Christianity 201

July 9, 2020

Father in Heaven: How Praying the Lord’s Prayer Can Help us Pray Through the Disconnect

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. Like we are trying to connect with God, but it feels like he is up there, we are down here, and “never the twain shall meet.” We may feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Psalms 42:1-3 (NRSV)

Our best, sometimes only, prayer may be like one of my brother’s favourite expressions “beam me up Scotty, this planet sucks!” Lord, just let me escape this world and its problems.

Our prayers are to go much further than that, prayer itself being much deeper than that. Prayer is connecting with God, inviting God to participate in our lives as we seek to participate in God’s.

We are going to take a deep dive into prayer over the summer and we will do so through the core teaching of Jesus on prayer; the Lord’s Prayer. So let us begin, appropriately enough, at the beginning.

The very first word of the Lord’s Prayer, if we are reading the original Greek, is Father. This means that the very first thought, the very first thing we are to expect to experience, is intimacy with God. That is where prayer begins, with a recognition and acknowledgement of intimacy with God.

Prayer begins with the recognition that praying matters, because prayer is heard. We need not pray wondering and worrying if there is some God up there who might hear us. We pray knowing that God has revealed himself to us as the one who does hear, who listens as a good father does.

There are speed bumps on the way to this experience of intimacy.

For starters, religion may have taught us to doubt God’s desire for intimacy. Religion may teach us that God is there, yes, but God is just waiting to punish us.

The story of the prodigal son comes to mind. The story of a son who demands his inheritance even before the death of his father. The story of a son who went away from his family chasing the “good life.” The story of a son who realised that being a servant in his father’s household would be much better than where he ended up.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Luke 15:20-24 (NLT)

This is our story. God is not waiting to punish us. God is waiting for us to come home. When we are done with trying to live life on our own, when we recognise that we have separated ourselves from God, when we return to the Lord, he runs to us and embraces us. No matter what religion may tell us, intimacy with God is possible, for it is something God longs for.

The whole story of the Bible comes to mind. God created us for intimacy with Him. We ran away. God kept in relationship with us through the covenants and prophets. We continued to be on the run. Then God came to us in Jesus, and in doing so opened the door to our coming home. When we return, God runs to us with a warm and welcoming embrace.

The second speed bump on the way to intimacy is that our own fathers may have taught us to be frightened of fathers. We may have learned from an early age that intimacy with a father is not possible. Some people have been seriously hurt by the very people that should make them feel safe.

I was trained in seminary to never begin a public prayer with “Father.” This is out of sensitivity to those for whom the image just won’t work. While I’m not inclined to move away from traditional language for God, some people think of “Heavenly parent,” or even “Heavenly mother” instead. Since I don’t know what it is like to live with such wounds, I think holding out some understanding is the “do unto others” thing to do. What we don’t want to lose sight of, though, is the intimacy of God the relational terms provide. Always beginning our prayers with “Creator God,” or “Lord God,” misses the reminder of intimacy which Jesus would have us think of as pray.

A third speed bump on the way to intimacy with God is our own idea that God is far away. We may, in fact, think this is what Jesus has in mind when he teaches us to pray “Father, in heaven.” There is a reason that Jesus teaches us to pray “Father, in the heavens” and it has nothing to do with distance. It has to do with the transcendence of God. Heaven is not far away, it is a completely different realm. God is not far away from us, but He is very different from us.

What we mean by the transcendence of God is that, though we are created in the image of God, God is not like us in fundamental ways. God is God, we are not. God is eternal, we are created. God is Creator, we are created to be creative, but we cannot create out of nothing. God is able to save sinners. I do well to save a document. God knows all truth. We do not, and we would do well to admit that more often than we do.  God is omnipresent, try as we might, we cannot be in two places at once. God is holy, we are often wholly messed up.

As we pray, we begin with the reminder that God, though intimate like a father listening intently beside us, is not limited to sitting beside us, nor prone to the limitations of even the best of fathers. Our Heavenly Father is God, with all the powers and purposes that go along with being God. He is profoundly capable.

In teaching us to pray “Father, who is in the heavens,” our prayers begin with a focus on an absolutely amazing fact: God, who is so not like us, and whom we rebelled against, still wants an intimate relationship with us. God, who could have hit the delete button on us ages ago hit send instead; He sent his son. God came to us Himself, as God the Son. This is the opposite of “beam me up Scotty” we mentioned earlier. Far from taking us out of the world, God enters our world of suffering, to begin the process of making a better world, to help us look forward to an even better world still. God came to us in Jesus so that intimacy with God whom we sinned against could happen.

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. The Psalmist is honest about that feeling of discontent in Psalm 42. But the disconnect is a feeling. The Psalmist also knows the fact of the connection:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalms 42:11 (NRSV)

The feeling of disconnect we may feel from God is just that, a feeling, and it is temporary. The connection with God through Jesus is a fact, and is permanent.

Jesus teaches us to remember the facts as we begin to pray, praying “Father in heaven.” Let us remember the amazing intimacy we can have with an amazing God, thanks to his amazing grace.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church services where he ministers due to COVID-19 precautions.

July 8, 2020

Placing our Fear in the Right Place

Today’s devotional is taken from a devotional collection that was new to us, titled Hearing the Voice of God: A Devotional by David Chadwick (Harvest House, 2016). Learn more about the book at this link.

Fear God, Not Man

Today’s Reading: John 12:37-43

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[a]

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”[b]

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

Hearing God’s Voice for Today:

“Many of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

***

Sometimes people miss the fact even many authorities came to believe in Jesus. This included influential members of the Sanhedrin, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

Yet a major problem persisted. Though these authorities decided to put their faith in Jesus, their fear of the Pharisees remained strong. They were afraid to follow the Lord publicly for fear of being ostracized from their synagogues. They knew they would face rejection. Not to be able to have community with other Jews was a great fear.

The human heart is complex. People want to follow Jesus, but they fear public rejection. They want to follow him, but they also want the praises of people.

It’s impossible to have both. Some people in your sphere of influence will not like you if you choose to follow Jesus. They will label you a narrow-minded, bigoted obscurantist. They will call you intolerant. They will hate you because you love Jesus. If you follow him, you mist be willing to give up the praises of people.

If you do make your faith in Jesus public, your reward in heaven will be great. If you honour him before people, he will do the same with you before the Father.

Your public recognition of Jesus here on earth will bring you rejection from some. But from an eternal perspective, it will be worthwhile. When you hear his public commendation of your witness before the Father, all the angels and saints in heaven will break out in uproarious applause.

That one moment will soothe all your hurts from people’s rejection.

Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of the Father in heaven to change hearts–first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. There is no such thing as a secret-service Christian. You should never want to remain quiet about all you’ve seen the Lord do and all he has done for you.

You are called to be his witness. You begin locally, then reach out globally.

Ask yourself this question often: If you were put on trial for being Jesus’ witness, would the evidence be enough to convict you?

Don’t fear what others can do to you. Yes, they are able to kill your body. But that’s all. If you fear anything, fear God, who has the power and authority to cast both body and soul in hell. He will protect you from those who desire to do you harm.

His opinion is the only one that should concern you.


Footnotes:

  1. John 12:38 Isaiah 53:1
  2. John 12:40 Isaiah 6:10

David Chadwick has been a pastor for almost 40 years.  Along with this theological degrees, he earned a Specialist’s degree in counseling.  The love of his life is Marilynn, his wife for more than 40 years.  He has three married children, and six grandchildren.  David loves Jesus, his family, the church, and basketball—in that order.  He especially loves seeing people understand the power of Jesus’s grace to change a heart.

momentsofhopechurch.org

June 20, 2020

When Things Feel Hopeless

I’m currently reading The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth by Jared C. Wilson (Nelson books). For a formal review I’ve written, click this link.

The book is centered around eight statements which each of us at some time have heard voiced by people with a loose connection to Christianity. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself echoing one of these yourself, hopefully at an earlier stage of your Christian pilgrimage vis-a-vis where you are today.

  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “You only live once”
  • “You need to live your truth”
  • “Your feelings are reality”
  • “Your life is what you make it”
  • “Let go and let God”
  • “The cross is not about wrath”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”

This is an excerpt from chapter five which looks extensively at the Book of Job and the subject of hope, and how people are sometimes ruled by the apparent reality of what is actually subjective feelings. The link in the title below takes you to a page at the publisher’s website.

Your Feelings are Reality

In my days as a pastor, I would often find myself sitting across from people overcome with hurt. The most common question they all wanted answered was “Why?

“Why had God allowed this? Why is God doing this to me?”

As the designated religious professional, it was expected I might have an answer to that question. As it pertains to people’s specific trials and tribulations, I did not. But I would ask a question of my own, and it usually went something like this: “If you weren’t going through this would you be as close to God as you are right now?”

In all my years of asking that question, I never heard anyone say, “Yes.”…

…Christians don’t hope as the world hopes. When the world hopes, they are engaging in wishful thinking. “I hope this or that happens,” they think. They think that when a man dies, as Job says, he just fades away; he breathes his last. “You only live once.” That’s it. That’s all they can see.

But Christian hope is not like that. It defies what we can see and it is ripe with the promise of what cannot be seen.

  • We do not grieve as those who have no hope.“–1Thessalonians 4:13
  • And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.“–2Corinthians 1:7
  • There is hope reserved for you in heaven.“–Colossians 1:5
  • Christ in you, the hope of glory.“–Colossians 1:27
  • Christ Jesus is our hope.“–1 Timothy 1:1 (emphasis added)
  • We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…“–Hebrews 6:19
  • Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.“–Hebrews 11:1 (emphasis added)

See, the world’s hope is hollow. The believer’s hope is firm. Because the believer’s hope is Jesus! And just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he’s not real. Just because you don’t see him now, doesn’t mean you won’t see him then.

Satan wants you to believe that you are all alone, that when you are stripped down to your essence and left with only pain, that’s all you have. He does not want you to see the reality that Jesus will never leave you or abandon you (Heb. 13:5), that he will be with us all the way to the end (Matt. 28:20)…

…Everything may look bleak, our reality may be that we feel that all is lost, but if we have Christ, we defy what is visible. And we cling to hope, which demands what is invisible.


Taken from The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like Truth by: Jared C. Wilson Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

June 17, 2020

Drive In Service: Stuck Inside a Car, But Experiencing Freedom

Today another new author for you, and an unusual devotional format as well. Marjorie Wingert’s focus on her blog is Prayer Over Our Children. On her ‘About’ page she explains,

…As a new parent seeking to raise her child up in the Lord while recognizing the power of prayer in my family’s life, I hungered to proactively pray on behalf of my child. Oh, how my mother’s heart beat to pray against the temptations and struggles that will inevitably bombard our children as they grow. Moreover, I desired to pray in a way that would deepen my walk with our Heavenly Lord while feeding my soul with the meat of Scripture.

One evening as my husband and I were joined in prayer, the Holy Spirit whispered softly to my heart. Why not pray Scripture over her? Why not read a chapter a day from the Bible and use the content from each passage to form your prayer? My eyes popped open. What a great solution!…

So, for example, in its original formatting, following the scripture verse, today’s sample blog post begins,

Prayer Over Our Children
Call my child to You, oh Lord, and surround her with an abundance of Your joy and love. I pray that You will keep her from unbelief, sexual immorality, perversion, slander, and ungodliness. May she not grumble, boast, flatter, fault find, or follow evil desires. Instead, I pray that You will buildup in her a most holy faith and help her to learn to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Keep her in Your love, oh God, as she waits to be brought to glory. May You also help her show mercy and intercede for others. Oh Lord, keep my little one from falling but help her to stand before Your glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Amen.

Parents might want to read more prayers like this as a model for something you can do in your homes.

…Currently, Marjorie is in a series on Revelation. So I scrolled back to this post-Easter article to find you something that would work as a stand-alone devotional. Please, click the header below to read this at source, and consider subscribing to her blog, marjoriewingert.com


Jude

“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Jude 1:20-21, NIV

Living Hope

The day dawned like any other. The sun rose, people slumbered in their beds, and quiet tip-toed through the neighborhoods. Birds chirped their greetings and winds rustled the leaves clinging to tree branches. Young children scrambled to start their day while their parents groaned for more sleep. Today, however, was different. It was Easter Sunday!

My own family tumbled out of bed for the early service. To a nearby fast food restaurant, we headed. Our special Easter breakfast comprised of egg, bacon, and cheese muffins. Hash browns rounded out the meal with small cups of orange juice. Armed with an arsenal for our growling bellies and music blaring from the radio, we nibbled our way to the Easter “drive in” service.

Having participated in sunrise Easter services, never did I dream that Easter “drive in” services would also be added to my repertoire. We sat in our vehicles with one parking spot in between each car to ensure social distancing. Everyone remained in their vehicles and each radio tuned into the same low frequency airwaves. Some engines idled while others remained off.

Here, in this unlikely gathering of dusty vehicles, the Holy Spirit fell strong and vibrant upon this unconventional Easter service. Surrounded by fast food wrappers, empty water bottles on the floor, and neighboring cars instead of people in pews, our souls feasted on a message of hope. In noisy procession, geese banked high above us, raining down their honks of hallelujahs. Even sun rays which crested above the rooftop painted the perfect backdrop to the morning.

Yet, while hearty “Amens” flashed by flickering car lights and hands clapped or raised in praise, two truths unfolded in my brain. The thoughts made my spirits soar and deepened my gratitude. For although our gathering today was far from the traditional Easter service, devoid of Easter lilies, decorative bows, and fancy dresses, something new and beautiful unfolded before me.

Clothed with anonymity within the privacy of our cars, a new freedom of the Spirit emerged. No longer was I hindered by the self-consciousness of what others would think. No longer did I suppress the joyful bubblings stirring for expression. Vibrant Amens frequented my lips. Even my husband flashed multiple Amens with his flickering car lights. A new freedom in worship washed over us.

Though surrounded by rows of cars, the seclusion which our individual vehicles afforded, produced a freedom in the Spirit I had never known. Freedom to dance in my seat. Freedom to wave my hands in praise. Freedom to shout jubilations. Freedom to whoop, holler, or yell agreements and affirmations. Freedom to raise a hallelujah!

Although many of us have felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit prompt expression from the inside out, I suspect many of you are like me. We have tamped down the stirrings of the Spirit due to social etiquette and convention. We have opted not to give expression to our praise and adoration due to self-consciousness and worry of what others may think. However, here, in the privacy of my own car, I experienced the freedom to worship as the Spirit led. The freedom to dance as David danced. The freedom to let go of pride and self-restraint. The freedom to engage in authentic worship.

Interwoven amidst this dawning light, another truth spoke life. Hope. Yes, a hope that this virus will recede. A hope that someday soon we can emerge from our houses. A hope that a cure will be found. This is a good hope. This is a shared hope. However, what struck me is that we were hearing in the Easter message of a different kind of hope. This hope which bound us together and stirred in our very souls was not just hope. It was Living Hope.

A hope bound by earthly measures is not complete. It is like a cup that is half full. It awaits the richness of its potential, not fully blossomed into the abundance of its splendor. When this hope stands beside the crowning riches of eternal glory, it pales in the light of true Living Hope.

Living Hope is exactly that. It is living, it is breathing, it is palpable. It is firmed through the beatings, the blood, and the bruises. It is pounded through by nails driven deep into flesh. It was heard with the anguished yet triumphant cry, “It is finished.” It was seen in the darkness of the land and felt in the quaking of the ground. It was fulfilled with the veil torn top to bottom and the tombs of saints cracked open. It is marked by an empty tomb. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? No longer does death have a hold over us. No longer does death have the final word. It is conquered. It is defeated. It is overcome.

Unlike earthly hope, Living Hope is not grounded in the visages of this world nor is it an emotion, desire, or wish conjured from within. It is derived from the eternal truth of the sacrificial act of the One who came to save. Living Hope is found in the person of Jesus, the Son of God who clothed Himself in human flesh, was crucified, died, buried, and raised on the third day. Jesus is not dead. He is alive. He is the Living Hope. He is our Living Hope.

June 12, 2020

How Can Your Righteousness Surpass the Pharisees?

NIV.Matt.5v17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses* that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In order to know how to “exceed,” we need to first know what the benchmark is that we are exceeding. What is the righteousness of the Pharisees?

Pharisaic righteousness was (and is today for observant Jews) rooted in the Law of Moses which lays out the standards of behaviour that God expects from those with whom He has made a covenant. Over several centuries, the Pharisees preserved and promulgated this intricately detailed Law, desiring to bring God’s people through to the day of its fulfillment when the righteous would be raised up in vindication, ending Israel’s exile and oppression.

Devout Pharisees were community leaders, steeped in learning and in the nuance of God’s will. Faithful Jews would have followed their example, and turned to them for teaching.

How should we understand what it means to exceed the righteousness of such people?

One possible interpretation flows from the common translation of ερισσεύω into the English equivalent “to exceed.” For many English speakers, this word appears most often in contexts like “to exceed the speed limit.” In other words, to go beyond: to find new ways in which to be righteous, to out-righteous the Pharisees, to be holier than they.

This may have been what the rich young man in Luke 18:18-24 had in mind. He approached Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life and, in Jesus’ words, “enter the Kingdom of God.” He asked this in spite of his own belief that he had kept the Law, an assertion that Jesus did not refute.

Neither did Jesus challenge the young man’s adherence to such minutiae as tithing on “mint and dill,”1 or his keeping of the “least commandment,” as opposed to the greater statutes the young man cites.

Instead, Jesus takes the conversation in a completely different direction—one not of greater adherence, or of more detail, but of the unknown and starting over.

Jesus isn’t impressed by his crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s and certainly shows no desire to engage that debate or to add new rules to the existing ones.

A second interpretation could arise from the Pharisees’ temporal understanding of what they were doing. The righteousness of Jesus’ followers could be seen as more enduring in time than that of the Pharisees.
Their persistence in keeping the Law had in mind the goal of bringing Israel to the time of fulfillment: the Day of the Lord, when the righteous would no longer have to strive, but “sit encrowned and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah.” At that point, the Law would no longer be required.

The righteousness that Jesus endorses seems to have more lasting implications. He points us not only toward a “perfection” like His own, but further forward to our being made “a kingdom and priests” who will actively “reign on the Earth” alongside Christ himself (Revelation 5:10).

In addition, we are no longer waiting for that fulfillment, but we’re taking part in it now. At His baptism, Jesus declares that He is “fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). By this, He doesn’t just mean that he’s meeting personal requirements, but that He’s standing in the place of Israel, taking on the burden of her broken covenant.

A third point of comparison is that Jesus calls out the Pharisees for being ὑποκριτής (those who pretend) and σκανδαλίζω (causing to stumble) both indirectly (Matthew 5:19) and in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:13 ff). He accuses them of attending to external details, making good impressions, and hiding their internal falsity: of doing rather than being.

Jesus extends His standards deeper by pointing to the heart as the seat of murder, adultery, truth-telling, and acts of grace or revenge. This echoes back to Amos 5 and Micah 6 where God rejects the religious observances of people who have lying tongues and deceitful hearts.

Jesus’ righteousness isn’t simply behaviour, but it flows outward from a heart that has been made clean and surrendered to God.

The final option for identifying Jesus’ “exceeding righteousness” is that it is Himself.

The Pharisees pursued righteousness through studying and keeping the Law. But in Christ, the Law is fulfilled and made complete. “But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction” (Romans 3:21, 22, HCSB). The Law cannot provide for righteousness, but faith in Christ can and does. He himself is our righteousness when we live following Him. No matter how we try or for how long, we cannot achieve righteousness. In fact, if we could, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:19-21, HCSB).

The Pharisees took on themselves the responsibility of living lives of righteousness, setting themselves up as arbiters of what was right. Instead, Jesus sets aside nuance and detail and tells us to enter the Kingdom as a child (Mark 10:13-16): as with the rich young man, dependent and trusting.

Although this last interpretation is the one that carries the most weight in light of the whole New Testament, I think it most applicable in context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount to focus on the third option: Jesus expects us to allow our righteousness to flow out from hearts that are pure. The Sermon, while it contains some inspirational, encouraging passages and some that promise hard times, provides a very practical foundation for a life lived in imitation of Christ: one of an internal, heart-focused view of oneself and how we are to live with and toward each other.


*exceeds (many translations); is more than (AMP); is greater than (CSB, CEB); do it more faithful (Good News); goes beyond (NET); are more right with God (NLV); more pure and full of integrity (TPT); goes deeper (Voice); do it far better (Message).

June 9, 2020

Jesus and the Kingdom: Matthew 5

I was really hoping at some point this month to share an excerpt from Skye Jethani’s new book, What if Jesus Was Serious? (Moody Press) and review it on my other blog, but after several attempts, it was not to be.

Still you can see some aspects of where I think he was heading in a 9-day reading plan that was posted at Bible.com several years ago. To read this click this link, and then cycle through the 9 days of devotions from The Sermon on the Mount along with the powerful hand-drawn images that Skye also uses in the new book. (These excerpts are from days 3-6.)

Skye speaks with a unique authority among Evangelicals, and the timeliness of these excerpts was not overlooked as I tried to decide what to include. See also the information below for the With God Daily Devotional, or click this link.

by Skye Jethani

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN HEAVEN IS ALREADY HERE.

JESUS REFERS TO HEAVEN regularly in the Sermon on the Mount, including in the opening sentence: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What is the kingdom of heaven? If we misunderstand what Jesus meant by this phrase, then we are likely to misunderstand the whole sermon— and probably Jesus Himself.

First, the kingdom of heaven is not the church. Some assume a local congregation is a “church” but collecting all the churches together is what constitutes God’s “kingdom.” But that is not what Jesus meant.

Second, the kingdom of heaven is not where God’s people go after death. Jesus was not speaking about the afterlife in the Sermon on the Mount. In English, the word heaven carries all kinds of supernatural and spiritual meanings, but the actual word used by Jesus was plural (literally, heavens) and more like how we might use the word skies to describe the atmosphere. The air isn’t a distant realm; it’s all around us. Likewise, Jesus used the word heavens to speak of the nonphysical, invisible, but very present realm where God dwells.

It is the realm where God rules and evil is powerless. Jesus announced that this kingdom was now “at hand,” meaning it is within our reach. The kingdom of the heavens has broken into our world, and a new way of life is now possible. In the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, Jesus is unveiling a new ethic for those who belong to a new kind of kingdom that is not of this world.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN WE WILL MAKE ROOM TO CRY.

IS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE only for happy-clappy people? Where are the doubters, the grievers…? While a church pastor years ago, I read a popular book at the time advocating for the best way to operate a church. The author insisted that all weekend gatherings be called “Celebrations,” and he said the tone of these gatherings should always be upbeat, energetic, and focused on the victorious Christian life. (It’s difficult to read a book that makes your eyes roll as much as that one did.)

The problem with this nonstop celebration model, apart from being inauthentic, is the way it ignores the example found in the Bible. The book of Psalms, for instance, served as the prayer book and worship liturgy for God’s ancient people. It’s the prayer book Jesus and His disciples would have used in their worship. Psalms includes many songs of celebration, but there are even more prayers of lament, complaint, and even cries for justice. “How long, O Lord?” is a frequent prayer in the psalms, and it shows that the human-divine relationship has many dimensions. Ancient worship, it seems, could be celebratory, angry, mournful, repentant, or contemplative. So why do we think our worship should only be one dimensional?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” This addresses those who are experiencing grief, but it can also include those who mourn alongside others in their pain. Where do we make space for this legitimate part of the Christian life to find expression in our communities? We must not fall into the delusion that God has called us to a perpetual state of ever-increasing happiness. Jesus reminds us that God is also with us when we mourn, and because this is a broken world mourning is to be expected. But we do not weep as those without hope.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN WE WILL TRUST GOD MORE AND POLITICS LESS.

WHO ARE THE MEEK and why will they inherit the earth? First, we must understand Jesus’ context and how His audience would have heard this statement. The word translated as “earth” can also be translated as “land,” which is probably a better reading. Throughout the Bible, the relationship between God and His people was linked to the promised land. Faithfulness to God meant they could dwell in the land in peace, but unfaithfulness to God meant losing the land and being forced into exile.

Centuries before Jesus, the Jews had returned from exile to the promised land, but they did not fully possess it. The Romans, who were pagans and idolaters, ruled over the land, which was unacceptable and humiliating to the Jews. In a sense, they were still in exile because they remained under the thumb of a foreign power.

This provoked a growing number of Israelites to become Zealots—violent revolutionaries. To the Romans, the Zealots were terrorists. To many Jews, they were freedom fighters. The Zealots believed in using the world’s violent ways to achieve what they believed were God’s goals. Their goal was to “inherit the land” by force. By announcing that the meek were blessed and would “inherit the land,” Jesus was condemning the tactics of the Zealots. He was proclaiming that it was not the powerful, violent, or angry who will accomplish God’s purposes, but the gentle, peaceful, and those who put their trust in Him rather than the sword.

This is an important reminder for those of us living in a divided land where everything has become politicized between “us” and “them.” Like the Zealots, we can be tempted to use the world’s ways—coercion, power, and fear—to “take back the land” for God. Instead, Jesus calls us to put such things aside and discover the power of God available through meekness. It is by trusting the Lord and the meekness of His ways, not through the sword of politics, that the land is won.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN A DESIRE FOR JUSTICE SHOULD BE AFFIRMED.

“IT’S NOT FAIR!” With three kids, I hear that a lot in my household. Although the phrase is often misapplied—a fact my wife and I point out often to our apparently persecuted progeny—it does not diminish the strength of their instinct for justice. We all carry a sense that the world is not what it ought to be, and we also have a profound desire for this wrongness to be made into rightness—or what the Bible calls “righteousness.”

The word is often used to describe a properly ordered relationship between God and His people. Violating this relationship makes one unrighteous, while faithfulness to God results in a declaration of one’s righteousness. The word, however, carries a much broader meaning. It can also apply to right relationships between people, between the government and the governed, and between humans and creation. That’s why the same words often translated as “righteousness” in the Bible are also regularly translated in English as “justice.”

…Jesus affirms our longing for justice: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” He equates the soul’s desire for justice with the unrelenting physical desire for food and water. It is an inescapable aspect of our human condition, and He promises that it will be quenched. We can be assured that, in time, God will set all things right. The desire that God placed in our hearts will ultimately be satisfied. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


Again, a reminder that these are excerpts from the middle section of a 9-day reading plan and are missing very helpful illustrations. To read the whole sequence, starting at Day 1, click this link.

Longtime readers here will also remember that for several years we carried a link in the sidebar for Skye’s With God Daily Devotional. It can land in your in-box daily for as little as $3 per month. Go to this link to learn more.

 

 

April 17, 2020

Potsherds, Grog, and other Pieces of Our Past

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from popular Christian author Lysa TerKeurst‘s bestselling book, It’s Not Supposed to be This Way in which she shares living through cancer. To read the full excerpt, click this link. To learn more about the book, click this link.

When God Gives You More Than You Can Handle

[O]ne day… a couple of girls introduced themselves while standing in line to get some take-out food at a restaurant near my house. We chatted for a minute about what God had been teaching them, and then the topic of what I’d be writing next came up. I told them about… the revelation God had given me about dust. Jessica’s eyes lit up. Her mom is a professional potter…

…She’d seen clay being formed into many beautiful things when placed into her mother’s hands. And then she shared something with me that made my jaw drop.

She told me that wise potters not only know how to form beautiful things from clay, but they also know how important it is to add some of the dust from previously broken pieces of pottery to the new clay. This type of dust is called “grog.” To get this grog, the broken pieces must be shattered to dust just right. If the dust is shattered too finely, then it won’t add any structure to the new clay. And if it’s not shattered enough, the grog will be too coarse and make the potter’s hands bleed.

But when shattered just right, the grog dust added to the new clay will enable the potter to form the clay into a larger and stronger vessel than ever before. And it can go through fires much hotter as well. Plus, when glazed, these pieces end up having a much more beautiful, artistic look to them than they would have otherwise.

Jessica smiled and said, “C’mon, that will preach, right?!”

Oh, it absolutely did. I kept thinking about what Jessica shared and how it might relate to my season of suffering. What if the clay made from all the other dust currently in my life could be strengthened by this newly added broken piece?

And then I read Isaiah 45:9:

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?

God is making something beautiful out of my life. I know that. So, why question what He sees as the necessary ingredients to make my life stronger and more beautiful than ever? Sure, my diagnosis added some more brokenness, but even this could be used for my good.

I kept reading that verse from Isaiah and decided to do a little investigation into the term potsherd.

A potsherd is a broken piece of pottery.

Interestingly enough, a potsherd was also mentioned in the story of Job when he was inflicted with an awful disease.

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. — Job 2:7-10

A broken potsherd can lie on the ground and be nothing more than a constant reminder of brokenness. It can also be used to continue to scrape us and hurt us even more when kept in our hands.

Or, when placed in our Master’s hands, the Master Potter can be entrusted to take that potsherd, shatter it just right, and then use it in the remolding of me to make me stronger and even more beautiful.


Taken from It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

January 27, 2020

These Predictions Were Spot On

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Once or twice each year I return to the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great articles from a variety of writers. I wish more people would attempt to write devotional literature. The author of this piece is Dee Renaud. Click the title below to read it at their site.

Weather Predictions And More

Winter isn’t my favourite season. Although it’s very beautiful after a snowfall — a winter wonderland, as they say — I don’t like it when the wind blows and visibility becomes almost nil, especially if we have to travel somewhere.

We rely on the weather predictions to keep us informed about upcoming snow squall warnings, and then, we decide whether or not we will venture out to get where we need to go or stay home and be safe. Sometimes, the predictions are spot on, and sometimes they are totally wrong.

There are many predictions about Jesus’ life in the Bible as well, and they were always spot on!

We live in an imperfect world. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners and so we need a Saviour. Jesus is that person. God’s plan for each and every one of us from before the creation of the world was for Jesus to save us from our sins. His birth, death, and resurrection were all predicted (foretold) and fulfilled exactly.

■ The birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem:

Micah 5:2The Lord says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times.” (GNT)

■ Jesus’ death on the cross, to pay the penalty for our sins:

Psalm 22:14-16My strength has drained away like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart melts like wax; my strength has dried up like sun-baked clay; my tongue sticks to my mouth, for you have laid me in the dust of death. The enemy, this gang of evil men, circles me like a pack of dogs; they have pierced my hands and feet. (TLB)

Isaiah 53:5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)

■ Jesus’ resurrection:

Psalm 16:9-10Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (NIV)

Matthew 17:22-23When they came together in Galilee, [Jesus] said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (NIV)

■ He was the perfect sacrifice — the One without sin, the only One who could pay the price for our sins.

1 Peter 1:18-20aFor you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world. (NIV)

As the predictions tell us, Jesus was born for us, He died on the cross for us, and He rose from the dead for us. When we acknowledge our sinfulness, confess our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we fulfill God’s plan in our own lives.

Prayer: Father God, we are so grateful that You are in control and that You have had a plan from before the very beginning of time. Thank You for sending Your only Son, Jesus, into this world to be our Saviour. Thank You for Your Word that teaches us what we need to know to have eternal life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

 

January 26, 2020

The Angry Moments of Jesus

I’ve mentioned before that I subscribe to Devotions Daily. I really enjoy getting to read excerpts (and sometimes whole chapters) from current books, though I sometimes wonder if the site only exists to sell the books featured. There’s always an offer at the close of each entry.

This one is from a book I was already already aware of, What Made Jesus Mad:  Rediscover the Blunt, Sarcastic, Passionate Savior of the Bible. The author is Tim Harlow. (Link here to learn more.)

Say Hello to My Little Friend

If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in Me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.Matthew 18:6

…One of the angry incidents of Jesus in the Bible came about when the disciples didn’t value children enough. Mark 10:14 even tells us that Jesus “was indignant” in response to the situation. Indignant means “to have a strong feeling of displeasure and antagonism as the result of some real or sup- posed wrong—‘to be very angry, to be full of anger.’”

Why was Jesus indignant? This situation started days earlier, in another funny story.

The Story Started Days Earlier…  

According to Mark 9:34, it all began with a “discussion” the disciples were having about who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom. I don’t care how long you follow Jesus, selfishness is going to continue to creep into your soul.

What’s great about this story is that for some reason, James and John’s mother got involved. Their mom asked Jesus if her sons could sit next to Him on the throne (Matthew 20:20-21). Can you picture it? Hey, James and John, what is your mom doing here? I guess I need to have an endorsement for this book from my mom, now that I think about it.

Matthew 20:24 records that after this happened, the other ten became “indignant” toward the two of them. We must remember that most of the disciples were young at the time, but this is still a bizarre story. This was more than simply calling shotgun. They were positioning for power. What I’d like to know is whether the other ten were indignant because of what James, John, and their mom were trying to pull, or because they hadn’t thought of it first. Regardless, we know there was tension. Jesus knew there was tension.

They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
— Mark 9:33-34

If I may paraphrase, Jesus asked, “So what were you two arguing about back there?”

“Oh, nothing.”

Jesus was just messing with them. He obviously knew what their argument was about, so He decided to set the record straight. “You guys keep forgetting that I’m Jesus, and I can hear you. I heard your little quarrel. Here is your answer about who gets to ride up front in the Kingdom of God.”

Remember that Jesus’ goal was for these disciples not just to ride in the Kingdom, but to drive it. Jesus was going to leave the keys to the Kingdom bus to them (Matthew 16:19), so they had to get this right! It always amazes me that Jesus has entrusted a small part of His Kingdom to the likes of leaders like me. I guess I don’t know for sure that He actually has, but I’ve been leading one of His churches for almost thirty years now and haven’t been struck by lightning yet, so allow me my delusion.

In this twenty-first century, I’m just one of the tiny, insignificant specks of leadership in His gigantic and eternal Kingdom, so there is a limit to what I can screw up. But these disciples were different. They were the Twelve! These guys were the make-or-break leadership team that was going to start the church. If they failed, Jesus would have died in vain. Yet here they were, shoving to get in front of each other in line! No wonder Jesus seemed a bit testy.

Jesus called a child over and had Him stand in their midst. They were in Peter’s town, and some scholars speculate that the child might have been someone from Peter’s family. The majority of my parishioners grew up with priests who couldn’t marry, and it usually surprises them to learn that Peter — Pope Numero Uno in their world — was married. We know this because Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14. No one has a mother-in-law just for the heck of it.

But I digress. There was a kid there, and Jesus used this child as an illustration. He said,

I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.
— Matthew 18:3 NLT

He could have added, “much less lead the Kingdom of Heaven!”

Jesus continued,

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. — Matthew 18:4 ESV

All eyes turned to this child Jesus called over. Kids can become the center of attention very quickly if called upon. This reminds me of a story of a woman and a child in a church service. One day, as the pastor started his prayer, “Dear Lord, without you, we are but dust…,” her daughter leaned over to ask quite audibly in her shrill little-girl voice, “Mom, what is ‘but dust’?”

I’d still rather be with kids than grown-ups. Adults are boring. They have adult things to get done, important items to conquer, seats of honor to fight for in the kingdom. I agree with Jesus: kids are better.

Jesus said also,

And whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me.
— Matthew 18:5

If this sounds familiar, it should. In chapter 11, Jesus taught us that when we do for the “least of these,” we’ve done it for Him. Greatness is about loving the least, not excluding them…


Seven months ago here, we carried an interview with Tim Harlow about the book. If you missed it, you can read it at this link.

January 18, 2020

The Difference Between a Friend and a Brother

Today we return to Before the Cross, written by . This makes a great and timely point. Click the title below to read at source.

Real Community Shows When There’s Trouble

Our Community Group right now at Austin Life Church is going through the book of Proverbs each week. Recently we were covering Proverbs 17 and 18 and there was a part in chapter 17 that stood out to me.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Other translations say a brother is born for a difficult time, or to help when trouble comes.

There’s a couple of things that stand out to me from this.

There’s A Difference Between A Friend And A Brother

After the invention of social media and the increase of technology, we find ourselves with many “friends” these days, but we know they aren’t really that close to us. They aren’t actual real relationships that experience life together. I’m afraid we are getting farther and farther away from real relationships with people, even though we crave this and want real community with others.

A “brother” (or sister), is someone who shows up. An actual real relationship that does life with you. He/She is someone you see or talk to with frequency. Someone you can be vulnerable with and not be afraid about being “the real you.” There’s a huge difference between someone who likes your picture online vs the person who’s in the picture with you.

Do you have someone like this in your life?

There’s Going To Be Times Of Trouble

As we follow Jesus, we are never promised a life free of issues. In fact, sometimes things can feel like they are getting “worse” because we see the real war that is taking place between making Godly decisions vs sinful decisions each and every day. In this life, in this sinful and broken world we still live in, with sinful and broken people, there will be times of trouble.

What is clear Biblically, is that we are not to isolate ourselves and do life alone. We are all different members of the same body (the church) and so when we isolate ourselves, we intentionally separate ourselves from the body.

We absolutely need brothers and sisters to walk with us in times of adversity. When trouble comes into our lives, we need help and encouragement to spur us on to love and good works

…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24).

I’m convinced we all need a few of these close people in our lives as followers of Jesus. Not only for ourselves, but also to be that person for someone else or for multiple people. This is how the whole body of Christ works together.

If you don’t have people that close to you in your life, why not? Are you holding back? Afraid to be real with one another? Not connected to the local church? Been hurt by past friendships?

Let me encourage you that regardless of your past, you have full freedom and forgiveness from what Jesus has done for you and you have the power from the Holy Spirit to step into those close relationships, without fear of what “could happen.” It’s a step of faith on building these relationships around you, but Christianity is all a step of faith. Plus, you have so much to offer because God sees value in your life and He has wired you to compliment the body of Christ so we all have a role to play.

The fact is for all of us who follow Jesus, we are all going to be in heaven together for all eternity anyway, so we might as well get to know each other today.


Friendships: A Warning

While preparing today’s devotional, I found another reference to the Hebrews text presenting another approach. I thought it worth sharing here for those who want to look at this in an entirely different light.

“…spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24)

Bizarrely, the closer some relationships are, the more permissive they can become; and our passion to do what is right is diluted. As we feel able to relax completely with trusted friends, we can abuse the sense of ease by letting our behavior slip. Gradually language that we would never use in public slips into the conversation and off-white humour that we know is inappropriate becomes part of the common currency of our friendship, because we feel able to let our hair down. The friendship has now become one that gives permission (where we give each other a license to compromise) rather than providing exhortation (where we encourage each other towards character and excellence).

~Jeff Lucas, writing in Lucas on Life, devotional reading for Jan 20, 2005.

Friend Counting: Also in our blog archives this quotation:

I think about the number of friends I have who are that way, who would answer the phone if I were to call at 2 a.m. (and who may well get such a call before peace returns), who would listen and love me no matter what I say, what I do. At the drop of a hat I can tell you roughly how much money I own, the approximate amount of equity in my house, exactly how many frequent-flyer miles I have. But it takes some thought to conjure up the number of true friends, because I don’t think on them as often as I should.Their number is far greater than I deserve, and maybe just enough to carry me through to the end.

It’s worth doing such a heart’s accounting, now and then, to remind yourself how many people love you, how many people would welcome you into their homes, how many pray for you and think about you and take joy in knowing you are well.

And then to ask yourself how many people would consider you such a friend.

~Tony Woodlief

January 16, 2020

Learning From the Master Learner

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus is arguably the greatest teacher that ever taught. His teaching was recognized as profound by those who first heard it:

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 (NRSV)

The teaching of Jesus continues to be revered in our day, by Christians and non-Christians alike. The impact of Jesus’ teaching is undeniable, on both individuals and societies.

Neil Peart was arguably one of the greatest rock drummers ever. The one known as “The Professor” said this on why he took drum lessons despite his already high level of drumming proficiency: “What is a master but a master student?” (Rolling Stone Magazine 2012). Was Jesus, the master teacher, also a master student? While the Bible tends to focus on the teaching of Jesus, there is one passage which speaks to his learning:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:41-47 (NRSV emphasis added)

Before Jesus taught, he learned. There are two things to take note of.

First, Jesus went to the right place and the right people to further his growth and learning. He went to the temple, he sat under those who taught things about God. According to the custom of that time and place, Jesus should have been focused on learning carpentry from Joseph. No doubt most his days were taken up with learning that trade. However, even from a young age, Jesus had a sense of a much deeper calling:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Luke 2:48-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Yes, Jesus would have called Joseph “Dad.” And yes, Jesus would have been learning carpentry from him. However, in being in his “Father’s house,” and in learning things about God, Jesus showed his awareness of being someone special, of being called to something special. Jesus, being the Son of God, was called to do what no one else in history could do; be Lord and Saviour.

Do we know our identity in, and calling from, God? We may immediately think of our vocation or volunteering. We may have matched our passions and gifts with what we do with our time. There is a calling more basic and fundamental than that. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to be his disciples, a word which simply means ‘student.’ If Jesus, being aware of his calling and identity as the Son of God, went to the Temple, we, as disciples of Jesus, will want to go to Jesus. Perhaps you thought I was going to say we go to church. Yes, that is part of it, but even in church we focus on learning from Jesus.

Second, Jesus engaged in conversation, asking questions and giving answers:

. . . they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47 (NRSV)

There is a theological question we must answer so that we can better understand this Bible passage. Was Jesus, since he was God the Son, and therefore potentially knew everything already, showing off his knowledge? Or, was Jesus actually engaged in learning? While Jesus is fully divine, he is also fully human. Bible passages will sometimes put the focus on one or the other. In this passage, the emphasis is on the humanity of Jesus. Note the verses immediately preceding and following this passage of Scripture:

And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. Luke 2:40 NASB

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52 NASB

Before Jesus taught, he learned. He asked questions, he dug deeper. He gave answers, giving opportunity for correction. This was how people learned from the rabbis in those days. The teachers were not annoyed with the answers of Jesus, as they would be if he was coming off as a ‘know-it-all,’ rather, they were amazed. Before Jesus taught with great wisdom, he learned with great wisdom.

Are we asking good questions? There is never a dumb question. But there are questions that are are more wise to ask than others. For example, I have often been asked whom Cain married. Since the Bible only told us about Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel up to the point of Cain going off and getting married, whom did he marry? This is not a dumb question. However, a better question, a wise question to ask is: “what is the nature of, and God’s vision for, the Bible?” When we find the answer to that question, the question about Cain goes away. In a nutshell, the Bible is given to teach us what we need to know about ourselves, God, and our relationship with God. It is not given to tell us everything. Are we asking good questions? Are we open to correction? Do we have a teachable spirit? Sometimes this means, not adding to our understanding, but making adjustments to our understanding. Are we learning with wisdom?

Like Jesus, the master learner, we want to be in the right place to grow into our identity and calling. We want to be learning at the feet of Jesus. Like Jesus, we want to be wise learners, asking questions, digging deeper, giving space for correction.

Jesus is not just a great teacher, but being God the Son, Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Jesus is not a self-help guru! Our growing in, and learning from, Jesus is not just about living the good life. It is part and parcel of our salvation. Salvation is not just about going to heaven when we die. It is also about heaven’s influence on us now. Are we learning from the Master Learner?


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

December 24, 2019

This is Why Jesus Came

Note: This article continues a theme begun yesterday…

While writing a fictional story for a local newspaper, though I knew what I wanted to say, I wanted to review the theological underpinnings for some of the dialog. This was found at ecclesia.org and you’re encouraged to click the title below to read this at source. Note: The language has been updated by using some of the many current translations available.

15 Reasons Why Jesus Came

  1. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

    1 Timothy 1:15, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This saying is true, and it can be trusted. I was the worst sinner of all! (CEV)

  2. Jesus Christ came into the world to call sinners to repentance.

    Mark 2:17, When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (NLT)

  3. Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and save the lost.

    Luke 19:10, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (ESV)

  4. Jesus came into the world to demonstrate the true purpose of life and give Himself a ransom.

    Matthew 20:28, Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (NASB)

  5. Jesus Christ came into the world to be a King and bear witness to the truth.

    John 18:37, So Pilate asked him, “Are you a king, then?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me. (GNT)

  6. Jesus Christ came into the world to do the Will of His Father.

    John 6:38, For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (NKJV)

  7. Jesus Christ came into the world to be a Light in the world.

    John 12:46, I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. (NLT)

  8. Jesus Christ came into the world that men might have the Abundant Life.

    John 10:10b, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (KJV)

  9. Jesus Christ came into the world to Judge the world.

    John 9:39, Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” (NLT)

  10. Jesus Christ came into the world to Proclaim or preach the Good News about the Kingdom of God.

    Mark 1:38, Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (NIV)

  11. Jesus Christ came into the world to die on the cross.

    John 12:27, Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ’Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour. (Berean Study Bible)

  12. Jesus Christ came into the world to fulfill the law.

    Matthew 5:17, Do not think that I have come to overturn or do away with the law or the words of our prophets. To the contrary: I have not come to overturn them but to fulfill them. (The Voice)

  13. Jesus Christ came into the world to be a Divider of men.

    Matthew 10:34, 35, Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (CSB)

    (Christ makes it necessary to choose between relatives and the truth. This choice often causes division.)

  14. Jesus Christ came into the world as a demonstration of God’s Love.

    1 John 4:10, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (NIV)

  15. Jesus Christ came into the world because the Father sent Him.

    John 20:21, I give you the gift of peace. In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you. (The Voice)

a. The Father SENT Jesus to be the Propitiation (atonement) for our sins.

1 John 4:10, >This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. (The Message)

b. The Father SENT Jesus and gave Jesus as the Saviour of the world.

John 3:16-18,  For this is how much God loved the world—he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in himwill never perish but experience everlasting life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge and condemn the world, but to be its Savior and rescue it! So now there is no longer any condemnation for those who believe in him, but the unbeliever already lives under condemnation because they do not believe in the name of God’s beloved Son.(Passion Translation)

c. The Father SENT Jesus to bless us by turning us from our iniquities.

Acts 3:26, God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (ESV)

d. The Father SENT His Son to redeem us from the curse of the law.

Galatians 4:4-5, But when the fullness of time came, God sent out His Son, born of a woman and born under law—to free those under law, so we might receive adoption as sons. (Tree of Life – TLV)

e. God SENT His Son to make possible a new power in the hearts of men, a power to enable him to fulfill the righteousness of the law.

Romans 8:3,4, For what the Law could not do [that is, overcome sin and remove its penalty, its power] being weakened by the flesh [man’s nature without the Holy Spirit], God did: He sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful man as an offering for sin. And He condemned sin in the flesh [subdued it and overcame it in the person of His own Son], so that the [righteous and just] requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not live our lives in the ways of the flesh [guided by worldliness and our sinful nature], but [live our lives] in the ways of the Spirit [guided by His power] (Amplified Bible)


As this is publishing on Christmas Eve, I want to wish all of Christianity 201’s readers a blessed and meaningful celebration of incarnation.

November 29, 2019

Bad Behavior: An Embarrassing Fashion Choice

This is our sixth time with a writer who we haven’t included in several years: Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer (churchwhisperer.com). Click the header below to read at source.

Christians Behaving Badly

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:8-10

Another week and lots of new opportunities to see social media lit up with examples of Christians behaving badly, saying hateful things…about other Christians. You know what’s sad? This blog post can stay up for years and that opening sentence will still be perfectly timely and relevant. Oh, how we make embarrassing choices over and over again. And social media seems perfectly designed to help us shine the brightest of lights on those embarrassing choices. Is it just me, or has social media become the newest highway for our road rage? The temptation to make embarrassing choices is just too great for many of us.

Embarrassing Fashion Choices

I’ve lost track of how many reality TV shows there are about fashion makeovers. Well, that’s not true. I’m certain I never did have any handle on that count. But you know the formula for them: some unsuspecting soul is suddenly put into what amounts to a fashion intervention by well-meaning friends or family. The fashion “experts” come in and go through the person’s closet and ridicule them for all the horrible fashions represented there. A miraculous transformation ensues, and that person is a new person as a result. May it never happen to you or to me.

But the truth is, we all have worn things in the past which we would be thoroughly embarrassed to wear today (e.g., take a look at the wedding pictures of anyone married in the 70s or 80s). To put those things on today and be seen in them would be, well, pretty horrible. I’m not going to admit anything here, but let’s just say that, in matters of fashion choices, I’m familiar with sentiments like: “Dad! No! We’ve talked about this!”

This, I believe, is a near-perfect illustration for the discipline of living “in the Spirit”.

Life in the Spirit

In his writing, the Apostle Paul talks often about the discipline of living in the Spirit. He sometimes compares it to what we might call making embarrassing fashion choices. In his letter to the Colossians, he takes a stroll through our spiritual closets filled with “old stuff” and says, “throw this away”, “get rid of that”, and “never wear that again”. He is talking about Christians behaving badly. Paul recognizes that there are some old ways about us, some things that fit our old nature just fine but that look completely ridiculous on us now, and we need to just get rid of them. In their place, we need to don the clothes that fit our new nature. We need to “wear” things that allow the Spirit Who lives in us to shine through. It is not changing our behavior in order to be a Christ follower, it is changing our behavior because we are a Christ follower. It is simply putting away our old ways and taking on the look that the Spirit of God portrays through us.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

A Better Look, a Better Way of Being

In typical Paul fashion, he moves from the big theological picture down to the blatantly practical pretty quickly. He hits Christians behaving badly right between the eyes. Paul, in a few words, writes the Christian’s social media policy for us. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. In a typically grueling way, God’s Word peeks into our closets and calls us out. As embarrassing as the process can be sometimes, you have to admit, the new look is worth pursuing. It suits you. It is a great look for you and for me…and for Christians everywhere.

© Christian Unity Ministries; used by permission

 

 

November 27, 2019

Don’t Say What You’ll Never Do

Today’s article comes from a blog I’ve linked to at Thinking Out Loud, but not here. “Gospel Taboo is a contributor-based platform that provides articles as resources and biblical counseling opportunities.” The author of this piece is Rebekah Hannah. The header below is a link to the article at its original source.

Never Say Never

The older I get, the less I have to say. I find words and phrases get eliminated from my vocabulary over time. God slowly and kindly shrinks my words with his Spirit, wisdom and small bits of experience. Whether it’s particular, embarrassing things I’ve said that can’t be erased from memory or just my regular, daily idiotic thoughts, the Lord slowly morphs and renews my thinking. Recently, there’s a common phrase that’s been utterly and completely taken out of my lexicon.

I will never. 

There. I admit it. Only problem now is I’m saying, “I will never say ‘I will never.”

Right now, I’m living with two giant “I will nevers.” But God is using these “nevers” to change me in very specific ways. He’s showing me that my “nevers” are a form of boasting that I must repent over. In this process of transferring my “nevers” over to “Lord, help me trust you,” God is leveraging my old “nevers” for my now good.

When God changes our proclamations to supplications, he teaches us several things.

He teaches humility. 

When we’re corrected and have to go back on things we’ve said, humility grows. It teaches us that we don’t know everything. We can’t predict the future, but there’s One who can. He teaches meekness through our lack of control over our own futures. I can honestly and wholeheartedly mean “I will never” do this or that, but 10 years later I may indeed find myself doing that very thing. I’m unable to determine my future self’s ultimate well-being (Prov 16:9). I can’t know where I’m going to be 10 minutes from now, much less 10 days, 10 months or 10 years from now. But God can.

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Proverbs 27:1

He teaches human limits. 

Of course, humility is about me knowing my finite limits. I was not at the beginning of the world nor do I have control over the air I breathe. I rely solely on the One who created me, gave me air and knows the number of my days. How dare I declare “I will never.” To do so is to proclaim a foolish likeness to God in his timelessness. Of course, this is irrational. To know I have limits causes me to cast my eyes on the One who has none.

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:14-15)

He teaches grace.

Saying “I will never” and later having to shove those words back into my mouth teaches me about the gaping hole only grace can fill. Because God shows me how little I know and control, there’s a deeper understanding of my need for grace. Grace says God gives me everything I need. He provides help for my small capacities and inabilities, my misunderstandings and shortcomings. This kindness is then available for me to give to others. If I know God leads, guides and allows us all to do and be different, how does this change how I react to others? It teaches me to withhold judgement on things I cannot know everything about, because I’m not God.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Heb 4:16

He teaches his preeminence. 

Anytime I’ve proclaimed, “I will never,” God was sitting on his throne. And guess what . . . he knew I absolutely would do whatever my never was. When we say I will never do this or I will never go there, we are displaying foolishness as God preeminently resides in greatness. He is infinite. He has no boundaries in knowledge. He is all-wise. He sees all things. He is the beginning and the end. To say, “I will never,” is to have a small reverence for a God who easily says, “Yes you will.”

God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. Psalm 47:8 

He teaches eternity. 

God teaching about eternity is his love on display for us. To teach an eternal perspective is to teach how to survive in a world that is not my forever home. It gives me something to cling to, to look forward to when things go haywire here. God knows that to persevere in our insufferable world, I must know and believe what he promises will come. Enter eternity. I can’t tell you where I’ll live, what I’ll be doing or what my life will look like, but I can acknowledge my certain hope in God’s eternal plan. Refraining from “will nevers” makes me look for what I can know. Eternal good with Jesus, my Savior, my Joy, my Hope is an absolute certainty (Heb 6:19).

. . . for the sake of the faith of God’s elect . . . in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began . . . Titus 1:1b-2

We have a good Father who loves to give good things (Matt 7:11). For me, he’s leveraged my “nevers” to teach me some of these good things. He gives me exactly what I need, puts me exactly where I need to be and plans my life better than I do. Our God is always faithful, even in our foolish “nevers.”

Questions for Reflection: 

1.    What have you said “never” about?

2.    How can you acknowledge your smallness before God so as to worship his greatness?

3.    What are some ways to give up your illusion of control in your life?

4.    Do you worry about today more than you think on eternity with Jesus?

5.    What are some practical ways you can spend more time thinking God for having control over your life?

November 23, 2019

God and You: Growing the Relationship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1: 10-13 ESV

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. – James 4:8 ESV

Three years ago Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries posted this short book excerpt from chapter 3 of his book, Courageous Faith: My Story From a Life of Obedience.

Developing Your Relationship With God

by Charles Stanley

My grandfather taught me how crucial it is to be rightly related to God through His Son Jesus. He confided that as a young man he started his ministry feeling very inadequate because he didn’t have much education— he’d only made it to the sixth grade. In fact, he learned to read by studying the Bible. And he’d picked up how to preach by crying out to the Father and asking Him what to say.

This was extremely encouraging to me because of the inadequacies and fears I was struggling with. To think that such a great man of God had them as well gave me hope that the Lord could make something out of my life, too. And what this ultimately showed me was the amazing way the Savior can work through any simple but willing servant who is completely committed to Him. As 2 Chronicles 16:9 reminds us, “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

This is why I often say: Our intimacy with God is His highest priority for our lives because it determines the impact of our lives. The more profound our fellowship with the Father, the more powerful our lives will be—regardless of whether we’re educated, attractive, wealthy, or of prominent social standing. We don’t have to be perfect, not by any means. No, it is our relationship with God that makes all the difference in our lives— our love for Him, our willingness to serve Him, and our dependence upon His Holy Spirit.

So how did my grandfather achieve such a deep and transformative relationship with the Lord? Much like my mother did:

  1. He spent a great deal of time meditating on Scripture. He didn’t just read the Word, but he would ask questions such as: God, what are You saying to me? How does this apply to my life? What are You trying to correct? How do You want me to respond to You in obedience?
  2. He was a person of prayer. Grandfather didn’t just go before the throne of grace at night before he went to bed or when he was in trouble. Instead, he took the apostle Paul’s commands to heart: “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col. 4:2) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). This meant that his life was one long conversation with God—one in which he shared all the joys as well as the sorrows.
  3. He actively listened to the Savior. Granddad was keenly aware that he was the servant of God—not the other way around. If he wanted a deep relationship with the Lord that would bring him into unified oneness with Him, he would have to train his ears to hear Him. And if he truly desired to have God’s direction, wisdom, and power, he would have to pay close attention to what the Father was saying.

Of course, this led me to ask Granddad, “How do you know for certain when God has spoken to you?” He told me that I would have a profound awareness in my heart of how He was leading me. Then he said, “But Charles, always remember this: You obey God no matter what.”

My Grandfather was an incredible example in regard to absolute obedience and this principle has become a foundational cornerstone and anchor for my life: Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him. It’s a phrase you’ve undoubtedly heard me repeat often. You do what the Lord tells you to do regardless of the circumstances or dangers you face, and you trust Him to make a path for you where there appears to be no way through.

 

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