince them to never join any movement against the Roman government. Crucifixions were humiliating.

It wasn’t something that anyone wanted.

Jesus was probably crucified in AD 33. About thirty years before Jesus’ death, there was a huge rebellion recorded by Josephus after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC. Varus, the Roman general in charge in the province of Syria at that time, did what Romans did best: he destroyed the rebellion by crucifying almost 2000 rebels. Jesus was probably a little boy hearing about these horrible deaths on crosses. And thirty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Roman general Vespasian and his son Titus closed in on Jerusalem during the great war. They overran the city, and they crucified so many Jews outside the city walls that they almost ran out of wood.

Jesus’ crucifixion happened between these two brutal mass crucifixions, but this is how God showed his plan for redemption. This was his statement. He took the scandalous cross and displayed his love for the world. It was the greatest contradiction (like a Starburst…).

Karl Barth in his commentary on Romans says, “The life of Jesus, on the other hand, is perfect obedience to the will of this faithful God. He gives himself up to sinners as a sinner. He places himself completely under the judgment which rests upon the world. He places himself there, where God can only still be present as the question of God. He takes the form of a servant. He goes to the cross and dies there. At the high point, at the goal of his way, he is a purely negative magnitude; not a genius, not the bearer of manifest or hidden psychic powers, not a hero, a leader, a poet or thinker and precisely in this negation (“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”), precisely in that he sacrifices every brilliant, psychic, heroic, aesthetic, philosophical, every thinkable human possibility whatsoever to an impossible more, to an unintuitable Other, he is the One who fulfills to the uttermost those mounting human possibilities born witness to in the law and the prophets. Therefore, God exalted him, therein is he recognized as the Christ, thereby he becomes the light of the last things which shines forth above everyone and everything. Truly we see in him God’s faithfulness in the depths of hell. The Messiah is the end of the human. There too, precisely there, God is faithful. The new day of the righteousness of God wants to dawn with the day of the ‘sublated’ human.

The cross was the only way for Jesus; there were no other possibilities. This was God’s plan.

Paul has not told us here exactly how the cross is salvific, but the whole story of Jesus makes it plain. In the death of Jesus, God has taken judgment upon himself. He uses the cross as the ultimate declaration to the world of his covenantal (and sacrificial) love. It shows the lengths to which God will go to bring about redemption, even death on a cross. When we look at Jesus on the cross, we see the face of God.

Christians see the cross as the greatest paradox. It absolutely is scandalous. What does it mean that the Son of God died upon the cross? On this Good Friday, let’s not immediately move towards the resurrection, towards the joys of Easter morning. Let us look at the cross. Let us look at our crucified Savior. It might look foolish, but it is the wisdom of God.


For further reading: Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. . William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI: 1987.

Wright, N.T. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion. HarperOne. New York, 2016.

 

July 10, 2017

The Comfort Found in John’s Revelation

ESV Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

Today we’re paying a return visit to Out of the Ordinary; this time around the writer is long-time blogger Persis. I really appreciated the topic she chose. Click the title below to read at source, then take a few minutes to look around at what others on the blog are writing.

Comfort in Revelation

There was a time when the book of Revelation was my least favorite book of the Bible. I thought its main message was to foretell all the horrible things that would happen before Jesus comes back, and those horrors would be my fate unless I achieved a certain level of spirituality whereby God would deem me mature enough to escape them. Cold comfort, indeed! At least, Revelation was at the end of the Bible so I could avoid reading it as long as possible. But what a terrible state to be in. I had no assurance as to my salvation. God and His gospel seemed weak and ineffectual, and I was afraid to read part of the Bible. But I couldn’t be more wrong.

The gospel isn’t the power of God to just get me in the door and then the rest is up to me. What Christ has accomplished covers the beginning, middle, and end of my Christian life. I am not living in a dualistic Star-Wars-like universe where good and evil battle one another on a level playing field. Who in his right mind would contend with the Almighty? God has no rivals. And what if Revelation is less about decoding the events of the 21st century but a word of comfort and consolation for Christians down through the ages?

Providentially my pastor has been preaching through Revelation, and I have grown to love this book because I need it just as much as my brothers and sisters in the 1st century. I need something greater than earthly security when I hear of the lives lost in the bombing in Manchester and gas attacks in Syria. I need hope when I read of the injustices that mankind has inflicted on fellow image bearers throughout history and even today. I need the promise of the life to come when loved ones suffer in body and mind. And I need to be reminded of these truths:

~ There will be trials and persecution, but Christ is seated on the throne even now. He has won and is worthy to bring God’s plan of redemption to completion. (Rev. 5:5-14)

~ We have all had our share in the thread of suffering that began in Genesis 3, but it ends in Revelation. Sin and evil will be no more. “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4 NASB)

~ God’s purpose in redeeming people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will be fulfilled to the praise of His glory. And not only that, the good work He began in us will be accomplished. The Bride of the Lamb will be fit for her Heavenly Bridegroom (Rev. 7:9-17; Phil. 1:6; Rev. 21:1-2)

~ Fellowship with God was severed, and Adam and Eve were barred forever from Eden. But we will be united with Him forever with no shadow of sin, never to be parted again. And we will see His face. (Rev. 21:3, 22:4)

This is quite different from how I had previously viewed the book of Revelation. A source of fear has now become comfort and consolation indeed. May it take root in my heart.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
 

July 4, 2017

If God Could Have Your Attention for Just a Moment

We’ve linked to Ed Cyzewski many times at Thinking Out Loud, but this is his first appearance at C201. This is the first part of a longer article; you’re encouraged to click the title below to read the full piece.

What Would God Shout at You from a Cloud?

In the Gospel of Matthew, there are two instances where a cloud appears over Jesus and God shouts two brief, identical messages. I have often wondered what God would shout at me in a similar situation.

Honestly, I tend to think God would shout negative things at me. I imagine God telling me to stop doing something or to do more of something. In either case, the message would focus on the ways I’m falling short and have been inadequate.

I have struggled to imagine a loving and merciful God. It’s much easier to imagine a God who is either disappointed or really, really angry.

Bringing up this disappointed/angry image of God with people tends to strike a nerve.

What would God shout at you?  

-volunteer more!
spend less money!
stop obsessing about your body image!
share the Gospel more!
stop lusting!
help more people in need!
read the Bible more!
pray more!
go to a different church!
spend less time on social media!

We can’t imagine that God the Father is for us and loves us. We can only imagine God showing up in a cloud and telling us to get our acts together, to start doing something different.

God the Father isn’t typically imagined as being on our side. God the Father is somehow joined with Jesus in the Trinity but remains disappointed in us and in need of a blood sacrifice to make us acceptable in his sight, working out a loophole in his infinite holiness and justice.

Before Jesus launched his ministry and before Jesus ventured to Jerusalem where he would be killed and then rise from the dead, God the Father spoke the same message over Jesus:

This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

Matthew 3:16-17

 “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!

Matthew 17:5

On both occasions, God the Father affirmed the Son. On the first occasion Jesus had not even started his ministry.

I have tended to write off the significance of these moments between the Father and the Son. However, I now think that this was a big mistake on my part.

Jesus came to unite us with God, adopting us in God’s family. Paul writes that our identity is hidden away in Christ. In the midst of this union with Christ, we dare not overlook the love of God for us that goes beyond our comprehension:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Through the ministry of Jesus and our union with him, we have a new way of thinking about God. If God is our Father through our union with the Son, then it isn’t far-fetched to say that God’s first thought of us is love and a desire for deeper union with us. God desires to heal, redeem, and restore his children.

Failing to believe that I am a child of God is the most important obstacle for prayer. Once I believe that God loves and accepts me like Jesus is loved and accepted, prayer becomes a moment to rest in God’s love rather than a game of hide and go seek with God or a proving ground for my spirituality…

June 21, 2017

A Coat of Many Sizes

Today’s article isn’t about a coat of many colors, but rather about many different coats, each one presented annually from the same giver to the same recipient; Hannah to her son Samuel who is serving Eli. The notes below are from the blog A Trivial Devotion by Chandler Vinson which is no longer being updated, but is a wealth of commentary on individual passages. Click the title below and use it as a launching point to explore other articles on the blog. We’ve excerpted just a few of the writers quoted within it to give you an idea.

Samuel’s Little Robe (I Samuel 2:19)

First Samuel opens with a woman named Hannah troubled by her infertility (I Samuel 1:1-8). She journeys to Israel’s religious epicenter, Shiloh, and prays to the Lord for a child, promising, “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” (I Samuel 1:11 NASB). After being unjustly rebuked by the priest, Eli (I Samuel1:12-18), her prayer is answered and she gives birth to a son, Samuel (I Samuel 1:19-28), for which she famously offers a prayer of thanksgiving (I Samuel 2:1-11).

The narrative then shifts to detailing the impropriety of Eli’s sons (I Samuel 2:12-17) before returning its focus to the boy Samuel, who was being raised in Shiloh (I Samuel 2:18-21).

Immediately after mentioning that Samuel is wearing a priestly ephod (I Samuel 2:18), the text notes that Hannah periodically returns to Shiloh to present her son with a robe (I Samuel 2:19).

And his mother would make him a little robe and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. (I Samuel 2:19 NASB)

This child will grow up to become one of the most pivotal figures in Israel’s history. Gene M. Tucker (b. 1935) focuses:

Even children of destiny have parents. Here, of course, his mother Hannah stands out. Although she had “loaned him” to the Lord (I Samuel 1:28, 2:20 RSV) in fulfillment of her vow [I Samuel 1:11], she continued to be his mother. One cannot help but he touched by the account of the mother who sees her young son but rarely, each year bringing him “a little robe” [I Samuel 2:19], He is, after all, a growing boy, and last year’s robe will soon be too short. (Fred B. Craddock [b. 1928], John H. Hayes [1934-2013], Carl R. Holladay [b. 1943] and Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year C: A Comprehensive Commentary on the Lectionary, 45)

The image of the young man in his little robe has become iconic. F.B. Meyer (1847-1929) informs:

Dean [Arthur Penrhyn] Stanley [1815-1881] tells us that, in his gentler moments, Martin Luther [1483-1546] used to dwell on these early chapters of the books of Samuel with the tenderness which formed the occasional counterpoise to the ruder passions and enterprises of his stormy life. Indeed, students of the Scriptures in every age have been arrested by the figure of this little child girded with his linen ephod, or in the little robe which his mother brought him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice [I Samuel 2:18-19]. (Meyer, Samuel: The Prophet, 3)

In consecutive verses, the narrative addresses the child’s wardrobe (I Samuel 2:18-19). Bruce C. Birch (b. 1941) tracks:

The failure of Eli’s sons in their priestly duties is followed by a notice concerning Samuel’s education as a priest [I Samuel 2:18-21]…The notice about Samuel’s clothing [I Samuel 2:18] bridges to a brief account of the small robe Hannah would make and bring to Samuel each year [I Samuel 2:19]. (Birch, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II: Numbers, Deuteronomy, Introduction to Narrative Literature, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 987)

The notice regarding Samuel’s progress serves to indicate a passage of time (I Samuel 2:18-21). Alfons Schulz (1871-1947) approves:

I Samuel 2:19 delightfully relates how at the pilgrimage each year Hannah, the mother, brings her son, who serves in the sanctuary, a new robe—obviously because in the meantime he has ‘grown out of’ the old one: a splendid, childlike touch in a brief remark. (David M. Gunn [b. 1942], “Narrative Arts in the Books of Samuel,” Narrative and Novella in Samuel: Studies by Hugo Gressmann [1877-1927] and Other Scholars 1906-1923, 168-69)

Most interpreters have come to the logical conclusion that Hannah presents her son with new robes (I Samuel 2:19). Amos Oz (b. 1939) and Fania Oz-Salzberger (b. 1960) praise:

Don’t let the singular noun form mislead you: she made him a new little coat every year, fit to size, and the biblical author recognizes the sweetness of that petit priest-child clothing [I Samuel 2:19]. For Hannah, not Bathsheba, is the earliest linchpin of the two faces of Jewish motherhood: great physical tenderness, and early scholarly sendoff. Heartbroken at the shrine or school gate, but decisively returning home to start next year’s little coat. (Oz and Oz-Salzberger, Jews and Words, 83)

[What I’ve just presented you with is probably about 5% or less of the total blog post; a wealth of citations from various commentaries on Samuel’s robes. A conclusion follows.]

Samuel becomes a great man, no less than a kingmaker. His life trajectory begins with a mother who put God’s will for her child’s life above all else. May we do the same.

How do Hannah’s consistent worship patterns contribute to Samuel’s development? Does worship characterize your life? What are the consequences to Hannah and Samuel of his being raised away from her? Did the absence of his parents in adolescence effect Samuel’s demeanor later in life? What would be the psychological results of Samuel’s unusual upbringing? In what ways have you given your child to God?

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – attributed to Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

 

June 19, 2017

The Mystery that Jesus and God are One

I Cor 2: 6 Among the mature, however, we speak a message of wisdom—but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of the mysterious and hidden wisdom of God, which He destined for our glory before time began.

Eph. 3:8 Though I am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to illuminate for everyone the stewardship of this mystery, which for ages past was hidden in God, who created all things.


Beholding the Mystery that Jesus is God

The claim that Jesus is God is at once mysterious in its complexity and critical for the salvific power of the gospel. In this Seven Minute Seminary video, Dr. Justus Hunter encourages the church to grapple with this perplexing claim, both intellectually and doxologically.


I want to encourage you to check out the full list of videos at Seven Minute Seminary. We use video here sparingly, but this site is a wealth of great teaching on topics you’ll find engaging.


Thinking about mystery reminded me of this Matt Redman song. Later in the song he changes “Heaven’s perfect melody” to “Heaven’s perfect mystery.” I know the subject is different in this song, but I felt that someone reading this today might also appreciate also looking at the mystery of God’s love for us.

June 13, 2017

Unwittingly Carrying Out Their Mandate

I thought I would begin today by sharing something of which today’s guest writer reminded me which we posted here in 2013. It’s the passage in John 11. It’s the section where the leaders are plotting the death of Jesus.

49 But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” 51 Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation…

and echoed in John 18:14

14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Although he was about to be — along with his entire household — totally implicated in the crucifixion, he was still, in John’s opinion, speaking prophetically; speaking as a prophet.

You’ll see why I got echoes of that when you read this.

We’re paying a return visit to Patrick Hawthorne came who writes at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “home” to view other articles.

The Priest of the Offering

The following was sent to me by my dad. I found this very interesting in explaining Romans 8:28.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

 Author unknown

Teacher, “I said, “I have a question. If the death of the Messiah was ordained by God, an event of the highest holiness, why did it happen through such unholy means?”

“How do you know that the means weren’t holy?” he asked.

It happened through evil men, through bribery, treachery, brutality, and murder…evil.”

“In ancient Israel, who were the ones ordained by God to offer up sacrifices?” he asked.

“The priesthood,” I said, “the sons of Aaron.”

“And who were the key people involved in delivering Messiah to His death?”

“The Sanhedrin.”

“Led by the high priest and including the chief priest of the Temple, the sons of Aaron, the same ones ordained by God to offer up the sacrifices. Why were they so obsessed with Messiah? They were the priest and He was the Lamb, the sacrifice. So they were the ones to initiate His death. That was their ministry and calling. Only they could deliver the Lamb of God to His death. That’s why they conspired and arrested Him and handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified. It was their ministry to offer up the sacrifice.”

“So they killed Him because they were the priest and He was the sacrifice.”

“Not because they knew it, but nevertheless, because they were the ones ordained to do so. And beyond the Sanhedrin, it was the high priest who, alone, was ordained to offer up the most holy sacrifice, the atonement by which the nation’s sins were forgiven. And who was it that presided over the Sanhedrin and was more than anyone else responsible for delivering Messiah to His death? The high priest. His intention was murder. Yet he was the one appointed in the Law to offer up the sacrifice. Messiah was the sacrifice. So it was the high priest who had to offer Him up.”

“But they were evil,” I said, “and their motives and actions were corrupt.”

“And yet through their actions came salvation,” he said. “The world is filled with evil, with the imperfect, and the wrong. But God causes all of these things, the wrong, the imperfect, and the evil to work together for the good, the holy, and the perfect…in this world and in your life. The tears, the cries, the heartbreaks, the evil, and all the wrong will, in the end, become the priests of the offering, to fulfill the sacred purposes and blessings God has ordained for your life.”

• • •

The Mission: What or who in this world is against you or working for evil? Commit it to God. And give thanks beforehand that He will turn it for good.

 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

 

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.

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