Christianity 201

January 18, 2019

Our Need to ‘Fix’ People

The second and third sections today are only quoted in part. You’re strongly encouraged to use the links.

Earlier this week, author Jentezen Franklin wrote:

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea…and it will become calm.” John 1:12 NIV

When Jonah boarded a ship going in the opposite direction to God’s will, the crew discovered there’s a high price to pay for allowing the wrong person into your life. So what’s the point? It’s this: God hasn’t authorized you to be somebody else’s life support system. Especially if they’re running from Him, and using you to do it! With Jesus on board you’ll make it through any storm. But when you allow Jonah on board he’ll turn your life upside down, and before it’s over you’ll risk losing everything. Do you seriously think you can fix your Jonah? No. “The Lord…prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (v. 17).

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to wake them up and throw them overboard. As long as you keep rescuing them, you get in God’s way. It’s pride that makes us think we can do what only God can do! Look at Jonah—while the crew was desperately throwing stuff overboard, he was sleeping! He didn’t want to be corrected, he wanted to be comfortable! Do you know someone like that? The reason they haven’t changed is because they’re not ready to! Jonah was so stubborn that he stayed in the belly of the huge fish for three days before he prayed. If that had been you, the moment you spotted “Jaws” you’d have been on your knees calling on God, right?

This may be hard to hear, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your Jonah—and yourself—is to throw them overboard and let God rescue them.

In 2014, Jenny Rae Armstrong wrote at Red Letter Christians:

…[N]one of us really know what another person is going through. We’re all in process, and none of us are perfect yet. I remember hearing Brennan Manning speak years ago. He pointed out that that runaway teen turning tricks on the street, who falls asleep with the name of Jesus on his lips, may in fact have made a lot more spiritual progress than a milktoast Christian who came from a happy home.

It’s like Paul Hiebert’s evangelism paradigm, bounded sets vs. centered sets. Maybe one person seems closer to Christ than another, but what is their trajectory? Are they moving toward Christ or away from him? Are they stagnant and complacent?

We should be helping people move toward Christ, not shoving them into the position we think they should inhabit.

Second, it’s not our job to change, convict, or transform people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

I think parents can be especially guilty of this mindset, because we want to raise our kids well, instill healthy habits and beliefs. But that wears thin after twenty years or so, and attempting to police someone’s speech, behavior, and lifestyle can push them further away,  because who wants to be manipulated and controlled?

We also need to look at our motives for pushing people. While we may worry about destructive choices, oftentimes, a good part of our concern is about how WE want people to live their lives, how their choices make us feel. We’re worried about how their behavior reflects on us, and our attempts to change them are motivated by shame. C O – D E P E N D E N T. We can’t love freely when our self-worth is tangled up in someone else’s free will.

We need to get better at loving people where they are at, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Love should never include disclaimers.

So should we just let people do whatever they want to do, live however they want to live? …

It’s not our job to fix people’s behavior. It is our job to love them, pray for them, and point them toward Christ, in whatever way we can.

In order to do that, we’re going to need to offer a lot of grace. And in order to offer grace, we need to let go of the shame, perfectionism, and fear that drives us and accept that grace for ourselves.

Finally, to those of you in leadership or currently walking alongside a “Jonah,” in an undated article at Rick Thomas’s blog, Fernando Serna writes to biblical counselors, pastors, parents, missionaries, and teachers:

[T]he sting of not seeing results can be even sharper as we are ministers of God’s Word offered into the lives of people, and we expect change and a demonstration of the effective Word of God.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

So, what is the deeper learning and formation made available to us through the pointed experience of limitation and even apparent failure in ministry?

One of the elements that attracted me to chaplaincy ministry is what is called a ministry of presence.

Presence has to do with availability at the level of the heart and mind, deep listening, empathy, connection, coming along side, walking with, and accompanying.

My theology of ministry is informed by Trinitarian theology that accentuates mutual relationship and respectful, non-coercive presence…

My point is that the primary element in biblical counseling and other forms of ministry is to be an agent of God’s presence to the other person, rather than an agent of our own anxious agenda to fix the other person…

…This fix-it mentality has a dimension of coercion and subtle violence that is not of God. It is success oriented rather than Spirit oriented. This requires humility and sobriety on the part of the counselor or minister.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Mark 10:45 (ESV)

As counselors we are mere servants of the Word, and our measure of success is not the world’s. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has a different logic and grammar…

The Divine Physician is the one who completes, who fixes, who brings to completion the shattered and broken human heart. We have been given the dignity to be called into ministry by the Spirit and to be ambassadors of Christ.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.2 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV)

There is good news here: we do not need to be God! The dignified service God has given us, His sons and daughters, is to plant and water the seed of His Word in the lives of others, and He will give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

This is a liberating message that frees us to be present to others in ministry, not for our sense of accomplishment, but for the love of the Father, whose Spirit will blow when and as it wills, over the lives of the those who He has placed in our path.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.John 3:8 (ESV)

 

January 16, 2019

Five Practices Needed to Ward Off Lack of Faith

The major takeaway I took from today’s devotional is that spiritual warfare is not always an external battle; it may begin with an inner fight.

Today we’re paying a return visit to the devotional page at Daily Paradigm Shift. We visit these blogs either annually or every six months in the hope that at some of them you’ll see writing which resonates and want to bookmark or subscribe to their sites.

Today’s writer is Brian Maisch.

5 Tactics for Fighting Unbelief

It could be argued that the greatest enemy in our spiritual walk is unbelief. Someone might say, “No, it’s Satan.” However, as one of my favorite Christian teachers likes to say, “The bible doesn’t say, ‘pick up your cross, deny the devil, and follow Jesus.’ It says, ‘Deny yourself, and follow Jesus‘ (Matthew 16:24 NIV emphasis added.)

In Mark Chapter 9, Jesus’ disciples are unable to cast a demon out of a boy. Then Jesus shows up on the scene and is able to cast it out. When they get alone with Jesus, the disciples ask Him why they couldn’t cast out the demon, and Jesus tells them that it is because of their unbelief. Jesus’ exact answer to the disciples is, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 NIV).

Related Post: 4 Ways to Remain Grounded and Steadfast in Your Faith

Brothers and sisters, we live under an open heaven! Satan has already been defeated. Jesus has given us the authority in the heavenly realms to unlock any door that needs to be unlocked in order to carry out His will on this earth. Matthew 18:18 NIV says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The only battle left to fight is the one we fight with ourselves to dispel unbelief and to trust God!

If the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us, then there is absolutely nothing the enemy can put in front of us that is more powerful than that Spirit. It’s not even a competition! Therefore, the enemy’s main tactic is to get us to doubt. He is constantly trying to instill unbelief, while the Holy Spirit is constantly working to instill faith. The enemy’s main tactic is to twist the truth in such a way that we begin believing things that are incorrect about God and incorrect about ourselves. Sometimes it seems like the enemy’s main weapon is the Bible itself! He twists and distorts scripture to confuse people and keep their lives from bearing fruit for the Kingdom.

So how do we practically fight? I wanted to provide a quick list of things that have helped me experience victories in fighting unbelief:

#1. Spending intimate and meaningful time in the presence of God.

Spending intimate and meaningful time in the presence of God is the most important activity in our lives. It helps us to establish a relationship with our creator. It is where we learn His nature, His voice, His touch and His will. This is how we practically allow Jesus to teach us and guide us in every step of our lives.

#2. Reading God’s word.

Maybe it would be better to say falling in love with God’s word. This goes right along with the first point. God’s word brings clarity and insight into the things that God is saying to us. It shows us God’s nature, and helps us to understand His will.

#3. Guarding our hearts and minds.

The enemy has set up the world system to fight for our affection. It will constantly try to turn us away from Jesus, and towards our own selfish desires. Therefore, we have to draw lines in the sand. We have to protect ourselves from destructive mindsets and behaviors. Part of that process is controlling what we allow into our minds. Over the years, I have had to stop watching certain television shows that I knew were destructive, distance myself from certain friends who were pulling me in the wrong direction, and surround myself with people who would hold me accountable in my areas of struggle.

#4. Hanging around people with outrageous faith.

Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church, always says, “If you want to slay giants, then hang around a giant slayer.” We all need people in our lives who stretch our faith and compel us to deeper levels of reality in the Kingdom!

#5. Fasting.

There have been so many times where I could feel the snares of the world getting a hold of me and smothering the faith in my life. Declaring a fast is a way to draw a strict line in the sand, and to separate ourselves from the worldly things that have become louder than heavenly things. Whether it is food, social media, television, or all the above, fasting is great way to unplug from the world and get plugged back into God.

These are just a few tools that have helped me in my journey. The bible provides many weapons for fighting unbelief. No matter what weapon you choose, the most important thing is engaging in the fight! Instead of rolling over and giving in to yourself, make the choice to proactively fight to dispel unbelief!

January 15, 2019

Observations from the Parable of the Wedding Banquet

by Russell Young

The parable of the wedding banquet as spoken by the Lord was to reveal some aspects of the kingdom of God to his Jewish listeners. It is recorded in Matthew 22:2─14 and in Luke 14:16─24. Those in attendance would have understood the nature of a Jewish wedding. Guests enjoyed a lavish feast and merriment that went on for seven days and would have been given in honor of the son. This banquet would have been particularly important because it was being hosted by the king. Both the importance of the invitation and the insult of its rejection could not have been missed.

Invitations delivered by the king’s servants to his chosen guests had all been rejected. Their excuses were offensive and humiliating to the ruler who had endeavored to honor both his son and those he wanted to attend. The called had considered the daily issues of life to be of greater importance than honoring their king or his son. The invitees did not have interest in the wedding nor time to show respect. Some even seized his servants, mistreating and killing them.

In anger the king destroyed their city then invited those of no significance: anyone they could find, the poor, the lame, the blind, and the weak. To his Jewish listeners such an opportunity could never have been realized by such a collection. The king had invited the lost and unlovely into his royal presence. The attitudes of the privileged and their rejection of the king’s invitation would not have been missed.

However, the parable offers insight into some other interesting observations. Many of those who had been called had rejected the invitation and not all of those who attended could remain since at least one had been thrown out.

The king’s calling can be refused! Consider the implications. The king, who represents the Lord, did not exercise absolute power over those whom he had called but had allowed them freedom of choice and had honored their decisions. In this case the Jews, those of the house of Israel, had rejected the King and his Son. According to this parable, the exercise of free-will has not been removed and all have the option to reject the king’s pleasure at their own loss. Some suppose that God’s will is absolute and beyond being refuted by mere humankind; however, people have been gifted with the ability to make choices and they will be honored.

The rejected guest was found startled or “speechless” when the king had him bound hand and foot and thrown outside. He did not expect to be denied right to the feast; after all, he had been invited. He had anticipated the occasion. Surely such a reaction would have startled Christ’s listeners as well. Why would the king have done such a thing? The guest lacked wealth, and the king had known this but had still encouraged the calling. The invitee ended up bound and in the darkness. What does this tell us?

According to the parable, his ejection was due to his lack of wedding clothes. Clearly, the guest’s attire had not been acceptable for the presence of the king or of his son and did not bring honor to the occasion. However, there were many like this guest who when called were poor, blind, lame and weak and they had managed proper clothing even in their poverty.

The parable should be carefully considered, there will be many called to the Son’s wedding banquet but not all will be chosen to attend. Only those who are appropriately dressed and who through their presentation, the testimony of their covering, will enjoy the celebration.

In speaking of faith and of the “feast”, in another place the Lord said, “I say to you many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 8:1112) The ISV translates “subjects” as “the unfaithful heirs of that kingdom,” while the Contemporary English Version presents as “the ones who should have been in the kingdom.” The Greek uses the word huios for “subjects” which means sons and refers to both Gentiles and Jews. Although the huios have been called, they must attend the wedding feast with the proper garments. (For a more detailed examination of “subjects of the kingdom” see a previous writing: “The Subjects of the Kingdom Will be Thrown Outside”.)

Many will respond to the calling with expectation and enthusiasm only to find that upon entrance, they will be bound and thrown outside because their testimony; their attire, their lack of preparation or righteousness, will not be found acceptable for the occasion.

Those not clothed in righteousness will be found “naked”. The angel to the church in Laodicea admonished, But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see, (Rev 3:17─18) Concerning the bride of Christ we are told, “his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” (Rev 19: 7─ 8) According to the book of Hebrews, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14) Although many have been called, few will be chosen (Mt 22:14) for lacking a testimony of righteousness. Many will be startled and speechless and thrown outside.

The called need to recognize their poverty and to use the resources available to “purchase” white clothing. Those who carry the stains of sin will be cast out.

The Lord also addressed the matter when he stated that “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt 7:22─23 Italics added) They were thrown outside because of their “doing” and were not allowed in through a confession once made or an invitation accepted. Their garments were stained and dirty. They needed proper wedding clothes.

The parable revealed the Lord’s perception of Israel and that nation’s rejection of him as the Son of the King. It also made known that there are expectations for those who will celebrate his Son with him and that they can either reject their calling or prepare for his kingdom. “Evil-doers” will not be welcome.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

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January 13, 2019

Examples of True Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is taken from the first three paragraphs — we’ve formatted it differently — of a much longer article at a blog which was new to us, The Millennial Christian. You can link to it at the title below, or we’ve included the link toward the end for those of you who start out reading it here.

True Worship

We have been called back to our original purpose, which is to worship God, and out of our worship the love of God flows through our mind like a cool summer breeze. Removing the character flaws of our earthen past, it instills in us the true character traits of who we were prior to our physical birth. Our spiritual age is undetermined along with the many things that will be revealed to us upon our death or resurrection. To receive our revelation we must understand that the Holy Spirit only descends upon us while we are in worship, and out of our worship our service to others is revealed. Our ministry was set before God prior to the foundations of the earth and is given to us while our mind is full of the glory of God.

Examples of true worship can be found in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation. In Isaiah 6:1-3 we read,

“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

They are worshiping our awesome God in joyous celebration.

In Ezekiel 1:1-28 we are treated to some of the events of the throne room, and a personal description of God. All of God’s creations are in continuous worship of their Majesty, and in Revelation we read,

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created. And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13)

It really makes us humans look totally pathetic in the way we treat our God, our Father.

When we get down on our knees, alone in private, we use these Biblical examples to guide us through the process of true worship. We imagine the atmosphere of heaven, the colors and sights we see in our mind’s eye. We focus our attention on the One who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb of God. Joyous noisy worship explodes from the disciples, for they cannot hold back their love for Him anymore.

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen.

The crowd detonates in glorious praise saying,

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38)

Some of the Pharisees complained to Jesus about the crowd, demanding that He quiet His followers, and Jesus said, “

I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

Worship is as important to us as food and water yet we starve our soul to death without our spiritual blessing…

continue reading here


By the same authors: How to Worship God

January 9, 2019

The One Who Has Faith is Never Insignificant

Each year we revisit the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great insights here from a variety of writers. The author of this piece is Don Lipsett. Click the title below to read at source.

(In)significant

Luke 8:42b-45aAs Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. (NIV)

Imagine the scene that day: Jesus, the Man who did miracles and spoke powerfully — unlike any other — was making His way down the street, surrounded by His disciples and a noisy, jostling crowd. Everyone was trying to get close to Him, to be seen with Him, to hear His words, or ask a question. In the dust and commotion, the woman just hoped to touch the outer hem of His robe. She was seemingly so insignificant in that whole chaotic scene, unnoticed — except by Jesus.

Do you remember about the day when the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, met Jesus?

Mark 10:46-52Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV)

Here also we find weakness, faith, and hope, face to face with the Saviour.

These incidents touch us, I believe, in their revealing how Jesus responds to faith, and to those who humbly seek. No one is insignificant to Him.

Perhaps for many of us, our contributions to and work for God’s kingdom may seem to be insignificant in the big scheme of things, or in the monotony of daily life. However, Jesus’ call to us is to be faithful. Even if our circumstances may be limiting, we can pray, and maybe, there are yet little ways that we can share God’s love and the gospel with family, friends, neighbours, strangers, or even enemies. In little things and details, people can see, and wonder, and be moved by the Holy Spirit.

As the Lord said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.(Matthew 25:40 NIV)

Prayer: God of grace and mercy, fill our weakness with Your strength, and give us faithful hearts that we may “not grow weary while doing good” (Galatians 6:9a NKJV). We ask this in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

January 2, 2019

God’s Loving Empathy

We have four women in our lives who lost their mothers in the weeks leading up to, and during the Christmas holidays. In a couple of those cases, I mentioned to them a book which released a few years ago, A Decembered Grief. The premise is that it’s hard to mourn at a time of year when everyone is programmed for celebration. There are bright lights and gifts and you start to wonder how people can offer sympathy when they’re caught up in all the “joy-to-the-world” of the holidays. Or to put it another way, it’s hard to mourn when everybody around wants to party.

That’s why we chose this devotional. It’s been six months since our last visit, and we’re back at Before the Cross. The writer this time is .

God Sees You And Hears You

Sometimes when we are going through a difficult trial in life we are tempted to believe God isn’t with us. Maybe He just really isn’t good? Maybe He is blind to what is really going on in our lives? Maybe He really doesn’t care? Maybe He doesn’t understand just how hard things are for us?

This is incredibly challenging for those of us who follow Christ and this is exactly where faith comes in.

Everything in us wants to be delivered out of the trials we find ourselves in.

  • We don’t want to lose a family member.
  • We don’t want to have to stay in our jobs that we don’t like.
  • We don’t want to have to deal with relational conflicts around us.
  • We don’t want to have to handle money problems.
  • We don’t want to have physical or mental health issues.

I was recently reading through Exodus and noticed something for the first time when reading over Exodus 4. I’ve read through this countless times and I love when God always shows me something new in Scripture.

The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years…..400 years! Imagine going through a trial that lasted 400 years. You, your children, their children, and so on…all suffered under the same trial. To the point that if you were living in this time period, you would believe that is all that existed. You would believe you were intended to be a slave. Imagine how hard to it would be to have hope that God would deliver you when you know it hasn’t happened in over 400 years?!

So long story short, as Moses and Aaron are going along and telling the people what God wanted them to say as He was preparing to deliver them out of captivity, I stumbled upon this:

“And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.”Exodus 4:31

Noticed the people’s reaction. They bowed their heads and worshiped. Why? Because God had seen them. Because God had heard them. The reality hit them that this same God, creator of the heavens and the earth, had heard their cries and seen their tears.


By His Stripes We Are Healed

 

I found this image in our files and decided to use it again. Originally, it was used in the context of a discussion as to whether or not healing is provided for in the atonement. You can read that devotional at this link. We know that the cross made our salvation possible and demonstrated victory over death. The debate is over whether physical healing is healing is included, because of the phrase, “by his stripes we are healed.”

Unfortunately, I think that in this context we lose sight of the first few words, “He has carried our griefs and carried our sorrows.” We covered that a few days ago in this devotional, and also at this article. While translators have sometimes used ‘griefs’ to be sicknesses and infirmities, there is the whole category of ‘pain’ included in this prophetic description of God’s atoning work.

December 22, 2018

Christmas: The Birth Story is a Death Story

Today’s thoughts are from a writer who is new to us. (Thanks for those of you who send recommendations.) Michael James Schwab has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico since March, 2005; “cooperating with God” at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  He blogs at ToEnjoyGod.com.

December 17, 2018

Looking Outside Your Own Self-Interest

It’s been six months already, so today we’re back at the blog of BibleStudyMagazine.com and an article rooted in one of my own favorite Bible passages. But this isn’t all about me, as you’ll see in today’s reading. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then take some time to look at other articles on the site. The author this time around is Jessi Strong.

Our (In)Significance

For most of my childhood, I didn’t know I was weird. I grew up homeschooled, and most of my friends came from conservative Christian households similar to my own. When I finally figured it out, I embarked on a series of attempts to fit in. Often that meant repeating jokes I didn’t understand, quoting movies other people liked, or pretending to be familiar with music I didn’t listen to.

I became an expert on a topic overnight in an effort to create a niche for myself. My contributions to conversation always began with things like, “That’s nothing. One time, I …” And while there was nothing inherently wrong with my desire to have friends and fit in, my attempts at belonging became unhealthy when my goal changed from finding human connection to establishing my own importance.

My mother was the first to suggest that seeking to be the center of attention was not the best way to make new friends. Instead, she suggested, “Find someone at the party who doesn’t have anyone to talk to. If you can make their night better, you’ll end up having fun too.”

Mom’s advice to look outside my own self-interest was a practical application of Paul’s instructions for the Philippian church:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3–4).

Earlier in his letter, Paul warns the Philippians that some men were preaching the gospel to inflate their own self-worth (1:15–17). When discussing those who were not preaching the true gospel, Paul appeals to Christ’s example of humility.

In my search for approval, I was trying to fulfill my own needs, but I had little motivation to look out for others’ interests. Feeling well-liked inflated my conceit—it didn’t teach me to elevate others above myself or to sacrifice for them.

Little by little, I changed my approach. I began to look for the new person in the room. Instead of dominating the conversation, I learned to ask questions. On the surface, I was practicing useful friend-making strategies, but underneath I was undergoing a change of heart. In his letter, Paul goes on to admonish the Philippians to take their example from Jesus Christ:

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (2:6–8).

This call to imitate Christ’s humility can be hard for us to hear. It turns our working model of social class on its head. We like knowing our place—especially if it’s a good one. But the gospel levels the playing field. We are all sinners. And if we are all equally in need of God’s grace, how can we evaluate our worth by comparing ourselves with others?


Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

December 10, 2018

God Knows Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Paul reminds Timothy that the scriptures are living, and because they contain life, we have a trademark of putting everything from the Bible in bold face and green. That continues today, even though the verses have been somewhat fused together from different sources. I hope I haven’t overstepped the bounds by doing this, but the words are so strongly rooted in the texts indicated.

Author Rory Norland is best known for his thoughts on worship. At his blog, Heart of the Artist, he presents a very short scripture medley each day called Daily Praise Offering. I wanted to share several posts in which verses from Psalm 139 were seamlessly joined with New Testament references.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. I worship you, Jesus, for you are the good shepherd. You know your own and your own know you. (Psalm 139:1-6; John 10:14).

Where can I go from you Spirit, O Lord? Where can I flee from your presence? And wherever two or three are gathered in your name, O Christ, you are there. There is no place I could go and be out from under your loving gaze. (Psalm 139:7-12; Matthew 18:20).

You skillfully formed my inward parts, O Lord. You intricately knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created. (Psalm 139:13-14; Revelation 4:11).

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I could count them, they are more than the sand. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But praise God we have the mind of Christ. (Psalm 139:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:16).


Michael W. Smith recites Psalm 139:


And the same text from The Message:

1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!

7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

17-18 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you! …

23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.

 

 

December 7, 2018

What You Take In and What You Get Rid Of

NLT I Peter 2:1 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment,3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

It’s been six months, and today we’re back at the website Live as If. (Part of StudyLight.org)

Today’s writer is Sandy Shaw. See below for his biography, and click the title which follows to read at source.

Keep One End Full and the Other Empty!

When we were ‘born again’ and came to believe in Jesus Christ and then learned that it was Jesus Christ Who took the initiative and called and chose us, we have that desire and motivation to serve loyally and lovingly and faithfully.

But even after receiving this wonderful new life – old habits can hang around.

Even as disciples of Jesus we are aware that old habits seem to cling to us – and we wonder if we will ever be rid of some of them. They can appear to have such a hold.

That is why Peter says – Now make the effort to get rid of certain things.

The new life will never die – but the old ways have to die.

We are in the concluding verses of I Peter Chapter 1.

When you are born again a seed is planted in us – verse 23 – the word used is “sperm” or “spore”. God planted His Sperm in us – it sounds very physical as well as spiritual – and it is – because just like a baby that seed has to grow, and develop and mature.

We are born again and after we have lived a number of years, we can discover that some habits and traits can be difficult to break.

It can be like men taking the hardest of granite.

In order to break that hard rock – they drill holes in it – a series of them – and then they break of pieces of a tree and place these pieces in each hole – and pour water in every day for two or three weeks. The cells of the wood grow – and the granite is split.

Life – new life – can crack and break that which is hard. The life of God in us and watered regularly through the Word and prayer and fellowship – can crack bad habits – and push other things out of the way – things that God does not want us to have in our lives.

We have to learn a new language as we speak to a new Father. We are a new baby growing – and we have to learn to walk and talk.

The physical life and spiritual life need the same kind of care.

One medical man said recently when asked by a new mother for one piece of advice as she was about to take the new five days old baby home – he said this – “Keep one end full and the other end empty and you won’t go far wrong”.

That is basically what Peter is saying here – Keep one part empty – and the other part full – and you disciples will not go far wrong.

Babies need washing and cleaning – and so do all growing Christians. As soon as the baby is born those present take away all the traces of that former existence in the womb. We too need to be washed and cleansed from our former existence – with all the traces being removed. That is why we have Baptism.

Peter mentions five things – which can cause spiritual disease if not dealt with. These five things can become a source of ill health.

1. Malice – that certainly can prevent or stunt or thwart your growth. Malice has been described as – a perverted joy in hurting someone else. Or it is a desire to bring a person down a peg or two. Peter says – now get rid of that.

2. Deceit – guile – being deceitful – being too clever by half. Peter says – now get all of that out of your life – have nothing to do with underhand methods – and don’t be a snake in the grass.

3. Hypocrisy – insincerity – play acting. Take off any mask – be real. Don’t be hiding behind some exterior – deal with that at the beginning of your Christian Life. Be what God would have you to be.

4. Envy – this was responsible for the first murder in history. Envy looks at someone and says – “They have more money than I have – they have more opportunities than me – they have more gifts than I have – they have more friends than I have. They have more – and I resent that!

Envy is a horrible thing – and Peter says don’t envy – get rid of all that. Get this side cleaned up – if you want to grow.

5. Slander of every kind – this can be so harmful if it is allowed to lurk around – gossip. It is like a beast of prey that does not wait for the death of the creature it devours.

These must be washed out of our lives – and then we are told to crave pure spiritual milk.

LUNGE at the very breast of God. We need more than just rooting out bad things – we need to be filled with good things.

Keep one end empty – and the other end full – and you won’t go far wrong as you follow Jesus Christ.

“Gracious God, help us to be rid of those things which should have no place in our lives. We find this difficult at times. Enable us to grasp the truth of your Word in this part of Scripture – and as we feed upon Your Word day by day, may we grow and develop and mature. Risen and living Jesus, help us. Holy Spirit, help us.” Amen.

– Sandy Shaw


Word from Scotland‘ Copyright 2018 © Sandy Shaw; used by permission.

More devotions like this at Live As If.

Alexander “Sandy” Shaw is pastor of Nairn Christian Fellowship in Nairn, Scotland. Nairn is 17 miles east of Inverness – on the Moray Firth Coast – not far from the Loch Ness Monster! Gifted as a Biblical teacher, Sandy is firmly committed to making sure that his teachings are firmly grounded in the Word. Sandy has a weekly radio talk which can be heard via the Internet on Saturday at 11:40am, New Orleans time, at wsho.com.

November 28, 2018

The Life We’ve Been Given

We’re returning to a writer we introduced to you six months ago at one of our Sunday Worship columns. John R. Shuman writes at Truth Fully Spoken. This was part of a post for the U.S. Thanksgiving, so we’ve modified the introduction, but if you prefer, click the (revised non-seasonal) title below to read this article in full at the original site.

I Am Thankful for Life

Everyday IS A Gift

Nothing is ever promised, we are never guaranteed anything beyond this moment…

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:31-32

31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

And James 4:13-14 says:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

We are nothing more than a “mist”, something that hangs around for a moment and then disappears.  And we are not promised anything beyond this moment.  Today is a day to reflect on the gift we were given, the gift of life.

Life IS A Gift

Every breath we have is a gift.  Every heartbeat (as stated in the song, thank you Randy) is a gift from God.  And Jesus tells us that in John 10:7-10

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

Jesus came to us to save us, yes, but more than that, he came to Give us LIFE, more life than we ever knew existed, more life than we deserve, more life than we can handle on our own.  And the life we get is freely given by Jesus because….

Jesus IS Life

John 1:1-5 talks about Jesus in this way…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Jesus is (according to this passage)

  1. The word (vs 1)
  2. God (vs 1)
  3. Eternal (vs 2)
  4. Creator (vs 3)
  5. ESSENTIAL (vs 3)
  6. Life (vs 4)
  7. Light (vs 4)
  8. Not understood by those not in the light.  (vs 5)

And those things are important to living.  Everyone of those things are needed for us to live.  we must…

  1. read God’s word- we can not know God without knowing His word.
  2. accept God into our life- we can not accept God before we Know His word.
  3. Follow God for eternity- life does not cease here, we are told that we have an eternity beyond this lifespan.
  4. create a new lifestyle. Once we follow God we must be dead to our old life and be born again a new creation.
  5. We must BE Essential, we must be a shining example for all to see so that others will see God in us.
  6. We MUST LIVE- we can not hide away once we follow God, laws do not stop just because we follow God.  So we still need to work, and live a life here.
  7. We must shine for the world, we NEED to be the light of man.  we need to be the flame that draws moths in.
  8. We must PROVIDE understanding to the world, so that they will no longer be in darkness.

Jesus is our life, and we must give that life to the world just as Jesus gave us life.  John 3:16-17 (my favorite verses) tells us

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

God freely gives us this life, life EVERLASTING, and He gave it to us so that we might spend eternity WITH HIM.  He does not want us to perish, he does not want us to walk in the darkness, he does not want us to die without knowing Him.  What God wants is for us to HAVE LIFE, and have life MORE ABUNDANTLY!

Give Thanks

So, I am thankful for LIFE, because this moment is more than I was promised, this moment is a gift from God, and this moment is a time to celebrate.  The life I have is not mine, it is God’s, and I am thankful for that.  This life was given to me by God, and I am thankful for that.  The people around me (family and friends) get to share in this life with me, and I am thankful for that.  My job is an extension of my life, part of who I am, and I am thankful for that.  My life is full of mercy, grace, forgiveness, love, and compassion… Not mine but God’s, and I am thankful for that.

So, if you ask me “What are you thankful for?” And I reply “Life!” you now know that there is more to life than meets the eye.  I am overflowing with thanksgiving, and to limit that thankfulness to people or things does an injustice to the very life I have that makes it so I can enjoy those other things.

Prayer Time

God, THANK YOU for this life, thank you for giving me more life than I knew existed, thank you for giving ME anything at all, but especially this life.  Thank you, Jesus, for providing me the life needed to spread you light throughout the world, I pray that the moths are drawn to this flame so that they might gather the understanding of the light and they too can spread it wherever they may go.  Lord, I know that this is not always a time of celebration, but in some lives a time of sadness, I pray that you provide comfort to us that grieve now be with us as we go on through life.  Sadness is fleeting, pain heals, emotions will change, and emptiness will be filled, but these do take time, Lord be with those people that need it and let them know you are there for the ENTIRE time.  I lift up your children, Lord, for we are always in need of reminders of your love, grant us your love and mercy every moment of every day and help us to remember that you are there and that you are freely giving us all we need.  THANK YOU GOD FOR GIVING ME THIS ABUNDANT LIFE!

 

 

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
Tags: , , ,


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
Tags: , , ,

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 . . .”

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