Christianity 201

November 15, 2018

Sailing Lessons for the Super Religious and Irreligious

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the 35-minute message on which this devotional is based at this link.

“Since God loves us so much, we ought to be super-religious, zealous for learning and keeping all the rules!” Or, “Since God loves us so much, we can be irreligious. It does not matter what we do!” Which is it? What kind of impact does the love of God through Jesus have on our lives?

Paul helps us sort this out in his letter to the Galatians. Paul discovered that the Galatians had become super-religious, expecting non-Jewish people to become Jewish in order to become Christian. That is, all Christians should keep all the Old Testament commandments right down to the strict dietary restrictions. Most Christians today regularly disregard such laws. Should we start worrying about all those rules? Should we become super observant of the Old Covenant laws? What do we learn from Galatians? Here is where the sailing lessons begin . . .

We are no longer one-design racing. This summer we bought a sailboat that happens to be a “one-design” racing boat. It has all the bells and whistles of a racing boat. It is also built to exact specifications. Should I show up for a one-design race, everything would be checked out to ensure that my boat still fits the exact specifications. Should we fail to meet even one of the rules, we will be disqualified. We will be stuck on the beach.

This is like relating to God through the Old Covenant. Should even one law be broken, then the covenant is broken. You are disqualified, stuck on the beach. Problem is, no one could ever race! Everyone was stuck on the beach. Through the Old Covenant, God was teaching His people their need for His grace. He was pointing to Jesus:

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. Galatians 3:23-26

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Galatians 4:4-5

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

We no longer relate to God through the Old Covenant. Now we relate to God through the New Covenant, through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is like my boat which is now retired from one-design racing. I need not be concerned that I will be stuck on the beach because of the rules. I am free to sail! We are not under the Old Covenant, we are not fearful of disqualification, being stuck on the beach for breaking a rule. We are free to sail!

So this means that we can do anything? There are no rules at all? Not so fast! We might not be one-design racing with all the rules and regulations, but we are sailing. A sailboat has sails, a rudder, a centreboard and all such things required for sailing. A sailboat has different equipment from a powerboat. A sailboat sounds and feels different out on the water than a powerboat. We can think of it this way; while we are free from all the rules and regulations of one-design racing, we are called to go sailing with God rather than continue power-boating alone. The early Christians had learned that non-Jews did not need to become Jews on their way to becoming Christians. But neither could they remain “typical Romans” either. Paul explains:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

We are not to live by the law, but we are to love, we are to live by the Spirit:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Galatians 5:16-18

While the non-Jews were not called to become Jews on the way to Jesus, they were called to be different from what they were. We can think of them as being called from a life of power-boating to a life of sailing, only they are not required to enter a one-design race. In being called to follow Jesus, we are not called to just stay as we are, we are called to live by the Spirit, not the rules.

Sailing is best enjoyed under full sail. My first sailboat had a lot of character. That is a nice way of saying it was old and in rough shape. In our first summer of sailing part of the deck ripped away making it impossible to use one of the two sails. I could have kept sailing without that sail and a section of the deck for the years I owned the boat, but it was much better sailing once fixed. The Christian life is like that. We can keep living with brokenness in our lives, with blind spots to our sin. But the Christian life is so much better under full sail. What does that look like?

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25

Is your deck broken? Is your sailing hampered by sin and brokenness? Perhaps you are not as loving as you think? Or patient? Or kind? Or generous? Or gentle? The fruit of the Spirit is a good place to look when we are checking our boats over for needed repairs.

As for my boat, I didn’t fix it. My Dad did! We should note that the fruit of the Spirit is precisely that. It is not the fruit of our labours. It is not the fruit of our efforts at keeping the law. It is the fruit of God’s work in our lives. Our heavenly Father does the repairs.

Are we to be super-religious or irreligious? Are we to be bound by religious rules or are we free to do anything and everything? Neither, rather we are to experience relationship with God through Jesus, being moved and changed by His Holy Spirit. Let us conclude by noting that the words for Spirit in both the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible also are the words for ‘wind.’ Happy sailing!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV


 

November 11, 2018

Thanks to God – Remembrance Day

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:11 am
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Today is Remembrance Day in Canada; our version of Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day all rolled into one. For that reason, I’m posting today’s column earlier than normal at 11:11 EST on 11/11.

Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

(based on Psalm 9)

We will thank Yahweh with all our heart;
We’ll be glad, and we’ll sing about and declare Your name, Most High.

Because when You uphold a just cause,
when the wicked retreat, stumbling and falling,
You are seated on Your throne as a righteous judge.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!

You have rebuked the nations,
You have destroyed the wicked;
The enemy comes to eternal ruin,
But You, Lord, are enthroned forever.

Only You can judge the world rightly;
Only You can fairly execute judgment on the nations.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

You are a refuge for the oppressed in times of trouble – You remember them.
You don’t forget the cry of the afflicted – You are their hope.
You lift us up from the gates of death.

Those who know Your name trust in You
because You haven’t abandoned the ones who seek You, Yahweh.

Time like an ever-rolling stream
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten as a dream
dies at the break of day.
.
Your word commands our flesh from dust,
Returns all sons of men;
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

The nations fall into the pit they made;
their foot is caught in their own hidden trap.
And the Lord has revealed Himself.

So, sing to the Lord who is with us; proclaim His deeds among the nations.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!

Father, we thank you:

  • for freedom to read and speak and live Your words.
  • for the hands and the hearts, the feet and the minds that have worked and built, fought and healed, and always done their best.
  • for all who let fall their own dreams to do what had to be done.

We live in a nation not at war, but there are still battles that you call us to fight.
Battles that require courage, humility, wisdom, gentleness and a kind of love that we’re still learning.

Like the people we remember today, we have an opportunity to take a stand.

To stand with You –
To speak the truth,
To provide for the needing,
To defend the vulnerable,
To love with Christ’s love the ones who live on the fringes of society.
To share what we have and because we know what we know.

Jesus said:

Much will be required of everyone who has been given much.
And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.

Out of around 200 countries in the world, we in Canada live in the 5th most prosperous.
If there were 8,000 people on earth, only 24 would be better off than we are.

We have been given more than almost anybody in the world.
What does He expect of us?

Text adapted from HCSB; link above is NIV

November 5, 2018

Seeking the Kingdom When It’s Convenient

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back with Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. He lives in Rochester, NY.

How He Gives Us What We Need

Luke 12:29-32 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

A good deal of the 12th chapter of Luke deals with the foolishness of pursuing riches before all else, and is an encouragement to us that God knows what we need and will supply. We all need to get it down deep in our hearts that “your Father knows that you need these things.”

Yet there is a different perspective we are to take to those things that we need. The Lord doesn’t say, “Seek after these things and I will make sure they shall be added to you.” The Word says “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” That’s a whole different emphasis. Phrased different, God promises to meet our needs as we put Him first. That’s the order: Him first, then our needs are met.

Many of us serve God in our spare time, in effect seeking the kingdom when it’s convenient. What is locked down for many of us are a solid job and a “good life,” and then in that context, we serve Him as time and energy allow. But that is not how He promises to provide. He promises to provide as we put His kingdom first. Yes, that takes faith, and it doesn’t look like anything the world has ever known or modeled for us. God is gracious and full of blessing, and “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He may have allowed you many a material blessing, but that doesn’t mean that you are putting His kingdom first.

What often gets lost here in our fear of letting go and seeking His kingdom first is the promise of v. 32: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Unlike in the world, where we often have to swim upstream, fighting the “sharks” and burning the midnight oil to get ahead, God shows us His heart: He not only is willing to give us the kingdom, it is His good pleasure. He’s not only inclined to give us the kingdom; it brings Him joy to do so.

It can be greatly challenging to live a life of faith, where we put His kingdom first and believe that He knows our needs and will supply them. But some of the pain we encounter in trying to live this way is from not fully believing that He wants to give us His kingdom. We sometimes think that He is like the world, and that we have to strive against great odds for spiritual success, as we often have to do for success in the kingdom of this world.

We will always face spiritual warfare as we seek to put His kingdom first. But may we never forget that He has promised us victory in Christ. And before, during and after any struggle, it is always His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. As we keep putting His kingdom first, we come to see how very much He wants to give it to us.

Prayer: Father, help me to see this principle of Your kingdom more clearly than I ever have. Help me to make the spiritual leap to putting Your kingdom first and trusting You for the rest. Give me eyes to see how You give me Your kingdom.


If you enjoyed this article, check out another by Mark, Can You Hear Me Now?


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November 3, 2018

Standing Between You and Fruitfulness

Yesterday and today we’re back with Canadian devotional writer Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith. As I said, her writing is a perfect fit for us here at C201, and we’ve used her many times over the past years. I’m breaking our ‘six month rule’ and running two posts back-to-back this weekend. Click the title to read at source.

Whatever prevents fruit must go . . .

We once had a crabapple tree in our yard. The tree was large and when we moved in, it had been neglected for years. It had blossoms in the spring, but only a few. No fruit. I thought it needed another fruit tree for cross-pollinations but after a bit of research realized the nearby wild berry bushes were sufficient for that. Research showed that the tree needed to be pruned.

I learned that in the pruning process, the vinedresser first removes the larger dead branches and works his way to snipping off the smaller ones and anything that shows signs of disease or rot. If the tree is not producing fruit, this pruning can be severe. When I was finished with that tree, I wondered if it would ever grow again, never mind produce apples. However, after a season of rest, it flowered prolifically and gave us bushels of crabapples.

Perhaps this experience is part of why I love these words from Jesus:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1–5)

God’s pruning removes the dead, useless stuff in my life. I’m saved by grace, so salvation is not the purpose of pruning. It is to bring me to the place where I am abiding in Him continually, living in the power of the Holy Spirit and producing the fruit that only the Holy Spirit can produce. If I am abiding, the results are eternal; if not, they are useless.

This is obviously about sin, but sin runs deep. The pruning axe begins on the big, obvious stuff, but then God picks up pruning shears and removes attitudes and activities that other people might not even notice. Eventually He uses a scalpel to rid me of anything that could be described as ‘going my own way’ rather than listening to Him and doing what He tells me.

Today, I have plans for my household responsibilities. Doing laundry and sewing the label on a quilt cannot be called sin. BUT if God urged me to call someone or go visit a shut-in and I refused to do that in favor of my to-do list, then that unwillingness makes ‘doing my own thing’ a sin.

Oh my, just now, while writing this, someone just called —a crisis. All my plans just became unimportant. God wants me to pray, perhaps the entire day.

Prayer: Oh Jesus, I’ve nothing more to say as the caller asked me not to share this frightening news with anyone, just pray. My prayer begins with, “Nothing is too hard for You . . .”

November 1, 2018

Do It Again

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A popular worship song this year, performed by both Elevation Worship and Bethel Worship is titled “Do it Again.”

I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again.

Excerpted phrases from the lyrics include:

  • You have never failed me yet
  • Your promise still stands
  • Great is Your faithfulness
  • I know the night won’t last

It’s a confidence-inspiring song, trusting God to act as he has in times past. While everyone else is singing it, I am joining in as well, believing that God is fully able to move as he has in times past, and knowing that there are people standing nearby who long for God to move as he has before, either in a general sense of revival or restoration, or concerning a current need they are facing that day.

But life involves the valleys as well as the mountains.

What do you do if the Passover has already passed over, the Red Sea has already parted, and the son has already stood still? Habakkuk no doubt felt like he’d missed Israel’s “glory days.”

Habakkuk 3:2(NIV) LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

We do the same thing. It’s easy to wish that we could see the miracles. Maybe you missed the “third wave” of the charismatic movement in the 1970s; or missed the ocean baptisms of the Jesus movement, also in the ’70s. Maybe you missed the moment at a Christian music festival; or couldn’t attend a particular year of Promise Keepers. Perhaps you weren’t there when that church doubled its attendance in six months; or when that individual was dramatically healed, or another delivered from a particular addiction.

Or maybe you were there, but have a sense of that was then and this is now. You — quite correctly in one sense — don’t want to be coasting spiritually on that event that happened all those years ago, but desire to see God move as he did then.

Or maybe you didn’t miss or aren’t missing a thing, but feel like nothing compares to Old Testament signs and wonders or first century miracles. Like Habakkuk you say:

Habakkuk 3:2(NIV) LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

But always remember how he ends this particular chapter. Even if life appears to be the opposite of all that you’d like to see, even if, as the Brits say, it’s all gone pear shaped; our faith is not shaken. It doesn’t negate the prayer of verse 2, but in 17-19 the prophet puts things in a larger perspective:

Habakkuk 3:17-19a (NLT) Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

It’s also important to remember that God doesn’t always move the same way twice. Compare the two healings of two blind men; one involves Jesus simply speaking, the other involves a messy, muddy paste. One is a single-step process while the other is a two-step healing.

Asking God to “Do it again” may mean that God answers your prayer but in a wholly different manner.

Isaiah 43:18 (NLT) “But forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
19 For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

PW



Clarke Dixon returns next week.

October 31, 2018

The God Whom We Trust With Our Destinies

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today our search took us to The Serener Bright, a site we’re featuring here for the very first time. Ian Graham describes himself as “a pastor, church planter, musician, songwriter, reader, and writer.” His church, Ecclesia, is located in West Trenton, New Jersey.

Psalm 26: Unflinching Trust

In honor of the life and legacy of Eugene Peterson, I will be using the Message version of the psalms as our text.

Psalm 26 sounds, on its face, like the self-righteous protestations of a deluded legalist. Is David really placing wagers on his own integrity (v. 1) in the presence of a holy, all-seeing God? He even invites God to perform open-heart surgery on him, examining the hidden caverns of his life (v. 2). So what are we to do with a psalm that most of us would never claim is true of our own experience? How do we pray this along with David with a straight face?

What David expresses here is a visceral, unflinching trust. It may sound as though he is unwilling to confess his own sinfulness but that misses the point. This psalm is not about who David is, this psalm is about who God is. The steadfast love of God is the branch that David clings to, holding fast in the rushing currents of falsehood and idolatry. Left to his own devices, David would be swept along with the sinners, the devious, the frauds. But David’s life is not defined merely by his own actions, his life flows from a deep river of confession, worship, and prayer.

I scrub my hands with purest soap,
then join hands with the others in the great circle,
dancing around your altar, God,
Singing God-songs at the top of my lungs,
telling God-stories.
God, I love living with you;
your house glows with your glory. 

The Message, vv.6-8

He expresses his trust in the means that God has provided for purification. He recalls rapturous times of worship in the presence of God and the community. His life is shaped by story and song both of what God has done and his own experience with God. Everything for him starts from a deep and personal encounter with God.

David invites us to a faith that is embraced in momentary acts of faithfulness, where the words of our mouths and the state of our hearts are constantly presented to God for examination. God’s presence is a fire, engulfing and purifying every corner of his life. We can trust that God’s presence will not simply rubber stamp our agendas, or provide us with good feelings to get us through the day, but it will provide a way forward, a way of openness, of integrity, of transformation.

David beautifully conveys the meaning of life: God, I love living with you. David’s life before God expresses the poles of this life: exuberant displays of abandon in the congregation where everything is in its right place and a life of contemplative nearness in the midst of ambiguity and brokenness, a life lived up close to God. Openness, vulnerability, this is the life that is oriented to God’s presence. Trust is the foundation of this life, a trust that says God is exactly who he has shown himself to be, abundant steadfast love and thus, I can trust that I am exactly who he says I am: beloved.

Christian faith is not neurotic dependency but childlike trust. We do not have a God who forever indulges our whims but a God whom we trust with our destinies.” -Eugene Peterson


Take some time to read another devotional from the same author, continuing through the Psalms:


As we write this, Laruen Daigle, an extremely popular Christian music artist, is enjoying unprecedented chart success. A previous album, released in 2015, contains this song about trusting God, which has been seen by 71 million people.

 

October 28, 2018

To Look into the Depths of God

NIV.John.3.1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…5 Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit…   12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?16 For God so loved the world that he gave…”

Those 3-D Computer Generated Picture Things at the Mall

by Ruth Wilkinson

You know the ones? They look like an explosion at the pixel factory, unless you stand just so far away and refocus your eyes just right and for just long enough that a 3-D panorama leaps out, thrilling and amazing all.


Except me. I can’t do it. I’ve tried starting with my nose almost touching the glass and slowly backing away. I’ve tried gently relaxing the muscles in my eyes. I’ve tried defocusing, unfocusing, disfocusing — everything. My husband and kids go from one to the next, saying, “Hey, cool! This one’s a cow! This one’s a space ship! This one’s the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with Michelangelo, paintbrush in hand!”

I’m still standing there crossed-eyed and head-achy looking at an explosion at the pixel factory.

I think it would have been better if I didn’t know. At face value, they’re visually interesting; a collage of images and colours, almost a pattern, but not quite. I could enjoy them that way.

But I do know and I’m missing something. Something my family sees, but I don’t. They tell me it’s there and, for them, it is. But not for me. I want it to be. I’d like to get it. They patiently try to help and advise. They really want me to get it, too. So I keep looking.

Nicodemus was like that. John, who was one of Jesus’ closest friends while he was on earth, tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee; one of a group who were deeply passionate about their faith. They knew the good that God had for His people and how much He loved them. But they had some very real and legitimate concerns about how the Jews could be drawn away from God by philosophical and religious influences of other nations and cultures. Pharisees worked hard at guarding the hearts of God’s people. We like to dump on them for working too hard. Making too many rules, making the whole thing cumbersome. Getting uptight at little things. We call them “legalists” and thank God that we’re not like that.

But Nicodemus, and others, were not entirely stuck in the mud. They were wise enough, humble enough, to know that they didn’t have God all figured out and someday He’d have more to say than 10 commandments and a whole lot of rules, and they’d better not be asleep at the switch when it happened.

Nicodemus and friends found Jesus very interesting. There was definitely something going on there beyond cool stories and sleight of hand. He wasn’t just a nice guy who knew a lot. He was extremely 3D. N & Co. realized that and they went to work trying to refocus in order to figure out the picture. They listened and followed and asked questions.

Everything they saw fit with everything they heard. Jesus wasn’t a fake. He wasn’t loopy. But he might be dangerous.

These guys cared genuinely about keeping people in line with God and Jesus was saying things just different enough to make them nervous.

All we know about Nicodemus is that. 1. He went to the trouble of getting alone with Jesus and asking some questions. 2. He risked his reputation to give Jesus a fair hearing. 3. When it came down to it, he made the choice to step up and take ownership of his respect and love for, and relationship with Jesus. We don’t hear anything else about Nico.

Tradition says he became a Christ follower and given John 19, I think he probably did. If so, he would have sacrificed a lot: prestige, power, family maybe, reputation. Maybe, in those three turning point moments, he found himself wishing he didn’t know. Life was good before Jesus. Obeying the rules was easier. Simpler. Walking through this relationship is a whole other layer of paint.

But in exchange, he would have fulfilled his mission as a true Pharisee. To know God’s voice and obey.

To look into the depths of God and see what’s hidden there. Love. Truth. Life.

October 20, 2018

Seared Conscience | Revealed Truth

Having many years of archives to draw on, we get to know certain authors and offer their latest writing here on a regular basis; but I also like to keep adding new devotional writers as I discover them. Paula Maillet has been blogging at Along Emaus Road since 2005. Her pieces are shorter than some we include here, so I’ve posted two below which couldn’t be more different.

Or are they?

Don’t most of us wrestle with a sinful nature on one hand but also a sincere to see God reveal himself? The dichotomy of being in the world but not of the world? Realizing the weakness of being easily enticed into sinful thought patterns or actions, but at the same time longing for a greater revelation of God? (Maybe it’s just me!)

I placed these in the order I did so we could see our problem, and then its cure.

It Starts With Just Flirting With Sin

“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord,
that you should no longer walk
as the rest off the Gentiles walk,
in the futility of their mind,
having their understanding darkened,
being alienated from the life of God
because of the ignorance that is in them,
because of the blindness of their heart;
who, being past feeling,
have given themselves over to lewdness,
to work all uncleanness with greediness.”
Ephesians 4:17-19

“who being past feeling…”

I once had a married friend who was beginning an affair with another man, and I spoke to her about it, asking how she could do such a thing. Her response was that she felt a lot of guilt the first time, but that afterwards she felt less and less guilt as time went on and now just didn’t feel guilty at all.

She was “past feeling.” Her conscience became seared. I saw it with my own eyes.

“…having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…”
1 Timothy 4:2

This was an example to me as I watched as she was given over to a debased mind.

“…and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,
God gave them over to a debased mind…”
Romans 1:28

Don’t think it can’t happen to you if you’re flirting with sin, any sin. Eventually it won’t hurt your conscience any more – when the Holy Spirit has left you. Don’t try it. Don’t flirt with it.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.”
Psalm 51:10-11

Take heed that you be not deceived and lured into something you would not have wanted to be attached to.

“Repent therefore and be converted,
that your sins may be blotted out,
so that times of REFRESHING
may come from the presence of the Lord…”
Acts 3:19


It’s All About Revelation

“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory,
may give to you the spirit of wisdom
and REVELATION in the knowledge of Him,
the eyes of your understanding being ENLIGHTENED,
that you may know what is the hope of His calling,
what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…”
Ephesians 1:17-18

It all comes by revelation, and NOT by human reasoning. If you’ve tried to understand God or to understand his Word and find you cannot, there is a reason for that. You are trying to do with your human resources what only the Spirit of God can do.

It’s all about REVELATION.

“Jesus answered and said to him,
‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,
FOR FLESH AND BLOOD HAS NOT REVEALED THIS TO YOU
but my Father who is in heaven.’”
Matthew 16:17

ASK the Lord to REVEAL his Word to you. What you do not understand, set aside for now. Let him reveal himself and his Word to you as you read it (the Bible) prayerfully. He WILL reveal it, gradually more and more, as you sit before him. Put the time in. It’s worth it. It’s beyond worth it.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ASK of God,
who gives to all liberally and without reproach,
and it WILL be given to him.”
James 1:5

These are great promises in the Word of God. Receive them, meditate on them, believe them, and he will do the rest.

 

October 17, 2018

No Turning Back

Today we’re highlighting the writing of Jeffrey Youngblood from Tyler, Texas who appears here for the first time. His blog is titled Thoughts of a Blessed Man. We narrowed it down to four articles and they were all so good I wish we could run them all. Click the title to read this one at source.

Burn the Ships

I love to read. Specifically, I love to read history. One of the stories that piqued my interest the most as I was growing up was the story of a Spanish Conquistador named Hernando Cortez(writing about him does not mean I endorse him). This man was a ruthless leader who conquered most of present day Mexico for Spain. He never had to worry much about his men deserting him, because when they landed in this “new world,” his first order of business was to set ablaze to their only way back home… He burned the ships. Cortez had a goal in mind, and nothing was going to stop him from reaching the fame and fortune he was looking for in this new world.

This man had no idea where he was going. There were no maps he could purchase in Spain prior to leaving. He knew one thing for sure. If he left an avenue back to where he came from, the men in their times of uncertainty would gladly run home.

Pursuing something new can be exciting, but also terrifying at the same time. Trying to develop new habits or lifestyles is difficult to do, but there is an end goal in sight. As a follower of Christ, we start out on our journey much like Cortez, by faith. We are serving a God that we cannot see.

The easy thing to do is return where we came from, but the difficult thing to do in any situation is to destroy the way back. We all have a past. Some of us have a past that we hope we can forget (or at least part of it), others are indifferent, and others have a great past. The only thing about pasts, though, is that it is a place we cannot return or remain. We cannot camp out in the past and not move forward. The apostle Paul discussed this in Philippians.

Not that I  have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Paul was probably more mature in his walk with God than me… and by probably I mean certainly. He had it figured out. His past in people’s eyes differed based on who you asked. He thought for the longest time he was doing the right thing until Jesus Christ knocked him to the ground. He realized quickly that he needed to be leading a very different life, if he was going to obtain the prize. Paul went through so much, but he knew that he could not look back.

Paul burned the ships.

The author of Hebrews decided to chime in with Paul and offer some advice to us as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The advice given is to get rid of some stuff in our life, and run the race that is in front of us. In our walk with God, we need to keep our momentum going forward. Moving backwards is not an option for a Christian.

If we are not careful our past seems better. Our past seems easier. Our past is something we know. Familiarity can be dangerous. We all know people who are living in the past (I even see some mullets floating around Tyler every once in a while). The past will handicap our ability to move forward into the plans that Jesus Christ has laid out specifically for you and me.

It is time to burn some ships. Remove the possibility of going back, and decide today that the only option is to go forward and possess the things that God has planned for you. Looking over your shoulder will be useless, because you will have destroyed the only vehicle to your past.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Get to burning and move forward.

October 12, 2018

The Enemy Wants to Destroy You From Within

Lori Thomason at Pure Devotion is being highlighted here today for the 4th time.  Click here to read her story.

Lori lives in Tallahassee, Florida; a state which has been on the top of the news reports this week in view of the weather. What appears below is quite timely. Click the title below to read at source.

Storm Within

Matthew 7:24-25 (MSG) “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

A week ago, my dad was talking about hurricane preparation and my mom scoffed it off that “hurricane season is over.” I remember thinking “oh boy, here we go” though I am not very superstitious and choose to call it caution. Sure enough, just like that, a hurricane is bearing down on us. The storm developed quickly and is now in the Gulf of Mexico headed straight for us. The community is chaos. Businesses shutting down. People evacuating. Gas pumps running dry. Store shelves emptied. Frantic pleas for fuel, food and water goes on social media for those unable to beat the stampede. It would be easy to get overtaken by the fear and anxiety of it all.

Preparing for evacuation this morning, I am thankful. Yes, thankful. The Lord has blessed us with a beautiful home and more material things that I could ever have imagined I would own. I have a closet and drawers overflowing with clothing and a thrift store bag that hasn’t made it there yet. The refrigerator is full of food minus the expired things that needed to go anyway. The pantry has plenty of non-perishable items. I even found the hurricane things I ordered last year that arrived two days after the storm. Plenty of water and batteries on hand yet I didn’t step foot in a grocery or discount superstore in the last 24 hours. I am grateful to God for the nice house that collects all these things. I appreciate His Goodness that is clearly evident as I take pictures for the insurance company in case of loss. I will load my family into a very nice, gas-filled vehicle and head to the safety of my parent’s home while my husband stays here with our pets. He also has many options should he need to find higher ground. Why? Because friends, we built our life on the rock.

Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

Where do you live today? Brothers and sisters in California have been fighting wildfires. To the north of us, the Carolinas are still overcoming the devastation of the last hurricane that made landfall. Rain caused tremendous flooding in the area. The enemy wants panic to ensure and chaos to break out. He want people to turn against each other fighting over cases of water that is already free-flowing from their sink. The enemy wants to destroy you from the inside out with fear, worry, anxiety and stress. It all eats away at faith that is the foundation of our life as believers. He wants us to stop being kind, loving, gracious and good to one another and instead become those we strive to reach and change every other day with His Love and Light. Lord, please calm the storm within even if it must still rage all around.

Psalm18:31-36 (MSG) Is there any god like God? Are we not at bedrock? Is not this the God who armed me, then aimed me in the right direction? Now I run like a deer; I’m king of the mountain. He shows me how to fight; I can bend a bronze bow! You protect me with salvation-armor; you hold me up with a firm hand, caress me with your gentle ways. You cleared the ground under me so my footing was firm.

Oh, I get it my friend, the storm is definitely raging in my life. Today it is external but internally I have perfect peace. Everything I have was provided by God and every blessing has His Name on it. If the storm wipes out our home and all the material things that have been accumulated – the crazy thing is that the best is yet to come. God cannot do miracles without impossibles. He can’t pour out His Goodness on those with no place to receive it. Sometimes God uses natural catastrophes to get the attention of His People so they will return to the Rock and experience the greatness of His Kingdom. So let the storm rage around you, but be sure to stand firm on the bedrock of faith laid by Jesus. He will be your Peace. He controls the natural and supernatural occurrences of your life when you yoke everything to Him. Whether tomorrow I wake to devastation or the peace after the storm – I will not be moved. The Lord is my rock and my foundation. I have nothing to fear.

Matthew 8:23-27 (MSG) Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!” Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass. The men rubbed their eyes, astonished. “What’s going on here? Wind and sea come to heel at his command!”

October 8, 2018

Verses to Memorize

As you get older it gets increasingly difficult to memorize verses of scripture. However, recently, I decided to memorize the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, which began haphazardly trying to remember who gets what!

Sheila Wray-Gregoire is a Canadian author and blogger who writes about marriage, family life and parenting and probably counts women among the sizeable majority of her audience. Her blog is called, To Love Honor and Vacuum. She wrote and posted this in 2011.


…I wrote a post complaining that we are “dumbing down” church and school, and don’t require kids to learn mastery of anything anymore. I asked what we could do about it.

And I decided maybe it was time I did something, rather than just complain. And so I’ve put together this list of the 50 verses I think are most important to memorize. I know many families want to memorize verses together, but they don’t know where to start. Here you go. One a week for a year. Even if this is all you ever memorize, you will have God’s word in your heart for the most important verses, I think, in the Bible. I’m going to type the list with the verses first, and then at the end include a list of just the references, if you want those to just copy and paste.

Why not make little memory verse cards out of 3×5 cards, and keep them at the dinner table? Then every night you can go over this week’s verse. By the end of the year, you’ll have all of these memorized!

I chose these because they’re a cross-section of doctrine, promises, and comfort. You may want to add others, or to substitute. Feel free. Consider this a starting point, not anything definitive. I hope you you find it useful! All verses are from the NIV.

God

Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 40:28
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Salvation

John 3:16-17
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

Romans 3:23
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Revelation 3:20
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

John 14:6
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Ephesians 2:8,9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Assurance

Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Isaiah 40:30-31
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart ,and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Psalm 27:1
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Hebrews 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Christian Life

2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Psalm 37:4,5
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will do this.

Proverbs 3:5,7
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

James 1:22
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

James 4:7
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Luke 16:13
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

1 John 4:7,8
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Galatians 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Prayer

1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 19:14
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Philippians 4:6,7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Scripture

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.

Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Psalm 119:11
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

Confession/Temptation

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

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

James 5:16
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out, so that you can stand up under it.

Mission

Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 25:40
The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 28:19-20
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Bigger challenges:

If you want to memorize whole chapters, here are my top 5:

Isaiah 53
Psalm 23
1 Corinthians 13
John 15
Psalm 139

These chapters are all important; I have left them out of the top 50 verses because I couldn’t choose just one or two verses from any of them. The whole thing is great. So if you’re up for a family challenge, memorize all of one of them!

Look at it this way: if you spend one year memorizing the fifty verses, and the next year reviewing those fifty and memorizing a chapter, and then go back to those fifty verses again to make sure you have them down, and then the next year go back and do a different chapter, and so on, over the course of ten years you’ll have 50 verses and 5 chapters so committed to memory there is no way anyone could ever forget it.

And I think knowing fewer verses, but knowing them inside and out, is sometimes more beneficial in the long run than trying to make yourself learn a verse a day or something.

So print this out and use it with your family!

Happy memorizing!

September 23, 2018

A Worship Liturgy and Word Study: Sin, Forgive

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

September 21, 2018

Relationships Need Presence

NIV I Cor.13.8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Six months later, we’re back highlighting the work 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.

Your Long-Distance Relationship Is Not Enough

When my husband and I were dating, we spent some time living 1000 miles apart. I was in college in Illinois, and he was attending seminary in Colorado. During those months, we sometimes felt desperate to be close to one another. No matter how many much time we spent on the phone, there was no real substitute for face-to-face conversation and physical closeness. In fact, eventually we reached the point where we could no longer handle the distance and Trevor made his way back to Illinois. If our relationship was going to move forward, we had to be in each other’s presence more often.

For us, this separation lasted only a matter of months and came after we had already met face to face. Nowadays, many couples meet online and develop their relationships from a distance. But especially if they’re going to make a long-term or until-death-do-us-part commitment, there’s still no substitute for being together.

The same thing is true of your relationship with God. You may not have thought of it this way, but you are essentially in a long-distance relationship with him. Sure, he is close to you. Yes, you are always in his presence. Yet your limitations as a finite creature, your rebellious heart, and this cursed world mean you experience God at a distance. And there’s nothing you can do to bridge that gap. Jesus has made the once-for-all sacrifice necessary to bring us into true and close relationship, but we don’t yet experience the full impact of that reconciliation. We do not know or even fathom what it means to see God face to face.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (above) talks about this dynamic. You can know God’s love now, but you can’t know it as you will. You understand, see, and may even prophecy–but what you have is only a part of what you will have in God’s unadulterated presence. If you know and follow Jesus, you will see him face to face. You will know him without interference from your sinful nature, your limited understanding, or the boundaries of space and time.

It will be wonderful.

But in the meantime, you live with the distance. And here’s the thing: God doesn’t want you to be satisfied or comfortable with these circumstances. He wants you to yearn for him, just as you would yearn for a loved one you rarely see. Part of living well in this unsatisfying reality is living with patience. Part of it, paradoxically, is living in great anticipation and hope for what is to come.

The next time someone suggests that your relationship with God should be enough to satisfy all your spiritual and emotional needs, here and now, remember this. Your long-distance relationship isn’t meant to be enough to satisfy you. God wants you to love him enough that you long to be with him. He wants you to desire a deeper connection with him. He wants you to live in the hope that you will one day see his face.


If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, check out my most recent book, Blessed Are the Unsatisfied!



Our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, ran a piece on Thursday morning about using our imagination and our smartphones to introduce people to the scriptures in places where it might not otherwise work for them to read from a printed Bible, or situations where they might otherwise refuse to do so.

I would love to share it with you and hear your thoughts; just click this link to read Your Smartphone and Family Gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

September 16, 2018

“I am Like an Olive Tree”

Today I wanted to focus on a verse in Psalms:

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. Psalm 52:8

I went about the process of trying to find a commentary which would fit what we do here, only to discover a site called “My Olive Tree.” I figured if anyone knew about olives, it would be these people, right? It turns out the authors have as their mission, “…To create a partnership between the Evangelical community and the nation of Israel; this partnership will produce employment, income, and revenue for humanitarian aid projects in Israel. We envision the planting of one-million olive trees over… seven years.”

To learn more, click the title below and read what follows there — with some beautiful images — then navigate around their website from that page.

I Am Like an Olive Tree?

Oftentimes in the Word of God, deep spiritual truths are communicated through symbols or allegories of everyday life. Because the stories in the Bible are thousands of years old, this leaves us with the difficulty of discovering the true meaning of the text. We are not only challenged to understand the age and culture of the writing, but are also expected to fast-forward the meaning of a symbolic or allegorical word or phrase into a context that fits into today’s rapidly changing 21st century society.

This process is known as hermeneutics—studying what the biblical authors were saying to their original audiences, asking how those teachings apply to us today, and then wrestling with how to live out their words of wisdom.

This research can be a daunting task to challenge the best of scholars.

This brings us to my question: what exactly did David mean in Psalm 52.8 when he wrote: “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God…”? Who or what was he referring to when he made the comparison of himself with an olive tree?

The Hebrew word for ‘olive tree,’—es shemen—simply means tree of oil. However, the primitive root word means to illuminate, to shine, or to cry aloud with joy. And if we take its literal meaning, the word ‘olive’—zayith—translates to yielding illuminating oil.

The olive tree is important as a joyous symbol of illumination.

Olive trees feature prominently throughout the Bible. The first mention of an olive tree is found in Genesis 8.11, when God came to Noah with a symbolic gesture of covenant peace—the dove with an olive leaf in its beak, signifying that dry land existed:

“Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth; and Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.”

As we dig deeper into the symbolic message that God was conveying through the olive leaf, we can see that it represented a gesture of covenant peace and hope between God and all mankind—a cessation of judgment.

When I read on in Deuteronomy 8.7-8, I found that in ancient Israel the olive and its oil were considered one of the Seven Species, or staple foods, found in the land of Israel. This was true then, and it is still true today!

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land… a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey…”—Deuteronomy 8.7-8

We know this because in 1 Kings 5.11, we learn that King Solomon exported between 100,000 and 120,000 gallons of olive oil to the king of Tyre annually.

“And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand kors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty kors [nearly 120,000 gallons] of pressed oil. Thus Solomon gave to Hiram year by year.”

Today Israel produces 675,000 to 720,000 gallons of extra virgin olive oil per year—making olive oil a significant major crop both in ancient Israel, just as it is today!

Olive trees can also survive very harsh conditions, as we discovered in Genesis 8.11 when Noah was presented with a freshly plucked olive leaf from a tree that had been completely flooded. Moreover, even when the trunk of an olive tree is cut down, it will still sprout new life.

I also discovered that olive trees are evergreens—they have leaves throughout the year that stay green despite drastic seasonal changes.

So, what did David mean when he said “I am like an olive tree in Psalm 52.8?

Let me paraphrase what I believe he was saying:

But I am like an olive tree—I am illuminating, steadfast, undying, joyous, peaceful, abundantly fruitful, and life producing—as I flourish in God’s greenhouse, lovingly nurtured by His hand that guides me always and forever…

So… Under God’s loving care we have no choice but to flourish!

 

September 3, 2018

How Many (Spiritual) Children Do You Have?

Becoming a Contagious Christian

The church I attend has as its purpose statement, “Love God, Serve Others, Show the Way;” and several years ago, in the third of three messages, the focus was on the discipleship process.

Each of us is called to be discipled, but then to make disciples. We should have a deep desire to reproduce ourselves.

Question: How many of you have ever been present to witness the birth of a baby?

Next Question: How many of you have been present to witness someone’s spiritual birth?

Some people know what it’s like to lead someone else in a commitment to making Christ Lord of their lives, but sadly, others wouldn’t know where to begin. Yet nowhere in what we call “The Great Commission” is there indication that this is for some to do, but not others.

Eugene Peterson has given us a great gift with The Message Bible. I know I quote it often here, but I have great respect for it, and as he worked from original languages, I regard it as a translation, not, as some say derisively, a paraphrase. This is how he translates the passage:

Matthew 18-19 Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.

Why does it say “undeterred”? The previous verses give the answer:

Matthew 16-17 Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.

The process of leading someone to Christ does take some personal risk. A few weeks ago I was challenged to say to someone, “Are you ready to make that move? Do you think you want to cross that line of faith?”

This person replied that they were “heading in that direction;” but that this wasn’t the time. That’s fine. I considered that a good and honest response. However, what you need to know is that I actually broke off the conversation twice before returning a third time, to ask this question. I felt God prompting me to do so, but in my mind, I had a million reasons why I shouldn’t do this at that point in the discussion.

Someone once asked me how many children my wife and I have. I told him, “Two;” and he said “Oh, so you’ve only reproduced yourselves.” It turned out that his take on Christianity included the “Quiver-full” teaching that Christians should have as many kids as possible.

But how many of you have begotten spiritual children? Some of you perhaps have never reproduced yourselves at all. You could say, “I can’t do that;” but if you explain childbirth to a young woman it sounds equally daunting and impossible, yet many women bear children. There are so many books, podcasts, seminars, etc. on how to lead someone to Christ, that it’s hard for me to fathom someone dismissing the task that Jesus commanded us to do.

Before the early disciples of Jesus were called Christians at Antioch, the movement was referred to as “the way,” or we could even say, ‘the path.’ Our goal should be to lead people to “the way,” which not only describes the fledgling breakaway sect Judiasm, but is a term that Jesus used to describe himself:

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NLT)

[Watch an actual encounter between an apologist and a student in the comments section of this blog post. Note: This uses a formulaic approach that may not be effective in all cases. 13 minutes.]

…I thought I’d leave us today with a song by the band Newworldson; I hope you enjoy it. You might even send the link* for the song to someone you know to start the faith conversation.

*double click through to view the video at source, then copy and paste the URL from your browser

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