Christianity 201

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.

 

November 20, 2019

It’s Safer on the Ground, but the View from the Mountain is Awesome

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Today we’re highlighting the thoughts of a writer who is new to us. Wes Barry is the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina, a church he planted six years ago. Clicking the header below will take to this article at its source, which you’re encouraged to do.

Enduring a Mediocre Life

1 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. 2 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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

It was a stupid idea to climb a 14,000 foot mountain with my wife. But the guidebook had called it a “distinctively charming route except the final 500 feet of loose scree.” So here I was frozen in fear clinging to the loose rock a few hundred feet from the summit. I wanted to give up and head back down. My wife, however, knew that the route down would take longer than summiting and then coming down. So she cajoled me forward. In the end, we summited the mountain and enjoyed the view.

Had we retreated, the end result would have been a mediocre adventure, and possibly a mediocre marriage and mediocre life.

Mediocre literally means “mid-mountain.”

The truth is that most of our lives are mediocre. We find ourselves grasping to the loose scree of life desperately trying to hold on. Though we may have spent years climbing and persevering, once the distinctively charming life gets hard, we freeze. We look for an escape route.

Our motivation wanes. We want the easy way out.

The way to transform mediocrity is not by motivation but through perseverance. At that moment, I had to throw off all the anxious thoughts that were holding me back. I had to overlook the disappointment and accept the reality that didn’t meet my expectations. It is at this point that we have to remember our commitment.

On that mountain, my wife made me recall that commitment. She told me I was not going to be satisfied if we turned back now. Then she just scampered on ahead, and as I watched her persevere I knew I had to finish the task that lay before me. I nervously fixed my eyes upon the trail she had laid through the scree field so I could follow it up. She endured so I could too.

What parts of your life are mid-mountain? How can you push forward in your marriage, your career, your parenting?

Consider how Jesus endured all things for you, and may you take heart to finish the race.


By the same author: This article has no specific scripture reference, but contains some great ideas to consider. Check out I Am Done Praying With You.

November 16, 2019

Nature Obeys Him!

 

Matthew 8:23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He replied, You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Today’s devotional is from the website ThisIsToday.com which is based on the Today devotional booklets, a daily resource widely circulated in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) that “helps God’s people refresh, refocus and renew their faith through Bible reading, reflection, and prayer.”

Some of my readers I know will wonder about Matthew’s description in the last phrase of verse 24: Jesus was sleeping. Was he? If so, it demonstrates a tremendous calm in the middle of chaos. If not, it means he was waiting for the right time to reveal his power. Either interpretation works!

Who is This?

by Norman Brown

Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” — Mark 4:41

The new teacher, Jesus, has been surprising crowds of peo­ple with his healing of the sick and his amazing preaching. After a long, tiring day, he gets into a boat with his fishermen-turned-followers to cross the Sea of Galilee, a 13-mile-long (21 km) lake. Being human, Jesus is weary from a day of preach­ing, teaching, and healing. They set sail, and Jesus falls asleep on a cushion in the stern.

Sleeping on a modern ship in a storm isn’t comfortable; it must have been rough on that small fishing boat. The boat was probably about 30 feet long and eight feet wide; it rode low in the water so the fishermen could haul in their nets.

A “furious squall came up,” and the boat began to swamp. Everyone needed to help with bailing water to keep them afloat! The disciples also woke Jesus and said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Sometimes we wonder if Jesus cares about us in our peril and distress, but we can trust that he does. Though it may seem everything is going wrong in our work for him, he will show us we have no need to fear.

Jesus calms the wind and the waves, showing that he is not only an amazing preacher and healer but also the Lord over creation. His disciples are astonished and rightly terrified. Who has power over nature but the Creator himself? Is this human teacher, Jesus, also the Lord of heaven and earth? Yes—and today we know him as our great God and Savior!

Prayer

Lord of all, even the wind and waves obey you! May we serve you and bring glory to your name! Amen.

October 30, 2019

Start Something

This was a the 4th part of a four-part tag-team teaching Ruth and I did this past weekend encouraging people to “start something” unique to their vantage point on the world. There is much scripture here which I haven’t highlighted today, but I am sure many of you will know what is quoted and what is original.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.

Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.

That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering like a mother hen over the surface of the waters.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Then God said, “Let Us make humanity in Our image, according to Our likeness. To watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl.”

So God created humanity in His own image;
He created them in the image of God; He created them male and female.


And that’s how God started something.

He sat in His own infinity of light and love and He imagined time.
He imagined energy and matter.
He imagined life and diversity
and he imagined us.

Having imagined us, he made us
to be just like him.

He made us to watch over creation and to watch over each other.
He made us to look into emptiness and see possibility.
To see something new.
He made us to see what could be.
He made us to imagine.

To ask, “What if?”

What if I said something? What if I did something?
What if I sat down next to her, opened that door,
asked for permission?

What if I challenged the status quo?

What would happen?

Well, what happened when God started something?

It began well. It began with life and love, understanding, friendship and community.

And then?

Then, somebody stuck their oar in.
Somebody with big ideas and ambition. Somebody who thought they knew better.

Then there was division and disagreement, grief and separation.

But God didn’t walk away. Didn’t give up. He kept on looking into the darkness and seeing what could be.

He kept working. Kept reaching out.

Because he has a goal. There is something that only He can accomplish. He knows that only He can bring us back to where we belong – next to Him.

When we start something, when we turn our “What ifs” into action,
—we take a chance – on the people we work with, on the circumstances that will arise, on ourselves.

People drive us crazy. Circumstances conspire against us.
We disappoint ourselves.

All we can do, the best we can do is remember…

There is a reason we tried in the first place. There is something that we can do. Maybe not only you.
But definitely you.

God is still walking us through His plan, his story from eternity to eternity.

Jesus kept walking through the plan, from birth to resurrection.

And he walks alongside us and within us and for us.

It’s been said that the difference between a good idea and a vision is that a vision is something you can’t not do. Something that fills you with fire and won’t let go.

If that is where you find yourself, struggling to find the courage to step out,
keep this in mind…

God doesn’t call you to go anywhere he hasn’t already been himself.
He knows our weakness,
our strength.

Everything we can experience,
He has experienced in the flesh.

He has been there and He will help.


There is a time for every activity under Heaven-
a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;

This I know… that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

When we will see a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth will have passed away,
and the sea will no longer exist.

When He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer.

When the One seated on the throne will say,

“Look! I am making everything new.”

October 24, 2019

Ready for the Furnace? The Courage to Worship God When No One Else Does

by Clarke Dixon

(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)

I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” Daniel 3:15 (NLT)

Are we ready for the furnace? Do we have the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who chose the furnace over worshipping the king’s statue? Do we have the courage to worship God, and God alone, while we live in a society that does not worship God?

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. 3 So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Daniel 3:1-3 (NLT)

Imagine the scene; all the important people form across the Babylonian empire are gathered to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. The statue was impressive, but so was the king himself, the gathering of officials being proof that he had such power over such a large empire. However, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not as impressed with the king and his statue as everyone else:

“But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:12 (NLT)

Given the ultimatum to worship like everyone else, or be thrown into the furnace, they chose the furnace:

“. . . we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:18 (NLT)

Why did they have such courage? How could their courage be so impressive, when the king, the king’s statue, the king’s power, and the king’s empire, were all so impressive? Why choose the furnace? Likewise, why were early Christians so courageous when Rome, and the power of Rome, seemed so impressive? Why did they choose the lions? Why be courageous in our worship of God today, when so much else seems so impressive? Why not cave?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worshipped God courageously because they knew that God alone is worthy of worship. No matter how impressive Nebuchadnezzar, or his statue, or his power, or his empire might be, God is more impressive! By the end of the story the statue is forgotten.

Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! Daniel 3:27 (NLT)

The story begins with all eyes on the statue, it ends with all eyes on God!

Are we ready to take a courageous stand when it comes to worship? People have worshiped seemingly impressive gods in every culture. Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, speaks of three things which might tempt us to cave in our dedication to God; the worship of money, sexy and power. I’m sure we can each add to this list the things that draw our eyes, that demand our worship. However, at the end of the day, by the end of the story, we will go from all eyes on such things, to all eyes on Jesus. No matter how impressive the people or things are that we worship today, they will be forgotten in the end. God will be front and centre.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego know that God alone is worthy of their worship, no matter what happens to them.

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 (NLT emphasis added)

God is God, He is worthy of worship. God is God, and is worthy of worship whether He rescues us today or not. As we consider God’s people in exile in Babylon, the Babylonians might seem to be more powerful, for now. As we consider the early Christians, the Romans might seem to be more powerful than God, for now. As we consider our own lives, cancer, or some other disease, or ageing, or the consequences of a car accident, might seem more powerful than God, for now. However, God is God, even if there is no rescue from the furnace, or the lions, or disease, or violence, or whatever, for now. But the story is not over.

Do we know that God is worthy of our worship, even if there is no rescue? You might get sick. Many people may pray for you. You might die anyway. Is God not powerful enough to answer the prayers and rescue us? There is a bigger rescue operation underway, in Christ. By the end of the story, we will realize that God, who demonstrates his power and his love in Christ, is more impressive than anything that comes against us. All will realize Who is worthy of worship at the resurrection.

We often experience God best when we are not rescued, when we are not kept from the difficulties we pray we never experience. Consider Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego in the furnace:

24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” Daniel 3:24-25 (NLT)

There is discussion as to whether Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or an angel, was the fourth person Nebuchadnezzar saw walking around in the furnace. However we understand it, we are meant to know they were experiencing the presence of God. “The experience of God’s being with his people . . . comes only in the furnace, not in the being preserved from it” (Kennedy). We will experience God best in the furnace experiences of life, even when that is the experience of death. In being thrown to the mouths of the lions, many Christians have been thrown into the arms of God.

One last thing; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went back to serving the very people who tried to kill them. They continued to participate in a godless society, serving godless people. Their attitude was: “I will serve you, but not your gods.” As we seek to worship God alone, can we commit to serving those who have no such desire? Do we have the audacity to hold up God alone as worthy of worship, even when threatened with a furnace? Do we have the compassion that drives us to serve others, even those that might threaten us with a furnace? If so, we will be following in the footsteps of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, not to mention Jesus.

October 7, 2019

Choosing Not to See

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re returning to the devotional writing of Charles Price, Minister-at-Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada. To read more devotions by him, click this link. To read this one at source, click the header which follows. (This devotional also ties in with tomorrow’s topic.)

Hardened Heart

“…the others were hardened, as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.’”  —Romans 11:7-8

Like a king, Jesus rode triumphantly on a donkey into Jerusalem. Like a priest, Jesus went into the temple and drove out the merchants. And like a prophet, Jesus stood and taught in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes did not like what Jesus was doing but did not want to merely put a knife in Him, rather they wanted to legally bring Jesus to a point where they could get rid of Him. Therefore, one day, they challenged Jesus by asking, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things…Who gave You this authority?” Instead of answering their question directly, Jesus gives them a question in return, “I will also ask you a question. Tell Me: John’s baptism––was it from heaven, or of human origin?” (Luke 20:2-4).

This question stumped the chief priests and the scribes. Not only was Jesus’s question a clever debating ploy, He posed that question to expose their lack of honesty and integrity, because these men were not dealing objectively with the facts. If these men were honest, they would have said, “We don’t want to answer this question,” since either answer would have got them into trouble. But they answered, “We don’t know where it was from” (Luke 20:7), which revealed their problem of failing to see the truth and failing to see who Jesus was because their hearts were hardened against it. The issue was not that they could not see but that they did not want to see.

The biggest barrier to Christ in many people is not the mind but the attitude. If their hearts are hardened against Him in the first place, their attitudes become hardened. We find this hardening process throughout the gospels, such as in Jesus’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Mark tells us, “for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52). They had not been able to deduce any logical conclusions about who Jesus was when He miraculously fed them, not because they did not have eyes to see what was happening or did not participate in eating the bread and the fish, but because their hearts were hardened. It is much easier to teach an uninformed mind than to break a hardened heart. Yet, these hardened hearts are found throughout the New Testament.

As we honestly reflect on ourselves, what is our true heart condition before God? Is our heart open or hardened towards Jesus? May we ask God to open our eyes to understanding, break our hardened hearts and cause us to come into a living relationship with Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see You, break my hardened heart and bring me into a living relationship with You. Thank You, Lord!


 

October 6, 2019

God: What He Did was Who He Is

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. – Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)

In my formative spiritual years, I remember hearing this:

We worship God for who he is.
We praise God for what he has done.

For some, the distinction may not be entirely clear as when we substitute the word thank as in:

We worship God for who he is.
We thank God for what he has done.

I was taught this in what we might call, for lack of a better term, an ecclesiastical setting; in other words, the intent of the speaker(s) was to communicate the difference between simply saying “thanks” versus bowing our hearts in total adoration for who God is; his power, might, majesty and… wait for it… his merciful love.

I get that.

But I think it also needs to be said that, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, it was part of God’s plan all along to make a way of atonement.

God didn’t simply wake up one morning (!) and say, “This sacrificial system isn’t working, we need to try something else.”

The broad story arc of the Bible points to the coming of a Savior. He didn’t simply know that this is where the story was going to lead, rather he had planned out that the opportunity for humankind to experience forgiveness that was both full and free was the direction of the story — the plot line — from the beginning. Dispensationalists call this “the age of grace.” I would call it the “age of atonement.” We went from having to cover our sins to having our sins be covered.

And here is my point:

This whole plan is a reflection not only of what God did — though it is certainly that — but also indicative of who God is.

His actions and his act of mercy toward we who are sinners are indistinguishable from his nature.

He is a God of love.

He is a God of mercy.

He always has been.

The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Exodus 34:6-7a (NLT)

When we consider God’s nature, we often end up at the big O-words — omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent — and can forget he is loving and merciful and in his ways that are far above our ways has devised a plan none of us could ever imagine.

For that we offer thanks; we offer worship; we offer ourselves.


Here are some thoughts on thanks from Ruth’s worship set this morning:

 

September 28, 2019

Motivation Matters

Can you do the right things for the wrong reasons?

I may have written about this verse before, but I wanted to circle back to it again today.

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

I like how Eugene Peterson takes this even one step further:

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. (MSG)

Each of us may easily rationalize or justify our thoughts and actions, but God is looking at underlying attitudes. I Samuel 6:17b reminds us that, “For man sees the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.” Proverbs reiterates the truth of 16:2 in a lesser known, but I believe more powerful verse in 30:12, “There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not washed from their filthiness.

We can fool some of the people some of the time, but we can’t fool God any of the time!

Weighed

Older translations incorporate the idea of our actions being “weighed” or “measured.” Think back for a moment to the the story in Daniel 5 from which we get the phrase, “the handwriting is on the wall.” What’s written on the wall is interpreted as “You are weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Verse 27 says, “TEKEL means that you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.”  I Samuel 2:3 states, “Do not boast so proudly, or let arrogance come from your mouth, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by Him actions are weighed.

Consequences

Wrong motives can have a bearing not only on how God views what we do, but how he views our asks for the things we wish we could experience or the things we wish we could have. James 4:3 states,

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

Our various asks need to line up with his will. Those are the petitions he’s interested in granting. “And this is the confidence that we have before Him: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” – James 4:3.

In 1 King 3, Solomon asks God for wisdom, and gets everything else thrown in. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both wealth and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

If ever a passage in the Hebrew scriptures was crying out for a cross-reference from the New Testament, it’s this obvious choice: Matthew 6:33, But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all those things will also be given to you. (NIrV)

So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly. (Passion Translation)

Self-Monitoring

All of this brings me to a verse that David Jeremiah mentioned in a broadcast this week, I Cor. 11:31:

But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. (CEB)

If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. (GNT/TEV)

Let me modify the verb tense on that slightly to the reflect the position we often find ourselves in: If we had examined ourselves first, we would not have come under God’s judgment.

The verse is quite sobering when read in full context:

The Voice.30 Because of this violation, many in your community are now sick and weak; some have even died. 31 But if we took care to judge ourselves, then we wouldn’t have to worry about being judged by another. 32 In fact, the Lord’s hand of judgment is correcting us so that we don’t suffer the same fate as the rest of the rebellious world: condemnation.

Conclusion

II Chronicles 16:9 is translated in the KJV as The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. and in The Message as God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.

God is watching.

Motives matter.

Hidden heart attitudes matter.

You can do the right things for the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

 

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