Christianity 201

March 12, 2018

Staying on Track When Christians Seek Political Influence

Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.
 -2 Timothy 2:4 NLT

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
 -2 Peter 2:20 NIV

Again we’re revisiting the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. Amy is currently at the forefront of the intersection of Christianity and the study of mental health issues.  Her new book is Blessed are the Unsatisfied: Finding Freedom in an Imperfect World (InterVarsity) and you can read chapter one from the book for free at this link. (Look around her blog for chapters two and three as well!) To read today’s post there, click the title below.

Be Careful: Power Tends to Corrupt…Our Faith

Several years ago, my family and I spent a weekend visiting friends in North Central Indiana. Although this part of the country is home to lots of regular Indiana folks, it’s one of the places known as “Amish country,” a handful of regions in the United States that are home to large Old Order Mennonite and Amish communities. Although we were there to visit friends, not to engage in “Amish tourism,” we did visit the Menno-Hof Amish/Mennonite Information Center in Shipshewana, Indiana. Part museum, part educational experience, it features interesting exhibits about the history, beliefs, and contemporary experiences of Amish and Mennonite people.

The experience began with a quick multimedia presentation of a couple of thousand years of Christian history, starting with the birth of Jesus and showing how and why the Anabaptist movement emerged in sixteenth-century Europe. Through this perspective, one prominent theme emerged: bad things happen when religion and political power get cozy.

These folks should know; their history serves as brutal illustration. The center’s exhibits highlighted the European experiences of Anabaptists and other minority religious groups. An underground dungeon shows the lengths to which powerful state churches would go to suppress the rights and views of minority groups. A ship, ready to sail for the “New World,” illustrates the lengths to which they went in order to find a place where they might peacefully practice their faith and honor their conscience.

In fact, among those of us with European roots, many are descended from people who came to this land seeking escape from state-sponsored religious persecution in Europe. They saw for themselves how political power and religion, when they get all mixed up, can be a recipe for oppression. And we see it for ourselves today, in nations all around the world, where faith and power are used as both justification and tools in the fight for domination. Whether we like it or not, the entire Western world is at war with one such system. How tremendously ironic that American Christians can’t seem to let go of our own appetite for political power.

Now, I’m no separatist. I’ve never even read an Amish romance novel. And I’m a firm believer that Christians ought to be as engaged–and personally invested–in our cultures as anyone else. But I think these Anabaptists got something right–political power has the potential to corrupt our faith as thoroughly as it can corrupt any other area of life. As soon as people perceive a threat to their power, they often begin to lose their way as they focus on trying to cling to it. I’m afraid this is one form of sickness currently infecting the American church.

We are here to live in relationship with God and wield our influence in the direction that relationship leads us. We are not here to make or keep ourselves powerful. That is not part of our calling. Does this mean we ought to eschew power and influence, automatically yielding it all to people who have no misgivings about the relationship between power and faith? Absolutely not. But graciously exercising power is far different from grabbing for it, hoarding it, or wielding it only in our own self-interest. Humbly and generously seeking the common good is vastly different from seeking to hold over others the kind of power that God himself chooses not to exercise.

Many of the people who are quick to point out power’s corrupting influence on people who have disappointed us–like lifelong politicians, corporate kings, and media moguls–are foolish enough to believe it won’t have the same effect on us. Take a look around and think again.

These are messy times, like all other times in human history. I’m not naive enough to believe any one attitudinal shift will bring ideological peace to our society. But clinging to power at all costs has never brought lasting peace or fostered a kinder, more livable culture. In fact, those who refuse to share, without exception, eventually lose everything they worked so hard to amass. Let’s take a lesson from our own stories. Let’s imitate the all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

 

November 26, 2016

2-For-1 Devotional Special: It’s War/Hearing the Truth

Regular readers here are accustomed to this paragraph containing something like, “Today we return to the blog of _________…” It’s easy to work with writers we’ve worked with before, but I try to spend about 30 minutes each week seeing who else is writing good material that we can steal would be a good fit here. That often takes me to the #devotional tag on Twitter where sadly, most of the activity consists of people trying to sell their devotional book. (I have other avenues for blind searches which usually turn out to be more effective: Using the devotional or Jesus or Bible tags on WordPress, for example.)

So today’s new writer is Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him. His writings are shorter — hence the reason you’re getting two today — but thankfully more substantive than many other things you encounter online. (Besides, I really enjoyed reading his personal story.) So click each of the individual titles to read these at source and then look around the rest of his site.

todd-sepulvedaIt’s War!

Scripture

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
2 Corinthians 10:3 NASB

Observation
There is a war going on, but most don’t realize it! I know that sounds like a line from a sci-fi movie, but it is true.

We live in two realms, the flesh, the things we see, touch, smell, etc…,and the spiritual, the things we don’t see.

The evil forces of the devil will do anything to keep you away from spiritual things and the things of God. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in debate, arguments, hate, worry, instead of walking in the Spirit and the things of God.

Application
Can you identify with the above paragraph? Do you find yourself focusing on the things of this world, when they will pass away, vs the things of God, which are eternal?

If so, you need to wage war! This is a purposeful, focused, disciplined way to live. Press into the things of God. Don’t let anything pull you away. Know that when things come against you, they very may be the work of Satan trying to derail your relationship with God!

Fight back! God is more powerful! You are His child! What Father wouldn’t come to the rescue and help of their own child?

Remember, this war is for eternal lives!

Prayer
Lord, help us to realize that we are in a spiritual war. You have given us everything we need to fight and stand firm. Give us strength and insight so that we don’t allow the ploys of the evil one to distract us from living for You.

Hearing the Truth is Tough

Scripture

5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, 6 by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.
2 Samuel 19:5-6 NASB

Observation
David had to flee Jerusalem because His Son wanted to kill him and take the throne for himself. After David’s men defeated and killed Absalom, the only thing that David could do was weep. A day of great victory turned into a day of great mourning.

It would have been bad for David if Joab wouldn’t have given him some much needed advice.

David was heartbroken, understandably. But he should have also been grateful for everyone who put their life on the line to protect him and the rest of his family.

Application
Sometimes we don’t realize that we are off course. It is good to have people in your life that will tell you what you need to hear, even if you don’t like it at the time.

Be grateful for those people. Choose to listen with an open mind and be led by the Holy Spirit to see if what they are saying is from God. If it is, make the change, change your course.

The other side of this is that there might be someone in your life that needs to hear something that might upset them. Pray and ask God if it is something you should say. Then pray that the Lord gives you the right words to say.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for bringing people in our lives that are willing to tell us the truth. Help us to prayerfully consider what they say and help us to not be so into ourselves that we can’t identify You speaking. Also, help us to be that person for others. Give us insight and the words to say, that we would be a blessing and help someone get back on track with You.


Todd attended Houston Baptist University with a dual-major in religion/Christianity and Communications/Mass Media with an emphasis in TV production and journalism. He and his wife Belinda ran a group home for kids in Children’s Protective Custody for 11 1/2 years. They were the youngest group home parents the agency ever had, and he had to get an insurance waiver to drive the van. At the same time they planted a church which ran for 14 years.

 

November 2, 2016

Finding the Place of Joy

Having just gone through a season of intense stress and anxiety, there were a few times awhile back when I would have been heard to say, “I want my joy back.” This past weekend, someone prayed for me and not knowing that specifically, prayed for joy to return.

Today we’re paying a return visit to Morgan Murphy who blogs at Look Upon The Light and just returned to writing after a long absence. Click the title below to read all of this at its source.

Fighting for Joy

At face value, this fallen world we live in is difficult. Every morning we wake up to more tragedy, trauma, and terrorism than we care to ever really hear about…especially when it becomes personal. Abiding in joy is obfuscated when we are hurt, broken, and rattled to our core. But the solution lies in doing some foundation work. Allow me to bring up an old Sunday school lesson about the wise man. We’re going back to the last parable of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 24-25, emphasis mine

Jesus essentially draws a dividing line between himself and any other foundation we might choose for ourselves. Though this parable is at its core about the proving evidence of true belief, I’m digging a little deeper and allowing it to teach me about joy.

The basic premise of joy is that it is not based on circumstance. It’s a deep confidence that, as Donald Campbell says, rests in God’s sovereign control of all things. I don’t know about you but when I read about pouring rain, rising flood waters, and beating winds…I see some pretty deleterious circumstances. I don’t see joy. But then I go back to the words “and does them” and ponder what this means to me in this fight. Where is joy in all of this?

Recall James 5:22 which says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” If the Word is Jesus (see John 1:1), and Jesus has and is giving me daily instruction, then I infer joy is found in obedience. Stay with me on this because I believe it’s the strategy we need for success in this fight.

Biblical joy comes from the Greek word “chara” which is a feeling of inner gladness, delight, or rejoicing. And it’s worth noting that pretty much every time it’s mentioned in the New Testament, the joy is based not on what happens but what is. In other words, like we said before, joy is not based on circumstance. It’s rooted in spiritual realities. Our world around us can literally can be crumbling, but that can never change the fact that Jesus left his throne to come save us, and in doing so, conquered death, hell, and His grave. The exact Spirit that did this is the exact Spirit that roots itself in the hearts of all believers. That, my friends, is where we find joy. We find it in the confidence of Jesus and in living out our stories–as messy, broken, and tragic as they may be. It’s why we have to know that this world is definitely not our home.

I encourage you in your fight for joy to go straight to this source of Joy that we have identified: Jesus and His Word. Read it, study it, meditate on it…take it all in. That’s the best practical advice that I can give you. One of the best quotes I have come across in my research is from John Piper:

When the powers of darkness are arrayed against you, and aim to destroy your joy forever, nothing is more precious than to have the Word of God ready for the battle. The fight for joy is not for the unarmed.

We can now see why this really is a battle. The enemy will do whatever he can to steal joy from our hearts. Just look at Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” That particular section of Ephesians 6 is about putting on the whole armor of God…and without that armor, we are setting ourselves up for failure. He really is our only chance at victory.

My verse to memorize for October was Romans 15:13. It says, “May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Did you get that it’s not by our own power? Stop fighting on your own. The enemy has really been trying to steal my joy lately, but I’ve determined to make it part of my story that I didn’t give up the fight. Even on the days I wanted to give up! As I told my friend recently, I think it really just all comes down to when our feet hit the floor first thing in the morning, who are going to believe? We make the choice. The world, our self, the enemy, or the King? Because as I’ve found, He is joy.

So where is joy in this broken world? It can only be found in Jesus. Don’t rely on emotion. Happiness is fleeting. It’s temporary and superficial. But joy? It sustains you. It roots you. It frees you…

Faced with terrifying and unwanted change? Seek Jesus.
Stressed because of a situation that won’t go away? Seek Jesus.
Lost someone or something and don’t know how to go on? Seek Jesus.
Faced with an unexpected tragedy? Seek Jesus.
Or just simply overwhelmed by the struggles of daily life? Seek Jesus.

…because Beloved, He really is our only way to get off the hook. He is always worth it, and He will never leave you out to dry. He promises that we find Him when we seek with all of our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). And in the search, in the fight, in the battle, He gifts us Himself–and in turn, Joy. Abiding, comforting, invigorating Joy. There is so much more to be said about joy–only the surface has been skimmed. But it’s enough to get you going in the right direction. So rest assured in these foundational truths today. In the mean time? Don’t give up. Fight on. Be obedient. Hang in there: Joy is to be found, and you just might be surprised by it.

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit… 1 Thessalonians 1:6 

September 15, 2016

You Don’t Have to Tell Everyone, Just Tell Us

Today we’re looking at a few verses in Mark 13.

Matthew 13:1 NIV As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Last night I watched a most informative sermon on John 3 from Dr. Gary Burge, professor at Wheaton College who teaches at Wheaton College, given on a Wedneday night at Willow Creek. You can watch the sermon at this link.

One of the things he spoke about was how the coming of Jesus replaces the things that have existed as central to Judaism with new things. Burge says that “Jesus is abundantly replacing the things he encounters in his world.”

  • In his first miracle, Jesus takes the ceremonial water for washing and replaces it with wine.
  • In his encounter with Nicodemus (the subject of Burge’s message) Jesus reminds him that “you are Israel’s teacher and yet you don’t know these things;” (Jn. 3:10) and Jesus himself replaces him as Israel’s teacher.
  • In the text above we’re told that the temple itself will be replaced with something new, the temple of his body which will die and be raised within three days.

Continuing in the chapter,

Mark 13:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

jesus-core-group-peter-james-and-johnThis question sets the stage for the rest of the chapter, but the thing that struck me as I was reading it in The Voice Bible was a bit peripheral, but still worth noting. There’s a sense in which they are saying, ‘Just tell us — just the four of us — what the signs will be.’ As a group of people taken aside, they felt entitled to some insider information. Who would not be eager to be the chosen of the chosen?

But it’s also worth noting the inclusion of Andrew. We tend to think of the inner circle as consisting of a type of triumvirate consisting of Peter, James and John. In a natural sense, we can see Andrew’s inclusion here, after all, James and John were brothers and so were Peter and Andrew. Two sets of brothers. But usually (see Mark 5:37 and The Transfiguration in Matthew 17) Andrew isn’t part of this select group. So what we see here with Jesus is flexibility in choosing who is part of the core group at any given time. There’s a leadership lesson here, that some other people can be brought to the table as occasion arises; the group is not tightly closed.

Mark 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

I find verse 11 somewhat paradoxical in light of other New Testament instructions such as,

I Peter 3:15b …Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope.

There is a balance to be struck between Holy Spirit leading and proper preparation. Having been in this situation many times in my contacts with seekers and non-believers, I can honestly say there are times when, even though I feel I can offer textbook-precise answers, I have to pause and ask God to speak through me.

As to the dominant theme of these verses, I think it’s interesting that all three synoptic gospel writes include something to the effect “these things must happen.”

Luke 21:9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Mark 13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Personally, I subscribe to what I call ‘The Domino Theory.’ When people say, “Jesus could come today;” I believe that’s true in the sense that Jesus might call me home today. (In other words, he might come for me.) The imperative of the gospel is ‘Choose today whom you will serve;’ (Joshua 24:15) and ‘Look: Now is the right time, today is the day for salvation.’ (2 Corinthians 6:2; in The Message: “Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped.”)

As important as this is, it remains true that there are certain prophetic markers which must occur first. This is where the dominoes kick in. I believe that those markers could be staked like dominoes and fall together in rapid succession. So yes, “the end is till to come;” but don’t kick back and relax because of that. A wise person will not wait for the dominoes to start falling, but will be observant of the stacking of the dominoes.

So we jump to the end of the chapter and see Jesus saying,

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Our desire should be the deepest intimacy with Jesus that was enjoyed by Peter, James and John (and Andrew), but if our goal in that is simply knowledge, we need to know that Jesus might not grant us insider information, because some things are not for us to know.


Read the full chapter of Mark 13 at Bible Gateway

 

 

June 6, 2016

Hurry Up, God!

God's Timing

Is. 5:18 What sorrow for those who…
19 …mock God and say,
“Hurry up and do something!
We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan…

When I first heard this verse quoted on the weekend, I assumed that it was referring to those who grow impatient for a work of God to take place; those who have prayed and have not yet received and so are asking God to hurry up.

But the context is more for those who are mock God and question the validity of his promised judgment. The Asbury Bible Commentary states:

Verse 19 is directed against those who mock God and his prophet. Isaiah has prophesied that God’s judgment was imminent, but these foolish ones do not believe him! “If what you say is true, show us. See, it won’t happen.”

The modern equivalent is “Show me the money!”

That seem mockery is reflected in the New Testament in 2 Peter 3:3-4

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

And just a few verses later (v.9)

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

This window of time in which we live right now is a confusing middle ground in the unfolding drama of God’s dealing with his creation. But we saw in Isaiah was Peter echoes. People expect that if God is going to act, it’s going to happen now and when it doesn’t they assume God has forgotten us, or forgotten his promise.

Habakkuk saw this in his day as well. In 2:3 he assures his hearers:

This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.

Of course this is due to our human limitation. Ecclesiastes 3:11 explains:

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

In other words, we have a hint of eternity but not the whole picture. In “the Love chapter” (I Cor 13:9) Paul says,

Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!

and later, in verse 12

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

But what about my earlier thoughts about waiting for a move of God, or for God to answer prayer or for God to reveal His will, or for God to send an answer to prayer?

The same impatience pervades both types of issues. We can fall into the same trap as the mockers outlined above in thinking that God has forgotten or that God delights in keeping us waiting.

But Paul answers this in the very familiar verse — Philippians 1:6 — where we end today, but keep in mind as you read this that he wrote this in prison, chained to a wall. He was not vacationing at a posh resort when he penned this, but states emphatically:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.


all verses today: NLT

graphics: an assortment suggested from searching themes related to God’s Timing; Waiting on God; Hurry Up, God; it seems this is a very popular topic…


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Authors chosen for inclusion here represent a variety of doctrinal viewpoints and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. You are encouraged to click through and read more of their material, not just the single item posted here. Where no author or link to another website appears, articles are by Paul Wilkinson unless otherwise stated.

Your suggestions for articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

April 28, 2016

Let’s Get Spiritual

If today’s header bears a mild resemblance to an old Olivia Newton-John song, I apologize for the fact it’s now stuck in your head. Perhaps the article’s own title below will help clear your mind! Jim Thornber writes at what we always call the “other” Thinking Out Loud blog and he’s been featured here four times previously. Click the title below to read at source.

So, You Want To Be “Spiritual?”

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” — 2 Chron. 16:9

Worship LeaderWhen you hear someone say, “That is a very spiritual person,” what do they mean? I’ve often heard that description used, but when you ask the person who said it what it means, they are often at a loss. I know what it doesn’t mean. To be a “spiritual” person does not mean you walk around silently like some kind of ancient mystic, listening to the quiet breath of God for instructions on what to say and how to pray. It doesn’t mean you’re always ready to say something prophetic and give a word of knowledge and have miracles following you. It doesn’t mean you can quote a thousand different verses on any given subject. Try this for a definition of spirituality: Living your life in harmony with God.

To be spiritual means you make God’s thoughts your thoughts, God’s priorities your priorities. What is important to God is important to you. What burdens God burdens you. When He says, “Go right” you go right, you don’t say, “Why?” A spiritual person decides to follow God knowing that God doesn’t need to explain Himself to anyone. A spiritual person is one whose heart is sensitive to the things of God. 2 Chron. 16:9 says, The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” God is looking for men and women who are completely dedicated to Him.

When I think about a spiritual person I think of David, who was completely dedicated to God in every aspect of his very earthly life. And his was a very earthly life. In Psalm 18:29 David says, “With your help I can conquer an army. I can leap over walls with a helping hand from you.” Can you envision a leaping David? Can you see him running, coming to a wall and leaping over it without hesitation and continuing his run? Eugene Peterson describes David as

“running toward Goliath, running from Saul, pursuing God, meeting Jonathan, rounding up stray sheep, whatever, but running. And leaping. Certainly not strolling or loitering. David’s is a most exuberant story. Earthy spirituality characterizes his life and accounts for the exuberance. Earthy: down-to-earth, dealing with everydayness, praying while doing the laundry, singing in the snarl of traffic. Spiritual: moved and animated by the Spirit of God and therefore alive to God” (Leaping Over A Wall, pg. 11).

Spirituality means you invite God into your everyday, very ordinary, dull, repetitive sameness and converse with Him about the dullness, the hopes, the dreams, the disappointments and the surprises, the decisions about what to make for dinner and how to pray for a child with cancer. The most spiritual people are the most ordinary people. They aren’t necessarily the religious leaders we see on television, but the unseen housewives and workers we never see up front who are affecting the lives of men and women all over the world without ever getting their names mentioned in Christianity Today or appearing on Christian television.

A spiritual person is a man or woman who longs to please God. They know going in that loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength is not going to please every one of their friends or all their family. It certainly didn’t please all of David’s brothers. But a spiritual person, although they are concerned with the thoughts of others, do not make what other people think their prime motivation for doing what they do. They know that at the end of their lives they must answer to God, so they look to make their every moment count in the sight of God. And when they fail, which they will (although hopefully, not quite as dramatically as David failed), they turn quickly to God, grieve over their wrongs, and allow His grace and forgiveness to guide their future actions. A spiritual person is an everyday person who chooses to put God first in everything they do.

So, are you ready to be “spiritual?”


 

 

October 23, 2014

Michael Card Quotations

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Genesis 17:1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[a]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.

  1. Hebrew El-Shaddai

It’s been awhile since we ran something in our quotations series. Today we choose author of more than two dozen books, and songwriter with more than 30 albums, Michael Card.  We begin with one of his songs that you can leave playing as you read.  Lyrics are at the end of today’s post.


“There comes a moment in our lives when some of the pieces of the puzzle come together – where all our past experiences, both good and bad, are brought to bear in causing us to become who God intends us to be.”
―  A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter


Michael Card“You need to be confronted
By the Stranger on the shore
You need to have Him search your soul
You need to hear the call
You need to learn exactly
What it means for you to follow
You need to realize that He`s asking for your all.”
A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter


So, within the preexisting turmoil that was Galilee, another crisis was brewing. Amid the growing conflict between the Romans and the Jews that would result in the destruction of the temple and the rebirth of Judaism as we know it, a small group of Jews was coming together. They had found the Messiah, Jesus of Galilee. To the best of their ability, they carried on with their daily work, Sabbath observance and synagogue attendance (see the disciples observing the hours of prayer in the temple, Acts 3:1; 10:30). The crisis that loomed on the horizon would destroy what fragile identity they had left. They were Christians who did not yet know they were Christians. Matthew’s Gospel is written in the face of this growing crisis. His portrayal of Jesus and his word will provide for this conflicted congregation the one thing they most badly need: identity.

Matthew: The Gospel of Imagination


“Then Luke commits his most grievous error, and I’m not sure I will ever be able to forgive him for it, at least this side of heaven. Luke reports in verse 27 that Jesus explained everything concerning himself in the Old Testament. What was Luke possibly thinking? The greatest Bible lesson of all time, and yet we have not a single word!”
― Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement


“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…”
~ Michael Card, quoted in Our Journey devotional


Song lyrics:

Come to the table and savor the sight
The wine and the bread that was broken
And all have been welcomed to come if they might
Accept as their own these two tokens
The bread is His body, the wine is the blood
And the One who provides them is true
He freely offers, we freely receive
To accept and believe Him is all we must do
–Come to the Table


When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God’s own fool
For only the foolish can tell-
Believe the unbelievable
And come be a fool as well
–God’s Own Fool


Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That’s not what a kiss is for

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain
–Why


Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again
–Love Crucified Arose


El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Elyon no Adonai
(God almighty, God almighty, God in the highest, oh lord)
Age to Age you’re still the same
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Erkamka na adonai
(God Almighty, God Almighty, I will love you, oh lord)
We will Praise and Lift you high
El Shaddai

Through Your Love and through the ram
You saved the son of Abraham
And by the power of your hand
Turned the sea into dry land
To the outcast on her knees
You were the God who really sees
And by your might you set your children free

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,…

Through the years you made it clear
That the time of Christ was near
Though the people failed to see
What messiah ought to be
Though your word contained the plan
They just could not understand
Your most awesome work was done
Through the frailty of your son

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,…


Sources: GoodReads, LyricsMode, CoramDeo

Go Deeper: Read a short Bible study on the meaning of El Shaddai.

June 21, 2014

Some Followed at a Distance

But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.  (Matthew 26: 58)

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54)

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.  (Matthew 27:55)

I was thinking today that I’ve never included one of my oldest son’s favorite worship songs here, I Just Want to be Where You Are by Don Moen.

The opening lines are:

I just want to be where you are
Dwelling daily in your presence
I don’t want to worship from afar
Draw me near to where you are.

The line that got to me was, “I don’t want to worship from afar.”

I realize this is rather superficial, but in my years in church I have attended some churches which fill the back rows first, and other churches in which the front rows fill up right away. I’m not sure what accounts for the difference in church culture. I’ve been to seminars and conferences where people will pay top dollar for airfare, hotel, food and conference admission, only to grab a seat in the very last row. But I’ve also seen people at Christian events who run to grab a seat near the front, with Bibles and notebooks already open before the speaker is even introduced.

Turning to today’s scripture texts, we certainly know why Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Jesus had just been arrested, and for all he knew, he might be next. So he became a ‘distant’ follower. The same applies to the women. Matthew Henry says that either way, it was either the ‘fury’ of those who arrested Jesus or the ‘fear’ in themselves that kept them from getting too close.

Between these two considerations, where do you find yourself?

In terms of the superficial, do you gravitate to the front rows at Christian gatherings, or are you content to stay near the back? Even if life circumstances currently make you one of the people Ruth Graham calls “broken on the back row;” may I encourage you to try moving up.

In terms of the scripture text and today’s song, can you say, “I just want to be where you are;” or are you “following at a distance?” Perhaps where you live there is a stigma associated with Christianity, or a local church. Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t compare to what Peter and the women felt on that terrible night. What if Peter hadn’t denied his association with Jesus? I can say from personal experience that life changes when you are willing to identify with the body of Christ no matter what may come.

There’s something about this simple song that intensifies as you hear it. Take time to listen to it more than once. Enter fully into God’s presence.

June 11, 2014

Without the Shedding of Blood

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Hebrews 9:16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Leviticus 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

I John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

John 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

Without the Shedding of BloodYesterday I shared in a conversation with a regular reader here about how “the blood of Christ” is one of several themes in Christian music and preaching that is not heard as often as it once was. So it was suggested we delve into this.

The Reformation Study Bible indicates that while “blood” is synonymous with “life,” it is also the case that the phrase, “blood of Christ” is usually paired with usage of “death of Christ.”

The justification achieved by the blood of Christ (Rom 5:9) is paralleled by the statements which speak of the sinner being reconciled to God “by the death of his Son” and being “saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). Other references to men being redeemed by the blood of Christ clearly indicate atonement through the death of a victim (cf. Acts 20:28; Eph 1:7, etc.). Since the death of Christ is sometimes considered in terms of a sacrifice (cf. Rom 3:25; 1 Pet 1:2), where the “sprinkling of blood” indicates a sacrificial ritual and continues the OT concept of the “blood of the covenant,” the emphasis is still upon the death of the victim that secured atonement for the sinner. The sacrificial blood is associated with the death of the Savior (Heb 9:14), and the author of Hebrews makes it plain that the blood is associated with death rather than life (12:24).  (Notes on Leviticus 17 passage above.)

At the blog LogosWalk:

It stuns my sensibilities when the same Christian parents who allow their children to own over-the-top, violent video games and to go to movies with excessive violence and gore, object to Sunday School lessons and sermons concerning the “gruesome” topic of crucifixion and Christ’s blood. The one is leading the pack down the wide path to hell, the other the narrow path to heaven. What we need are far more discussions concerning the blood. It’s the whole point.

Just as physical bodies cannot exist without blood, neither can spiritual without the blood of Christ. In the course of explaining the true purpose of the Old Testament system of sacrifices, that every offering was a substitute sentence of execution for the offender, God points forward to the substitutional death of Christ for each of us. The value of the life of a sacrifice is measured by its blood as repeatedly taught in the difference between those who can offer the more valuable offerings of oxen and sheep versus the poorer through doves and pigeons. But it is not the blood coursing through the veins of the offering that is of any use, but only when it is poured out in sacrifice on the altar. How incalculable the value of Christ’s blood that was shed in place of our own!

Brother Philip writes:

…The Lord declared that not only is the life in the blood but blood is also the form of “currency” to use in the matter of atonement.  Therefore, when considering what God would require to atone for sins, blood is the only suitable form of currency to make that payment.  Payment is required for atonement since God has been offended by sin and the disgusting nature of man’s depravity.  When considering all the “solutions” that people posit to “get man right with God,” it is always amazing to me how counterfeits are substituted for the only suitable currency payment.

Consider all the ways in which man has been told he can do this or do that to earn God’s favor and blessing to enter heaven’s pure world.  How many of them require blood?  Unless I am mistaken, the overwhelming majority of ideas are bloodless solutions.  Whether the answer given is baptism, belief, repentance, confession, acceptance, etc. they are all bloodless.  How can atonement possibly come without the right currency?  If God has required blood for atonement, He will not change His mind later and accept something else. (Malachi 3:6) Furthermore, only the right kind of blood would suffice to make the transfusion of life acceptable…

The doctrine salvation with respect to Christ’s blood is a thorny issue for Jewish apologists. I thought I would share a few lines from the blog Defending Torah in order for you to see what all this looks like from their perspective:

One cannot apply this verse to Jesus’ blood in any event, because it specifies blood on the altar, and Jesus did not die on any altar, let alone the altar in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem which is clearly the altar Leviticus is referring to…

…In other words, the verse has nothing to do with salvation. It is about the dietary laws — specifically, the comments about the life being in the blood are an explanation for the prohibition against eating blood.

There is no doubt equal objection by Jewish apologists to taking the Passover story and mapping it on to the idea of Christ as our passover lamb; but scripture tells us that in many cases the eyes of people are blinded to this truth. What is plain, simple and obvious to some of us is unacceptable to others.

In our conversation yesterday, I voiced something I have long held as key to understanding this, “Only the one who designs to automobile gets to write the Owner’s Manual.” The one who “created the heavens and the earth” exercised his prerogative to choose this way or this system to bring about atonement. If we challenge this, we are challenging the cross itself, and challenging the entire foundation or underpinnings of our faith. On the other hand, if we accept that this is God’s plan and God’s system, then we see clearly the efficacy of the cross for salvation and the sufficiency of the cross for covering our sin.

 

February 22, 2014

Truth, Relatively Speaking

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Today’s devotional is from the website http://www.cfdevotionals.org or Christian Fellowship Devotionals,  and was written by Mike Hoskins.  Click to read Relative Truth at source.

2 Tim 3:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”, scoffing.

The problem we see today has been around for a very long time. The Pharisees wanted to get rid of Jesus so they lied to have Him executed. Unknowingly they where the tools that fulfilled Jesus’ purpose for taking on mortal flesh and being born into this world. Jesus was an enemy to their truth, so they justified their actions. The idea that deity would come and die for mankind is also scoffed at by many today. What is truth? The question is asked because those asking have given up on authoritative, unchanging truth. The idea of a fixed right and wrong today is being trampled under foot by the culture. And we allow it.

absolute truthI saw a recording of a few minutes of a talk show where the host and a guest were talking about how we all must ascend and become like gods, improving as we go until we achieve this god-like state. When a Christian in the audience stood and quoted scripture and presented the truth of the Gospel, the discussion that followed clearly divided the audience. It didn’t get hostile, but there were lines clearly drawn. The truth was defended well that day.

Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar during his discussion with Festus. Paul felt his calling to go to Rome and possibly speak the Gospel before the Roman Emperor. Since the Emperor was considered a deity Paul would be speaking heretical words punishable by death, but Paul felt the call to go and preach. It is believed that Paul either died of old age under house arrest speaking to anyone who would hear him tell about Christ, or that he was executed in Rome. Either way he spoke the truth of Jesus Christ.

What is true today depends very much upon with whom you speaking. But none of that changes truth. Truth is the source of everything that is true. Two plus two equals four is true, but its veracity is founded in truth. Jesus told us that He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the source of all these things. All these things hold together, math for example can be used to accurately describe the physical world and the behavior of objects and forces like gravity, because God is the unifying source of Truth.

The unchanging truth is becoming unpopular these days. Unless we, the church, are willing to stand up for the truth the light we are suppose to be to the world will grow very dim, and the world will become even darker than it is. (Read Rev. chps 2-3)

How willing are we to stand up for the truth? Are we prepared to defend the truth?

“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” George Orwell

October 17, 2013

A. W. Tozer on Christian Leadership

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A W TozerThe Tozer leadership devotional appears daily on BibleGateway.com and is also available by email subscription.  Since we can’t transcribe full devotionals due to copyright, we’ll give you some introductory paragraphs and links to finish reading. Be sure to read all three, plus some of the in-between ones from various dates on the calendar posted on the right side of the page; the posts themselves are shorter than what we normally do here.

Failure and Success: The Small and the Great

…Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”1 Peter 5:5

Some time ago we heard a short address by a young preacher during which he quoted the following, “If you are too big for a little place, you are too little for a big place.”

It is an odd rule of the kingdom of God that when we try to get big, we always get smaller by the moment…

[...continue reading here...]

 

Failure and Success: True Greatness

Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.Matthew 20:26-27

The essence of His teaching is that true greatness lies in character, not in ability or position. Men in their blindness had always thought that superior talents made a man great, and so the vast majority believe today. To be endowed with unusual abilities in the field of art or literature or music or statecraft, for instance, is thought to be in itself an evidence of greatness…

[...continue reading here...]

Failure and Success: Quantity Rather Than Quality

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness-God is witness.—1 Thessalonians 2:4-5

Time may show that one of the greatest weaknesses in our modern civilization has been the acceptance of quantity rather than quality as the goal after which to strive….

Christianity is resting under the blight of degraded values. And it all stems from a too-eager desire to impress, to gain fleeting attention, to appear well in comparison…

[...continue reading here...]

July 17, 2013

Following the Promptings of God

I once heard a missionary sermon in which the speaker said, “I know many of you feel God has never called you to go, how many of you have heard a specific call to stay?” How many of us would be obedient if God gave us a specific location where he wanted us to be, and it didn’t line up with anything we had planned?

Luke 2 - 14

Cheryl Zelenka, the blogger at Facing Trials is writing from a unique vantage point, and a part of her journey is referred to at this post. You’re encouraged to read this at source and then visit around the rest of her blog for other articles.  It was originally titled Go, If God Says To Go!

“Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” Jeremiah 42:3 (NIV)

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”                            Jonah 1:1-3 (NKJV)

Dear One,

The book of Jonah is one of my favorites in the Bible. The Lord used this book to help me stay on track during my recovery from brain surgery.  My spiritual race was wearing me out, and I wanted to move back home to Oregon. God however had other plans for me, all of which were waiting for me in Colorado.

As I recovered in an assisted living facility in Arizona, I decided to lay out a fleece and pray.  I asked the Lord for His permission to move back to Oregon.  If my house had not sold by the New Year, I would have His blessing to return to my adopted state. On the day I made this petition, I received an offer on my house. I had no doubt that God had answered my prayer and closed the door back to my old and comfortable life. 

Instead, I was thrown into an unknown wilderness.  He told me to GO and so I did.  I knew of Jonah’s disobedience and the consequences he had suffered.  He ended up right back where he started and I did not want to waste any time.  If I moved to Oregon, I knew I would eventually end up in Colorado.  There was no doubt in my heart He wanted me to make a fresh start in a new land.

When God tells us to GO, we must go.  We must keep a loose grip on the things we love and the homes we live. If we are able to maintain a loose grip on the things we hold dear, it won’t hurt as much if we loose them.  Lost, but replaced by new and better blessings. 

Are you sold out for Christ? Are you ready to lay down your whole life for His will and purpose? If so, you must be prepared to hand over all you love and desire.  Thankfully, if your will is aligned with the heart of God, your desires are already His desires.  Taking hold of His hand and allowing Him to lead you down unknown paths will seem effortless, thanks to your childlike faith.

If God said, “GO, share My Word with that man,” would you GO? (Even if he were a stranger?)  If God said, “GO, sell your house and move to Africa. I want you to become a missionary.” Would you go?  I hope so, but only if there was confirmation in the Word, and a conviction in your heart.  We are to do the Lord’s bidding, but only when we are certain HE is the one commanding us to GO. 

What if you are in the middle of a hardship or trial?  Do you get a free pass?  Nope!      If you are certain God is telling you to GO, the Holy Spirit will continue to nudge you.  Maybe God wants you to speak to a doctor or nurse caring for your loved one.  Maybe you heard a message at church that really encouraged and comforted you.  If the Holy Spirit tells you to thank your Pastor, please do it.  He probably needs the validation and encouragement.

Prayer allows us to hear the will of God.  Our life is His to use for His purpose and glory.  When He decides the time is right, He will ask you to obediently GO where you are needed. Until then, grow where He has planted you. 

Don’t be like Jonah and run from His commands. That is not the “GO” I am encouraging. If you don’t understand His purpose and reasons, faith must carry you along. If He prompts you to speak to a stranger, or an “enemy,” trust that He will give you the words and actions required.  He may use your pain and circumstance to comfort and encourage another going through a similar trial.  

Jonah did not want God to give his enemies an opportunity to repent.  However, we are called to do HIS bidding, even if we don’t agree with it.  After all, hasn’t He shown all of us boundless grace and mercy? Should we not extend the same measure of grace to all men? Dear One, GO and do the will of God. 

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.”  Jonah 3:1-3 (NKJV)

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The Book of Esther is another great story about when to GO and when to wait.  For Esther, God’s command to GO meant risking her life and going before the king so that her people might be saved from death.