Christianity 201

May 22, 2021

When Face Masks Block the Light

A year later, we are returning to the website Sacred Sandwich. This article touches on a subject I was thinking about just a week ago and I urge you to click the header below to read it in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Is Your Face Shining With The Light Of Christ?

“…It is ours to reflect the light.. and to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” — C.H. Spurgeon, 1879

It is not until you’ve been forced to wear a mask during a pandemic that you truly value the power of your face. No sooner have you exchanged glances with someone that you suddenly realize they can’t see your hidden smile, and you in turn have no idea what they might be expressing to you under that piece of cloth. It is in that awkward moment that you immediately comprehend how dehumanizing and frustrating it is to have your face so savagely removed from the process of interpersonal communication and emotional connection. No doubt this is why so many masked people these days seem to avoid eye contact altogether, walking past you like soulless zombies in a private hell.

For joyful Christians who demonstrate the grace of God through the social graces, this can be a difficult time for missional endeavors. As ambassadors for Christ who are called to be a light in this dark world, our shining faces are essential in communicating the Gospel to those with whom we interact during the course of our day. The Gospel, you see, is conveyed with more than mere words or deeds. It is a message of love and grace, fueled by the Holy Spirit, that can be powerfully expressed in the very countenances of our faces. Does the Scriptures not tell us so?

Indeed, the Bible teaches that the inward spiritual transformation of the Christian will bear outward “fruit” as the believer increases in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10). By the grace of God, those drawn to Christ have been “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Romans 12:2) and now possess the wisdom of God’s truth embedded in their hearts. This sacred Gospel knowledge imparted by His Spirit is a sparkling treasure in earthen vessels that will always radiate through the bright eyes and happy wrinkles of our beaming faces. Indeed, as God’s word tells us, “a man’s wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed” (Ecclesiastes 8:1).

Once freed from the chains of sin and guilt by Christ’s sacrifice, the wise Christian’s once-dour face is forever changed, shining “as the brightness of the firmament” and appearing like “stars forever and ever” so that the believer might “turn many people to righteousness” through the illumination of the Gospel (Daniel 12:3). Even stretching into eternity, Jesus has assured us, “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).

Light, therefore, is intrinsic to the new nature of those transformed by Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells His people. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Jesus Christ, in fact, is our example to be emulated so that we might become “the children of Light” (John 12:36). During his earthly ministry, our Lord spoke to his disciples, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And how was His light often transmitted in its full power and glory? Why, in His glorious face! “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

“In the face of Christ!” Imagine being witness to those historic supernatural events bathed in the brilliance of Christ’s white-hot countenance. How thrilling it would have been to stand beside Peter, James, and John in the high mountain when they saw their Master “transfigured before them,” where “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Or being there to share in John’s vision of Christ holding seven stars in his right hand, a sharp double-edged sword coming from His mouth, and seeing His face “like the sun shining at its brightest” (Revelation 1:16).

One day, of course, the redeemed people of God will literally witness such a marvelous sight when “night will be no more, and they will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). And what a glorious thought this is as we anticipate His return to usher us into this bright eternity.

Until that day, however, the question remains: how do we as Christians bring Christ’s light to our faces to help convey the Gospel message in this dark world? Quite simply, it can only happen when we are in daily communion with the Lord. Just as Moses’ face radiated with the fiery glory of God when he returned from his interaction with the Divine in Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29), so too the Christian’s face should be filled with the reflected light of Christ’s glory after boldly approaching His heavenly throne through fervent prayer, worship, and the reading of His word. It is, after all, the spiritual culmination of “fixing our eyes upon Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).

As the old hymn beautifully says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

When believers are regularly energized through communion with the holy dynamo that is Christ Jesus, such fellowship cannot help but show forth in their outward expression. This spiritual interaction with the eternal Light of the world produces a godly, compelling visage that can draw the attention of those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 5:6). As explained by Matthew Henry, “Near and spiritual communion with God improves the graces of a renewed and holy character. Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man’s countenance, such as commands esteem and affection.”

This noticeable “lustre,” therefore, should be the goal of every Christian who desires to be used for God’s glory in bringing the lost to Christ. “Every Christian life,” insists Alexander Maclaren, “should be a life of increasing lustre, uninterrupted, and the natural result of increasing communion with, and conformity to, the very fountain itself of heavenly radiance.”

It is here where the Christian must be very careful not to pursue this heavenly radiance under their own power. This is not something that can be manufactured by sheer will or desire. We must never think we can put on a “happy Christian mask” of our own creation to hide a dark face still burdened by stagnant discipleship, ongoing sin or suspect faith.

When Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees, “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:25), He was using a common theatrical term of His day that denotes a stage actor in a Greek play who often wore a mask to “assume a role and identity that were not truly his own and performed for the audience’s approval” (Jesus and the Theatre, New Testament Studies, Vol. 30, 1984). The grave implications of being a hypocrite, therefore, are readily apparent. If you, as a professing Christian, are wearing the false mask of an actor because you are “more concerned with your public image rather than with genuine fidelity to God” (Ibid), then do not be surprised if the Lord soon calls you out as a liar and a hypocrite.

The true disciple of Christ has no need to hide behind a false mask. Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church, is a case in point. To be sure, this servant of God was a humble disciple “full of God’s grace and power” who preached Christ with a true supernatural “lustre” that came from the Holy Spirit. There, even among the enemies of Christ, Stephen displayed in his face a real godly wisdom and calm serenity that struck at the very hearts of his listeners as he delivered his Gospel message. As the Bible records, “Gazing at Stephen, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

Did this mean that Stephen looked like an effeminate cherub from an old Renaissance painting? Of course not. John Gill tells us that the beauty displayed in Stephen’s face was consistent with the “lovely and amiable” angels of God, “who when they appeared to men, it was in very glorious and splendid forms.” Indeed, the Bible reminds us that angelic beings are “angels of light” that can have “faces like the sun” (Revelation 10:1). And so it was with Stephen’s appearance at the very moment of his martyrdom when his face reflected the heavenly vision he saw of Christ standing at the right Hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).

At this point, perhaps, the Christian may look in the mirror and become worried that the face looking back at him or her has little of the biblical radiance of an angel of God. This, of course, can be a frequent concern among those who are poor in spirit as humble servants and are often “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Whether this fear of a dim spiritual condition is based on one’s lack of godly discipleship or from an overly-harsh assessment of their position in Christ, it makes little difference. The answer is simply to renew one’s commitment to Christ and seek His face at every opportunity. When our spiritual focus wanes, how blessed we are to have a God who is “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psalm 145:8).

This is why the Bible is filled with repeated heartfelt petitions to the Lord, actively seeking His face and asking that He might “make His face shine upon thee” (2 Chronicles 7:14; Numbers 6:25; Psalm 27:8; 105:4-5). It is the shining face of God which imparts His grace and warms us in the rays of His care and benevolence. This, in turn, recharges us and brings a renewed spiritual brightness to our faces. It may not be a vivid, supernatural light of biblical proportion, but nevertheless the public around you will no doubt see a striking difference in your facial expression.

“It is not unusual,” writes theologian Albert Barnes, “for deep feeling, sincerity, and confidence in God, to impress themselves on the countenance.” Even the slightest Spirit-driven influence upon your face can mark you as “peculiar” and distinct from the world. As Scripture declares, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” And why are you set apart from the crowd? “So that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

In this way, your happy face with sparkling eyes, a radiant smile, and the glowing cast of spiritual serenity can truly proclaim the light of the glory of Jesus Christ. And if the dazzling beauty of Christ and the shimmering power of the Holy Spirit rests upon your countenance, perhaps one day it will also warm and enlighten the heart of a lost sinner who then will ask you “the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). As C.H. Spurgeon encourages us on this point, “Scatter your light in all unselfishness. Wish to shine, not that others may say ‘How bright he is,’ but that they may rejoice in the Source from which the light came to you and to them.”

Thus, the Christian should always ask, “Is the Light of Christ still shining in my face?” This may not be an easy question to answer these days. Sadly, we live in a stressful age of suppressive masks and fearful faces that have hardened and waxed cold. Now, more than ever, we must diligently and continually seek after Jesus, knowing that the Captain of our salvation will gladly fill our faces with His eternal brilliance to powerfully shine the Gospel “upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79).

Regardless of our circumstance, may we heed the charge of David’s inspired psalm in order to emit the rays of Christ’s glorious light in this dark and fear-gripped world:

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD be joyful! Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face for evermore!” (1 Chronicles 16:8-11).

If this we do, then no mask on earth will ever dim our glorious shine for Jesus.

April 11, 2021

Jesus: His Heart, Will, Cross, Joy, and Love

Eph. 5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Today and tomorrow, we’re going to reach back to the hymnbook and look at two individuals hymns which so well express period in the church calendar we’ve just experienced: The Good Friday / Easter story. Some of you may be unfamiliar with this song, and the YouTube videos for it are either instrumentals, or take a 1950’s ‘gospel’ approach to it. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the church founded by Oswald J. Smith, the writer, so I got to hear this the way his own church first heard it. My suggestion is that you find the print music and get someone to play it for you.

I hope this also benefits any of you who would desire to write lasting Christian material.

The process here is simple: Each verse is a snapshot of Jesus’ road to the cross. The first verse is general, but includes the picture of Jesus stooping. Is this a reference to Jesus washing His disciples feet? I think that was in mind.

The motif is a basic principle: As I get to know more about why, as I pray to be a better follower, as I experience Christ’s own prayer time in the garden, as I experience personal resurrection, and as I respond with worship and praise; as I do all these things listed in the third line of each verse, then what happens?

Then I find myself in the state mentioned in the last line of each stanza: I return to Jesus, I am shaped and molded, I am the beneficiary of grace, I am supported and sustained, I am ecstatically lost in thanksgiving and adoration.

So the song moves from the washing of the disciples feet, to the breaking of bread (‘take,’ ‘break’), to Gethsemane, to the betrayal and arrest, to “the world below,” (a reference to the worst this world can offer, or the Hades of the Apostles Creed, I’m not sure), to rising from the dead, to the complete recognition of how all this lifts us from our sin with reverberations into eternity.

1. Into the heart of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Seeking to know the reason
Why He should love me so,
Why He should stoop to lift me
Up from the miry clay,
Saving my soul, making me whole,
Though I had wandered away.

2. Into the will of Jesus,
Deeper and deeper I go,
Praying for grace to follow,
Seeking His way to know;
Bowing in full surrender
Low at His blessed feet,
Bidding Him take, break me and make,
Till I am molded, complete.

3. Into the cross of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Following through the garden,
Facing the dreaded foe;
Drinking the cup of sorrow,
Sobbing with broken heart,
"O Savior, help! Dear Savior, help!
Grace for my weakness impart."

4. Into the joy of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Rising, with soul enraptured,
Far from the world below.
Joy in the place of sorrow,
Peace in the midst of pain,
Jesus will give, Jesus will give;
He will uphold and sustain.

5. Into the love of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Praising the One Who brought me
Out of my sin and woe;
And through eternal ages
Gratefully I shall sing,
"O how He loved! O how He loved!
Jesus, my Lord and my King!"

So is this just a classroom exercise in poetry analysis? There are some principles here.

  1. If we wish to write things that will endure, things with substance we must begin with scripture.
  2. If we wish to depict Christ — in words or in visuals — we need to take our cues from the narrative that already exists; in other words, the gospel writers give us a beautiful picture and nothing should be added or subtracted from it.
  3. We must remember that what Christ did, is part of what had already been planned, and has ramifications for what will take place, including our standing side-by-side with saints from decades and centuries prior.
  4. Songs (and poems) can teach. The Christian songwriter is part artist, part Bible expositor.
  5. Many of the older hymns seem to implore the hearer to make a response, but any song of proclamation (i.e. not a ‘vertical’ worship song) should cause us to want to respond. Here, if you are not struck by overcoming thanksgiving — “O how He loved!” — then your life stands in contrast to that of the hymn-writer. So you don’t need to beg hearers to respond, a person who truly sees the passion in the song will be broken by it.

John 20

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Tomorrow: Part two of two.

April 8, 2021

What’s Included In Romans 8’s “All Things?”

Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon will appear tomorrow.

Today we’re again back at the website Forward >> Progress, the personal website of Michael Kelley who is an in-house curriculum develolper for LifeWay. Because he does what he does as his vocation, you know his daily devotionals are going to be good, and the one we selected for today is no exception. Click the header below to read this at his site, and then take a few minutes to look around at his books and other writings.

What “All Things” Should We Expect from God?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32).

If you read these verses in isolation, there are a number of questions that ought to come to mind. You might, for example, ask, “What things?” Paul the apostle has some pretty audacious promises to make here, and he does so in response to “these things.” So what things lay the background for his rhetorical claims here?

Well, the “these things” are the weighty truths Paul has written about in the first 7 chapters of Romans. They’re the truths of sinful humanity’s desperate situation, whether Jew or Greek, from Romans 1-3. They’re the truths of the necessity of faith from Romans 4 and the peace we can have with God from Romans 5. They’re the truths of our ongoing battle with sin and the only power to overcome it from Romans 6-7. And they’re the truths of the indwelling Spirit, the fatherhood of God, and our adoption as sons and daughters from Romans 8. Those are “these things.”

In response to the ocean of grace given to us in Christ, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” For surely God is for us. How could we conclude otherwise in light of everything we’ve just read? Yes, God is most certainly for us. But not stopping there, Paul asked another rhetorical question:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And this is where we ought to ask a second question of our own. We know what “these things” are, but what about “all things?” What are the “all things” we can and should expect from God, in light of the fact that He has already given us so much?

This is a big question. It is, after all, a question that relates deeply to our expectations and our future. It has bearing on how equipped and fortified we will be through life. It matters to both what is happening right now and what will happen in the future. But it’s also a big question because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know our tendency toward dissatisfaction.

Let’s face it – we are not a very content culture. If we order cheeseburger, we wonder if we could have a few strips of bacon. If we buy a new TV, we wonder just how big the screen could be and still fit on our wall. If we go on a vacation, we wonder what it would have been like if we had paid a little more for the hotel. We are always pushing for more. More food, more entertainment, more prosperity, more of everything.

So when we come to this promise in Romans 8 – that God will give us “all things”, there is at least a part of us that looks around at everything the world has to offer and rubs our hands together. Does “all things” mean money? Power? Prestige? Constant good health?

Interestingly, this is not the first time in Romans 8 a question like this comes up. If you look back just a few verses to one of the most widely quoted verses in the Bible, you find this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Here, again, we find ourselves drifting into the same thought pattern. God works all things together for our good. So what exactly does that mean? Does it mean we will face no troubles? No difficulties? No sickness? And the answer here is no. You only have to keep reading in Romans 8 to find that there will be all kinds of things that might threaten to separate us from God’s love – things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (v. 35). Clearly, then, Paul doesn’t mean that we won’t ever suffer in this life.

Back, then, to our question – what are the “all things” we can expect from God?

The answer to both of these issues is in God’s intent for us. His intent is emphatically not that we never have difficulty, but instead that we become more and more like Jesus. This is what God is moving us toward in this life – to be be conformed to the image of His Son. It is not a life without difficulty; it is a life that looks more and more like Jesus. The “all things” God will give us are those things which equip and form us in this pursuit.

Maybe a little illustration here – when our family goes camping, we go to the back of the garage and get two plastic tubs and put them in the car. Over the years, we have accumulated everything we need in those tubs. There are lanterns, cooking supplies, matches, s’more sticks, bug spray, flashlights – you name it. And when we run out of one of those things on the trip, we make it a point to refresh the supply before we put the tubs away. That way, when it’s time to go, we don’t have to do another inventory – we know we have “all things” we need.

For camping.

We do not have “all things” we need to go another kind of vacation. Or the movies. Or to school or work. For the specific purpose of camping, though, we have everything we need.

Here is the answer to the question. God has outfitted us with “all things” we need for us to live His highest purpose for our lives, which is to become more like this. Of this we can be absolutely sure – no matter what else happens, He has given us all we need for this specific journey. For this specific purpose. In light of that, the new question is whether our purpose for our lives is the same as His.

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

…each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

January 21, 2021

Genesis 3 and The End of a Golden Era

Ed. Note: Today we’re repeating the very first column we carried from Canadian Pastor and regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon, which appeared here on October 18, 2012.


by Clarke Dixon

A Golden Era is a time we look back upon with fondness, a time we think of as having something special about it. We might think of the golden era of cars, which for me would be the 1980s as I could still do my own oil changes on the cars I owned from that era. Since those cars I have not even been able to find the oil filters never mind change them. And we might think of the golden era for music. Eighties again with bands like U2, and REM, and other bands I could easily spell.

As for the Bible, there is no doubt that Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are a golden era. In those good ole days God “saw that it was good.” Also, Adam was over the moon about his new partner Eve and both of them could enjoy a full relationship with God. All is good. But it didn’t last very long. In fact in my edition of the Bible there are 1048 pages and the golden era is done by page 3! So what went wrong?

We might jump to the conclusion that everything went wrong when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit and that this is primarily a matter of obedience. However things began to unravel before that and in fact the disobedience was a symptom of a bigger problem. What is the root problem? Let’s look at where it all starts going wrong:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:1,2 NIV)

You can’t hear the serpent’s tone but you can imagine it: “Did God really say . . ?” I imagine the tone to be one that sows ominous seeds. It is a bit like my Dad’s complaint about how the Irish (which includes my Mum, my brother and I) will ask a question while giving the answer they want to hear: “you don’t really want to do that, do you?” On the lips of the serpent to Eve, “Surely God didn’t say something as silly as that, did he?” The seeds of doubt are sown. Eve corrects the snake somewhat, but then comes the punchline:

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5 NIV)

The seeds of doubt give way to a blooming assault on trust. The serpent’s words may as well be “God is a liar, listen to me for I know better.” This is not merely a matter of obedience, this is primarily a matter of trust as Eve and Adam end up placing their trust in the serpent rather than God. Not only that but Eve trusts her own judgement, and Adam likewise, over God’s:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6)

We live in a time and place where the serpent’s words are like an echo that keeps coming back like a broken record (did I mention record players and the golden era of musical gadgets?); “God didn’t really say that, did he? God doesn’t really even exist, does he? You don’t really believe that, do you? Your religion is full of fools who are lying to you, trust us.” Seeds of doubt in previous generations have given way to a blooming assault on trust in our day. How must we cope as we see the core problem of the fall in Genesis 3, misplaced trust, replayed over and over again in our day? Two things:

  1. Training in apologetics.
    With Adam and Eve the problem was not merely that they stopped trusting God, but rather that they placed greater trust in the serpent and in their own ideas. And so today, I don’t think the problem is that people stop trusting God, or fail to place their trust in God, so much as they place greater trust elsewhere. Experts say this and that about such and such, and “we trust that, end of story”. However, there are many wonderful experts who have much to say about the same things from a Christian perspective and who evidence a wonderful trust in God. We do well to learn this stuff! There are many great resources for apologetics available, we might even call it a golden era of apologetics (email me for recommendations if you like).
  2. Follow Jesus.
    Just as there was a temptation at the beginning of humanity, there was a temptation at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. If you take a moment to read Luke 4:1-13 you will see something remarkable. With every temptation Jesus responds to the devil with “it is written” and a quotation from the Old Testament. “Actually, what God says is . . .” and Jesus begins his ministry with a complete trust and confidence in the Father.

As we live in such a skeptical society as ours, assaulting trust on every side as if we are somehow stuck in Genesis 3, let us commit to being more knowledgeable Christians who follow Jesus closely. And remember, by the grace of God the golden era is ahead of us!

 

December 6, 2020

God Sees … He Always Sees

Today we return for a visit with Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement (dailyencouragement.net) and a reminder that nothing escapes God’s vision. If you click the header below, there’s also a story* illustrating today’s scriptural principle, though it may you leave you wary of using self-serve dessert bars in restaurants.

Cover-Up

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9).

“Cover-up” is a word we often associate with politics but there are cover-ups in every sphere of life. [click the link above to read the story which appears here]

Among man’s many remedies for the sin problem is the feeble attempt to cover-up. Adam and Eve tried it first but their act was followed by many in Scripture and of course all throughout history. Numbers 32:23 states, Be sure that your sin will find you out. God’s only remedy for sin is Christ and our responsibility is confession and repentance which involves turning away from the sin.

David tried to cover-up after his sin with Bathsheba. It was a progressive attempt beginning with deceit, misuse of power, forcing others to do wrong such as Joab the Commander, and ending with multiple murders (see 2 Samuel 11:17).

But God sees. He always sees. We may very well fool our fellow human and get by for a while but we never fool God. We may deceive ourselves and feel the cover-up worked but ultimately a price will be paid. Sin is often wrapped in lovely packaging but it carries a significant price tag to those who make the purchase.

When David sinned God was watching and the thing David had done displeased the LORD. It remains a constant on this side of eternity that he who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy“.

This Proverb is mirrored in one of the great New Testament promises. We urge you to receive and practice it today. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Daily prayer: Merciful Father, may I never consider my good works or righteous acts to be payment or a cover-up for the hidden sin I harbor in my heart. Instead I want my attitude to be that of the publican in Luke who humbly came before You and cried out, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” If I exalt myself it will lead to my downfall. But if I humble myself I will exalt You. So I come to You with a contrite heart, confess my sins, and ask Your forgiveness through Christ Jesus my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Cover-Up (Part 2)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

[this message continues using the illustration presented in the first one, which you need to click the upper link to read…then click this one to see where the story goes next!]

…[S]ome things others might easily see we may miss entirely, whether it’s due to our ignorance or willful looking the other way. And then there are those things we are not proud of that we try to hide from other’s view. But Hebrews 4:13 states, Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Today let us live with the solemn realization that our sin will never go undetected by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-present, holy God. Indeed, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight”. But we also live with the solemn blessing of His forgiveness when we go to Him with a humble and contrite heart.

Daily prayer: Faithful Father, Your Word shows us that obedience brings about blessing but disobedience brings about dishonor. I want to honor You with my life, for there is nothing hidden from Your eyes. Help me to uphold the standards of truth and honesty as revealed through Your unchanging Holy Word. When I’m confronted with my sin help me to have the fortitude and courage to deal with it. May I not cover it up, seek to justify it, blame others, procrastinate or deceive myself. Thank You for granting complete forgiveness to those who come to You with a contrite heart willing to lay down sin and take up righteousness. Amen.


*Illustrations can be powerful tools but when we started doing devotionals at the “201” level we decided to go directly to the meat of the passage or article.

November 10, 2020

I Want to Know More (Spiritual Knowledge) and How to Use that Information (Spiritual Wisdom)

Today marks the longest title for a devotional here! I could have made that more concise, but I wanted to frame what follows within the title itself.

The basics of our faith are simple enough that even a child can understand. In fact, a child-like innocence is almost a requirement, since our sophisticated, adult, intellectual, rational processing can sometimes put us at a disadvantage.

Then 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

Contextually, this chapter begins with a teaching on spiritual humility, but the model of child-like exuberance with which we enter the Kingdom makes it clear that child can understand all that’s needed to be understood to turn (ESV), change (NIV), become converted (NASB, NKJV) from a recognized pattern of sin to a desire to live, through the power of Christ’s atonement, a sin-rejecting life. (See how easy it is to lose the child-like language and make it complicated!)

But what comes next? Hopefully a desire to gain some sophistication in our knowledge of the one who saved us, who we endeavor to serve.

Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. – Hosea 6:3a NKJV

Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:3 NIV

And sometimes, this is where the subject matter can start to get dry for some people. It shouldn’t. We’re getting to know a someone. We want to follow that person the same way the students of a rabbi would follow his life and teachingWe want to be able to convey all of this to others so they can join us.

It should excite us.

My wife is working on a graduate degree in theology. This week they asked the following essay question. I’d love to reprint her answer here, and perhaps we’ll circle back to that at some point, but instead I’ll offer my own.

After morning worship one Sunday, you are chatting with a man named Bob, and he learns you are studying… Bob says, “Systematic Theology? Why would you waste your time with that? What’s the point of all those endless debates? We just need to get on with the mission!” How do you respond to Bob? …

I contemplated this earlier today, and all I could think of when I thought of the word theology was Theophilus. We meet him in the introduction to Luke’s writings:

NIV.Luke.1.1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

NIV.Acts.1.1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…

Theophilus’ name means a lover of God, or a lover of the things of God, or, if I may, a lover of theology! The name may refer to an actual person, or it may be a poetic way of indicating all those who have a heart for God as revealed in the life of Jesus.

From there I thought about all that is written about key people in our world. Especially sports heroes and entertainers such as actors, musicians, authors, etc.

Think of all the statistics that are kept on players of all types of sports (including, perhaps sadly, their financial earnings.) All those numbers! Is it boring? Yes; to me. I’m not a sports guy. To my friend Gary who has a ravenous appetite for all things hockey? Not at all.

Think of all the little details that websites like IMDb keep on actors. What they’ve done on television, in movies and on stage in live performance. All that data. Is it boring? For me; yes! (Seems I’m not a fan of the arts, either. Sorry, folks!) But to others, the information is almost intoxicating.

What about Jesus? I want to know more. The background information is never boring. And the implications of his life and teaching — to bring us back to the topic of theology — are always filled with material for discussion.

Theology will always seem boring if we don’t have a love for God; a desire to follow on and know more about Jesus. But if we are a Theophilus, we’ll want to soak it up like a sponge.

Are you a Theophilus?

 

 

September 29, 2020

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

Every once in awhile, my mother speaks to me from the grave.

Before you change channels, let me explain.

In her later years — and even some not so later ones — she had a habit of writing fragments of hymn lyrics on scraps of paper. Her thing wasn’t Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but those older, richer hymns that nobody bothers with anymore unless Chris Tomlin ‘discovers’ them.

The green piece of scrap paper read,

Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

It’s a line from “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (full lyrics below) and it somewhat captures one of the things I’ve been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I’m convinced that what keeps people from crossing the line of faith, and what causes others to wander from the fold, is not the allegiance of Evangelicals with a particular political party, the injustice of police interactions with people of color, or the tornadoes, floods and brush fires.

I think it’s more personal. I think it’s unanswered prayer. The time they reached out to God and God didn’t appear to come through for them in the desired time-frame. (Click the date-links in each to read in full.)

It’s been a recurring theme here at C201.

In December, 2011, we quoted from Steven Furtick’s book, Sun Stand Still:

…I’ve seen couples who had been labeled infertile give birth to healthy boys and girls. I’ve seen people lose their job, pray, and quickly land a new job that paid twice as much and required a fraction of the travel as the last job.

Sometimes—a lot of times—it goes that way. Faith works. Prayers produce. Praise God. There’s nothing better.

But sometimes—a lot of times, honestly—it goes the other way. Sometimes the sun doesn’t stand still. Sometimes the sun goes down.

Sometimes you pray your best, most honest, heartfelt prayers—and there is no answer. Or the answer is no. Sometimes, even though your motives are pure, your desire is good, and your need is urgent, the breakthrough doesn’t come. The turnaround moment doesn’t occur. The cancer spreads. The finances get tighter. The marriage feels more lonely. The kids grow more distant…

Also in December, 2011, we borrowed from Jon Swanson:

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus.

…“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home…

…Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

In January, 2012, our guest author was Robert Moon:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

In March, 2012, some powerful thoughts from an anonymous writer:

“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13, NKJV)

We all go through disappointments, setbacks and things that we don’t understand. Maybe you prayed for a loved one, but they didn’t get well. Or maybe you worked hard for a promotion, but you didn’t get it. You stood in faith for a relationship, but it didn’t work out. One of the best things you can do is release it. Let it go. Don’t dwell on it anymore. If you go around wondering why things didn’t work out, all that’s going to do is lead to bitterness, resentment and self-pity. Before long, you’ll be blaming others, blaming yourself, or even God. You may not have understood what happened. It may not have been fair. But when you release it, it’s an act of your faith. You’re saying, “God, I trust You. I know You’re in control. And even though it didn’t work out my way, You said, ‘All things are going to work together for my good.’ So I believe You still have something good in my future.”

Finally (for today) from August, 2012 from Kevin White:

…God can seem alien to us at times, even cruel. His understanding exceeds our own far more than a human father’s exceeds that of the youngest child. His ways are infinitely more unsearchable than that of a dad who holds his kid down to receive a shot. Indeed, we would know hardly a thing about God unless he revealed it to us.

So sometimes, it is hard to see the goodness in what Cowper described as “a frowning Providence.” And yet, a key part of God’s self-revelation is that he watches his people, neither slumbering nor sleeping. Like a nesting hen, sheltering the hatchlings. He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. And yet the world is full of snakes.

This difficulty is made worse when we just don’t understand what is happening. When friends and family suffer. When natural goods, rightly desired, are placed out of reach. When we see that one of the greatest impediments to our flourishing is staring at us in the mirror. It is hard to see how a loving Father can be watching over all of that.

Instead, it is easy to covet, easy to resent. It is easy to say that it is all wrong, and should not be happening. Not in the sense of, “it is a fallen world and I long for paradise,” but in the sense of “what kind of God could allow this?” Or to wonder if our concerns are too small for God to notice. For the Christian, that attitude is doubly false, since Jesus Christ himself, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” says that God pays mind even to the fall of a sparrow.

And yet, there is an odd thing about invoking God’s providence in difficult times. It is a classic piece of bad comforting to simply tell someone, “God is in control.” Even so, recognizing, resting in, and/or wrestling with God’s control over circumstances can be a powerful form of reassurance. Why the disconnect?

I think it is because the trite statement is a shortcut. In some ways, it merely restates part of the presenting problem. How is this bread and not a stone? Too easily, it skips all the messy business of “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who are mourning.” It skips straight to the pithy takeaway and moves on.

Part of the answer is that we live in a sinful and fallen world. The restoration of all things is not here yet. All accounts will be settled, but we have at best a foretaste of that reality. Some of our suffering comes from our own bad decisions, or from our own weakness and limitation. And much more comes with living in a world that is systemically corrupted and distorted by sin and the curse that it brought…


Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

September 27, 2020

How God Uses the Problem(s) You’re Facing Today

Today again, we’re introducing a new (to us) writer, K.K. Hodge, who describes herself as “a family nurse practitioner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, and crazy critter farmer.” She’s also the author of three books, but only began blogging daily devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm after Coronavirus hit. Click the link below to read today’s at source. You might also enjoy the one she posted this morning.

Give me a word, Lord: PICTURE THIS

Isaiah 41:13 For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, “Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”

Isaiah 46:4 I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.

Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

We’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah the last few nights as we continue our reading through the Bible in a year plan. There are some very good words of wisdom in this book and many great reassurances. I praise God for His Word. I am so thankful that He provided His Holy Word to give us guidance, strength, and peace. We have God that is bigger than all our troubles and problems, and His Word reveals that to us over and over again.

We all have problems. We may not admit them, but if we are living and breathing, we probably have some sort of problem or concern. The problem with our problems is that we try work them out on our own. I’m a very visual person. I love to take pictures. I take pictures of anything and everything, and when I’m working things out in my mind, I do so with pictures or images. Sometimes we have to picture things in order to get a clear image of the situation at hand.

When we picture all our problems in our mind, we see all the different problems in the picture. We may see financial problems, relationship issues, concerns about our children, health troubles, job stressors, and the list goes on. We see all of these troubles in the picture, and then we see ourselves sitting in the middle of the picture surrounded by all of these problems. The problem with this is that we are seeing it all wrong! When we look at a picture of all those problems, we shouldn’t see ourselves sitting in the midst of the trouble, but rather we should see GOD in the picture with our problems. We have to take ourselves out everything, and we need to give everything to God.

Some might say, if God is handling all of my problems, why do I have so many? Well, my friend, sometimes we bring those problems on ourselves. We aren’t perfect. We goof up every now and then even when we are trying to live a good and righteous life. God can and will handle any and all problems that we are enduring, but we have to trust Him through the process. Psalm 119:71-72 tells us, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.” What? Did he say that suffering is good for me? Yea, buddy! When we go through the struggles in life, we learn from the difficulties and we learn to lean on our Lord and Savior. We are going to have problems in this life. Life is a problem solving adventure. WE may not choose the problem, but we get to choose how the problem affects us. The problem will either develop us or defeat us. We get to make the choice.

No matter what type of difficulty you are going through, you can rest assured that God will use the problem for your benefit. Sometimes He uses the situation to direct you. Maybe He needs to get you to start moving in a certain direction, and He uses a problem to ignite you and get you going. Maybe, just maybe, God has placed something on your heart that He wants you to do, but you won’t budge. Maybe He uses a problem to get you moving in the direction in which He desires for you to go.

Sometimes He uses a problem to correct you. Maybe you are going down a path of destruction, and God uses a problem to teach you a lesson. Ouch! We don’t like the sounds of that one, but there is truth there. Just as a parent disciplines a child who is doing wrong, God is going to discipline His kids. He’s going to get our attention, and a lesson will be learned. Just as we love our children too much to allow them to do things that will harm them, God loves us too much to ignore us when we are doing wrong.

Maybe God is using the problem to inspect you. Did you ever think of that? I’ve read this little saying on social media. “You are holding a cup of hot coffee, and someone bumps you and causes the hot coffee to spill everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? Because there was coffee in the cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea. The point is whatever is in the cup will be spilled out. Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you, whatever is inside of you will spill out.” So…what spills out when you are struggling through a difficult situation? Do people around you see fear, anger, bitterness, or do they see love and grace as the marks of a true child of God? What does God see when He inspects you?

Maybe God is using your problem to protect you. Perhaps He has closed the door on a job, a new place to live, or a dream that you had, and it seems like the end of the world. We have to remember that God knows what is coming down the road, and sometimes He closes doors so that other doors can be opened. We can’t see as God sees. He is all knowing, and He knows just what we need when we need it. He may remove a person, a thing, or even a job from our lives in order to provide needed protection.

Our problems weigh us down. We try to carry the burden all alone. Oh, if we could only see the big picture. All those problems that we picture are not too big for God. We may or may not have invited the problem in, but regardless, God is going to use the situation for our good and His glory every time. Stop picturing yourself surrounded by all of the problems of the day. Begin picturing our perfect Lord and Savior…sitting right there in the middle of it all…working it all out. He’s working on each one of us. He’s directing us, correcting us, inspecting us, and protecting us, and ultimately, y’all, He is perfecting us. Just picture it!

 

September 18, 2020

Four Things You Need When Considering Education Choices

One glance at today’s headline and you’ll see it’s a bit more “practical” than what we normally do here. However, these are times when many families are at a crossroads, and the “four things” are straight out of scripture, a checklist so obvious that I think it’s easy for many parents to miss it, because many are bewildered about what’s taking place in our schools.

Not surprisingly, today’s post comes from a parenting blog and one that is new to us. Wattsup with Kids is written by Tracy Watts. (I’ll give you a few seconds to make the connection!) As we say daily, click the header below and read this at her site and then take a few minutes to look around at other articles.

[Not a parent? Check out this post by Tracy on Trying to Do Everything in the Will of God. It’s more similar to what we normally share here!]

Simplicity and Direction

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. ~ Luke 2:52

In all the myriad of choices, stresses, and concerns of education this fall lies this verse. Here in first century Palestine, without electricity, Amazon.com or even running water, Jesus grows and develops (as any child should). And how did he grow? This verse lists four categories:

  1. Wisdom (Mental? Intellectual? Spiritual? I think the answer is probably yes 😊)
  2. Stature (physical growth and skills)
  3. In favor with God (spiritual growth)
  4. In favor with man (social growth)

I find much comfort from this verse. We see here both simplicity and direction. In an age of endless options, we hold in our hands simple truth: Do I provide opportunity for my child to grow his mind and wisdom? Do I provide opportunity and sustenance to grow physically? Do I provide time where I impart the love of God and the truths of the Bible – both in explicit teaching as well as in the “teachable” moments throughout the day? And do I provide opportunity for him to practice kindness and love to others?

Sometimes, we get lost stressing about things that are not actually important. We worry about things that God has not placed in our hands. We need to lay aside these weights, like the Hebrews author says

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

Stretching before us is an entire season of tomorrows, seemingly filled with worry and doom, judgement and criticism. God does not ask us to live weeks or months at a time. He gives us one day, one hour, one moment at a time. Choose God’s direction and simplicity. Choose what is more – eternity. Live in today, point your feet heavenward, and take someone else by the hand to go there too.

Dear one, leave tomorrow to God – it belongs to Him anyway.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. ~ Matthew 6:33-34

September 6, 2020

God’s Five Senses… and Ours

by Ruth Wilkinson

Gen 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”
He created humanity in the image of God;
—male and female He created them.

It’s important to know this: He is not like us. We are like Him.

Although God is infinite, since we’re made in his image, our five senses, “tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, and breathing” can, even with our constrained reality help us begin to understand an infinite God and by beginning to understand Him, we begin to understand ourselves and what He wants from and for us.

►►Each of the reflections below ends with a question beginning “What do you want?” We can ask ourselves how God wants to inform us through those senses.


Sight

definition: to look at, observe, consider; requires distance, even objectivity

The LORD looks down from heaven;
He sees all human beings.
From His dwelling place He gazes
on all who inhabit the earth. Gen 33:13-14

The picture here is that God is observing, standing back, at a distance, aware and watching carefully, taking in what is happening in Creation.

You are the God who sees.
You stand apart and observe, your eyes witness and consider our lives.
You made us like you – with objectivity and insight.

Prayer: What do you want me to see?


Sound

definition: to hear, pay attention to; requires closeness and attention

The LORD is far from the wicked,
but He hears the prayer of the righteous. Prov 15:29

The book of Proverbs often presents contrasts; here the righteous are contrasted with the wicked. This picture goes beyond distance and detachment. God comes close. He doesn’t just know what’s going on, but is paying attention, and even doing what He’s asked.

You are the God who hears.
You come close and actively listen.
You made us like you–to silence our own voices and turn our ear toward you and each other.

Prayer: What do you want me to hear?


Taste

definition: to identify, classifying or discerning i.e. by eating

“I know you,” says the Lord. “You are neither cold nor hot….
…because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of My mouth!” Rev 3:15-16

Our picture of God expands; goes beyond observing, beyond hearing. God is discerning, identifying, judging the difference between good and bad. Healthy and poisonous. True and false…

“…For the ear tests words
as the mouth tastes food.” Job 34:2-3

You are the God who tastes.
You judge our thoughts and intentions.
You made us like you–to recognize that not everything in our hearts or in the world is loving or true.

Prayer: What do you want me to taste?


Smell

definition: to detect the presence of by inhaling; implies and requires breathing

May my prayer be set before you as incense,
my raised hands an offering. Psalm 141:2

To God, we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved
and among those who are perishing. 2 Cor 2:15

This picture goes beyond the previous senses; beyond observing, beyond listening, beyond judging. God is taking a deep breath, drawing us into Himself and finding pleasure in
• our words and gifts to him
• and to the people around us.
• the ways in which we express our love and our faith.

You are the God who breathes in our fragrance.
You absorb the gifts we give in love.
You made us like you–to inhale the goodness of the world, of each other, and of You.

Prayer: What do you want me to smell?


Touch

definition: to interact with in a physical way, especially with hands

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. Psalm 138:7

He observes, He listens, He judges, He accepts us and He gets involved. He acts. His strength and compassion engage, and interact with the world. Opposing the wrong. Saving the vulnerable.

You are the God who touches.
You create, build, defend, tear down.
You made us like you –to touch the world, uphold the good, resist the wrong, protect the vulnerable.

Prayer: What do you want me to touch?


God gives us each different gifts and priorities. If we get to know Him, we come to understand better what He calls us each to bring to the world and His Church. Take time to consider where you best can work alongside Him.

September 3, 2020

For Thine is the Kingdom… But Mine is the Driver’s Seat

by Clarke Dixon

Wouldn’t everything be better if we were in the driver’s seat? If we were in control and called the shots? This thought may cross our minds as we watch the news. Who thought it was a good idea to . . . ? Why don’t they . . . ? We might think it when we watch loved ones make foolish decisions, at least foolish in our eyes. What are they thinking?!

If only everyone would ask us, everything would run better. But we sit at the phone and world leaders never phone to ask our advice. Neither, it seems, do our friends and family members. We would love to be in the driver’s seat and make the all the important decisions but we don’t even feel like we are in the car.

And then we pray, and we might pray as if God has called us looking for our advice. Sometimes, perhaps often, we don’t just pray to God, we tell him how to answer our prayers. We want to be in the driver’s seat, even with God in the car.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, especially the last lines, we will be caused to consider and reconsider just who should be in the driver’s seat of our lives:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer (traditional)

The traditional ending to the Lord’s Prayer is not actually part of the prayer Jesus taught. But it is Biblical, the language being very similar to a prayer of David:

Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 KJV

David prayed this prayer while God’s people were experiencing their “glory days” as a nation. David was a good king, a loyal king, who though not perfect, had led the nation well. Under his leadership the twelve tribes gelled together into one nation, he led many military victories, built a grand palace for the royal family, and now was preparing for Solomon to take over as king including the provision of all Solomon would need to build a temple for the LORD. Solomon had already been declared king as well, so this was a time of transition from a great king to his son.

As we read about this time of transition, what might we expect from David? We might expect David to gloat, “look what I’ve done, look at my power, my victories, my majesty, my kingdom that I have built, and how I am exalted over it all. Look now at my son who is ready to take my place as your king.”

Does David gloat? No, David prays:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

David was a great king, but God is preeminent, the true and greater king. David knew it. David knew that it was far better to be a servant of the true king than to be a king.

This focus of God as king is found throughout the chapter. Where we might expect the word for temple in the first verse, we find the word meaning palace or fortress instead, as in the LORD is not just God who will reside in a temple as gods do, but is also the king who will reside in a fortress as kings do.

Also within Chapter 29, which is focused on preparations for the building of the temple, Bible scholars see allusions to Moses and the building of the original tabernacle. In other words, though we now have a king instead of a prophet as leader, nothing has really changed. The LORD is still our God, our leader and protector, our true king.

David could gloat, and the people could praise him. The focus, however, is on God the true king. God is preeminent. David knew that it was better to be a servant of the king than to be a king. David knew that it was a privilege to serve the Lord as a passenger and not as the one in the driver’s seat.

When we pray, we may be tempted to take the driver’s seat, to tell God what should be done, and how it should be done. As we pray “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever,” we are reminded that we are not in the driver’s seat. We will gladly take the passenger seat and let God take the wheel.

If David knew that God was preeminent, Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, and so many others we read of in the New Testament knew that Jesus is preeminent:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11 NIV

When we pray “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever” we are not just thinking of and praying to some generic idea of God, a God that cannot be known. We are praying to God who has revealed himself to us supremely through Jesus Christ. We are speaking, not just to our king, but to the one who has given us the right to call upon him as our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer begins “Our father.” May prayer be for us an experience of being a child of God. It ends with “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” May prayer be for us an experience of being his servant who seeks his glory. Being a child and servant of the one true king is far better than being a king. May prayer become for us an experience of letting God take the driver’s seat in our lives.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to pandemic precautions. The teaching segment alone can be seen here.

September 2, 2020

Your Soul Isn’t Quarantined

Six months ago we introduced you to Lauren Jensen and today we returned for another visit. In an article posted shortly after the lockdown began she described her house as it “looked like postponed performances after months and months of rehearsal.” You probably have similar metaphors. For the piece I’ve chosen for today, click the header below to read this on her site.

Your Soul Isn’t Quarantined: Living Free From the Condemnation of “Not Enough”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

I’ve held off posting to the blog during COVID-19. I released one encouraging video on Instagram back at the beginning of this whole deal, but then remained pretty silent overall, only sharing personal stuff to my personal page. Because let’s face it, the internet is really noisy right now. Noisy in a way I could never have anticipated. And sometimes it’s just too much.

So privately I did what I assume most people did. I had a series of small identity crises. I clamored for control in a situation over which I literally had zero control. I prayed, read, gave it to God. Gave it to God again. And again. Wash rinse repeat.

I made small discoveries about the people I live with. Maybe not so much discoveries, I always knew their tendencies and inclinations, but now their tendencies and inclinations were all up in my face all the time. And then I adapted and learned to live with them, or to just go for a walk.

And then I hopped on social media where I saw all the good being done. Good that was posted to encourage. Good that was meant to inspire. And inspire it did. It inspired me to think, Wow, they are so much better than me. Why aren’t we doing that? I found myself almost wishing that our situation was worse so we could overcome and inspire others to be all inspirational like us.

It’s gross when I type it now. That I would even think that hopefully gives you a clue as to how shallow I am. On the inside. I keep my pride well hidden. At least I think I do.

But have no fear, this post isn’t all doomy-gloomy woe-is-me. In the midst of rooting out the poisonous weeds in my heart, God is revealing life-giving, freedom-winning truths too. Like this one:

Do not submit to lesser condemnations.

But wait. In light of all that is being revealed in my heart, the pride, the jealousy, the shallowness, the judgment, isn’t a little self-condemnation justified? Maybe even required?

Listen, I’m not saying we take pride in our sinfulness. I am just saying what the apostle Paul tells us: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) And as if those words aren’t liberating enough, he continues.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:2-4 (emphasis mine)

God knew we were weak. Maybe at this time you think you are discovering things about yourself you don’t like. I know I am discovering and rediscovering “new” weaknesses weekly (daily?). But my incomplete discoveries aren’t discoveries to God.

He knew we were weak. This was not news to Him.

And He knew that weakness in our flesh demanded condemnation. So He did it. He condemned our sinful weakness in His Son. So you and I could be free.

God’s not a holy thumb-twiddler who waits to figure out our next move so He can respond. He isn’t asking us why we can’t be more like our brothers and sisters over there, doing that thing. As if the things they are doing are being done in their own strength. As if the desires and thoughts of their hearts are pure, while ours are weak and sinful.

God is an all-consuming fire fiercely pursuing the hearts of those who desperately need Him. He is the Living Water, the Bread of Life for the spiritually starving. He is the Physician on the front lines everyday saving lives and souls. He is a relentless abolitionist, freeing the slaves and captives.

We are those captives made free in Christ Jesus. All those lesser condemnations, the ones we heap on ourselves, those are us- not God. When we contemplate our unworthiness to the point of emptying the cross of its power, when we stand in judgment and declare “guilty,” we shackle our hearts to an idol that looks remarkably like ourselves.

Look at the cross and toss the idol. Jesus makes a better God than we do anyway. The debt has been paid. Let’s start living in the good news already.

And for those of you who are like me and so sick you decide to condemn yourself for things that aren’t even sins, hear this: those are choices. Some things are just choices. None holier than another. She isn’t holier because she made that choice, the same as you aren’t holier because you made yours. Get over it already. Life demands choices. Do the best you can and give glory to God.

OK that’s it for now, friends. I hope you found these words liberating. I wrote this for myself too, in case you couldn’t tell. We are definitely in this together, so let’s offer grace and lighten the load. Love you all!

August 4, 2020

The Enemy’s Lies Often Sound Quite Practical

NIV.Matt.4.1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

When I go looking for new authors to introduce here, I often end up with a short list of three or four. Then in choosing which article to run, I’ll again narrow it down to two or three. But this time, I took one look at this and said, ‘That’s the one.’

Willie Riggs describes himself as an artist, writer, and entrepreneur. And a Christian. Some of the things on his site are done as short stories and others are more devotional, like the one below. Again, don’t just read the articles here, but click through and enjoy them at their source. Click the header which follows.

The Promises of Satan

Remember when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness? The story is usually portrayed as a great battle; as two sworn enemies locked in cosmic combat. Except, from the casual observer’s standpoint at least, Satan didn’t come at Jesus hurling attacks. He came at Jesus with… solutions.

Jesus was hungry. Why not turn these stones to bread?

Jesus was going to face danger. Why not test the limits of God’s protection now?

Jesus came to save the world. I will give the world to you, and you can bypass the suffering of the cross entirely.

Satan promised Jesus the entire world if Jesus would just bow down and worship him. It wasn’t the first time Satan made a promise. Remember Adam and Eve in the garden? “If you eat this fruit, you will not die! You will be like God!

Satan Makes Us Promises Every Day

We hear a lot of sermons about the promises of God, but it isn’t just God who makes promises. Satan makes us promises every day.

If you only do it once or twice, it won’t really affect you.

If you want it, it’s up to you to make it happen. You can’t just rely on God.

If you vote the right way, the government can keep you safe and secure.

If you worry enough, eventually you will figure it out.

If you compromise your beliefs, you’ll achieve your goals. This is a special circumstance.

If you want to, you should be able to. You deserve this.

If you put on a facade, everyone will like you more.

If you don’t do it today it’s no big deal. You’ll have plenty of time tomorrow.

The Difference Between God and Satan’s Promises

On the surface, the promises of Satan don’t seem all that dangerous. The things Satan promises make sense to us. The way Satan goes about doing things feels natural to us, at least in the beginning. His promises produce quick, often instantaneous, perceivable results.

In contrast, the promises of God often go against common sense. They make no sense to us whatsoever. Nor do they seek to appeal to our natural inclinations. How is giving away money supposed to increase our wealth? How is focusing on the needs of others supposed to make our lives fulfilling? God’s promises challenge our assumptions about life at every level. They go against everything we see and believe to be true. They require faith to pursue. And unlike Satan’s promises for instant gratification, God’s promises often require long periods of faithfulness and consistency before they are shown to be true. Some will never be proven true this side of heaven.

But probably the most significant difference between the promises of God and the promises of Satan is that every single promise of God is true, while every single promise of Satan is a lie.

The Truth about Satan’s Promises

Satan promises that dabbling in drugs and alcohol will bring you happiness. It won’t. He promises that watching porn together will improve your marriage. It won’t. He promises that if you find the right person, make enough money, or enjoy enough of life’s pleasures, you will feel fulfilled. But you won’t. And perhaps Satan’s biggest promise of all, the promise he makes to each and every one of us, is that even though every other person in the history of the world has been destroyed by following his path, that we are the exception. We will be the one that finally makes it work. We will come out the other side unscathed.

Only we won’t.

All of us are faced with decisions each and every day. Promises come at us from every direction. Some will make sense, and others will go against everything our senses are screaming at us. But when it comes down to it, you really only have one decision you have to make.

Who are you going to believe?


  1. The Greek for tempted can also mean tested.
  2. Deut. 8:3
  3. Psalm 91:11,12
  4. Deut. 6:16
  5. Deut. 6:13

July 23, 2020

Hallowed Be Thy Name, Rather Than…

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be thy name” in other words, to pray for God to be honoured greatly. There are, however, at least two things that happen instead of the “hallowing” of God’s name. They happen now, and they happened back in Bible times.

Let us go back to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, having just been rescued from Egypt:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)

The story of the golden calf is well known, but there is an interesting detail that is easily overlooked. Aaron speaks of a festival to “the LORD.” When English translations capitalize “Lord,” they are following a tradition of not using God’s name as a matter of respect. Therefore LORD is referring not to just some generic God who cannot be known, but to the God who has made himself known within history, the same God the Israelites knew rescued them from Egypt. The golden calf is not a representation of some other god in place of God, but rather is a gross representation of the God who rescued them. It was a misrepresentation.

None of us like to be misrepresented! Neither, of course, does God. The many warnings against fashioning idols in the Bible are not just about substituting other gods for God, but also about misrepresenting God, mixing the Creator with creation. God is to be considered holy, set apart from creation. His name is to be hallowed, not misrepresented.

We might also turn to the book of Job, where following a lengthy theological discussion on why the righteous suffer, God says to Eliphaz,

My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7 (NRSV)

We don’t like it when people speak falsely about us. Neither does God.

Therefore, let us be careful with God’s Word, and handle the Scriptures well. This means being aware of things like context, genres, and how a passage fits with the whole story. Many have dishonoured God rather than greatly honouring him by not being careful in interpreting God’s Word. If we are praying for God’s name to be hallowed, we will want to do our homework and dig deeper than we sometimes do.

One scholar has written about how for many years, centuries in fact, church leaders interpreted certain Bible passages in anti-Semitic ways. The holocaust was a wake-up call and now practically no one goes with those older interpretations. Let us not make the same mistake.

We may also misrepresent Jesus without even being aware it. For example, images of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes are likely not close to reality. Being a Jew from Judea in that time, Jesus would likely have had a darker skin than is often depicted, brown eyes, and short, dark hair. Worse than misrepresentation in physical appearance though, we nourish Jesus when we imagine him as a Republican or Democrat. We want to be careful we don’t re-create Jesus in our own image. For God’s name to be hallowed, let us go to the Bible, especially the Gospels to discover Jesus.

The second way people can fail to honour God can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy, where we find Moses speaking to the people about entering the promised land:

Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,

Deuteronomy 8:11-14 (NRSV)

Once the Israelites settle in the land, there is great danger that God will be forgotten rather than greatly honored. Why? Good times and affluence. It is little wonder that God is largely forgotten here in Canada in our day!

In good times especially, the temptation is to forget God and our need of him. Then in times of difficulty, we can think we have done good without God up until now, why not keep going? In good times and bad, God, far from being highly honored, is forgotten.

We forget God and take his goodness for granted. I am reminded about my first Air Cadet camp when I was put into a specialty flight that was focused on survival. We were to have a weekend in the woods, but it got rained out. Our motto became “we survive, weather permitting!” I did learn however, that the first thing you do if your plane goes down in the deep woods far from anything, is light a fire. This is to help the rescuers find you. The second thing is not to look for food. The average human can live quite some time without it. What you need to do is find a source of water. We cannot live for long without water. We forget that, because we take water and the need for hydration for granted. We are always hydrating without even being aware of the need. We take water for granted, until we crash the plane.

We can be like that with God. We live with the goodness of God in evidence all around us, with his provision of what we need for life. Yet we can forget him. At least until we crash the plane and stand before him facing eternity. Then we will realize how much we have depended on God. Then we will realize, if we have not before, our need of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a mediator between ourselves and God, for we have created a chasm between ourselves and God that we cannot fix. God has spanned that gap, through coming to us in Jesus. God has done all we need for us to enjoy eternal life beyond this life.

Just as we can enjoy a glass of water, we can enjoy a relationship with God now. Let us not wait until it is too late to receive reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and love. We don’t want to find ourselves in a crashed plane without any water. We don’t want to find ourselves facing death without God in our lives.

We are to pray “hallowed be thy name.” We hallow God’s name when, instead of forgetting God, we trust God, and enter into a relationship with him through Jesus.

Instead of being misrepresented or forgotten, may May God’s name be greatly honoured among us.


(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular services at Clarke’s church during the pandemic. This one was filmed on a hike in the buggy woods so there are bloopers at the end! You can also watch the reflection alone here.)

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