Christianity 201

September 23, 2018

A Worship Liturgy and Word Study: Sin, Forgive

by Ruth Wilkinson

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

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

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

Things like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This leads to our second word…

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

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

Pictures like:

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

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

September 21, 2018

Relationships Need Presence

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

Six months later, we’re back highlighting the work Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. Amy is currently at the forefront of the intersection of Christianity and the study of mental health issues.  Her new book is Blessed are the Unsatisfied: Finding Freedom in an Imperfect World (InterVarsity) and you can read chapter one from the book for free at this link.

Your Long-Distance Relationship Is Not Enough

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

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

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

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

It will be wonderful.

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

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


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



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

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

September 16, 2018

“I am Like an Olive Tree”

Today I wanted to focus on a verse in Psalms:

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

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

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

I Am Like an Olive Tree?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me paraphrase what I believe he was saying:

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

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

 

September 3, 2018

How Many (Spiritual) Children Do You Have?

Becoming a Contagious Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 22, 2018

Christian Service: Joyfully Rendered or Indicator of Bondage?

Readers here know that every time we pass an anniversary — either by date or a significant number of posts, as we did with #3,000 not long ago — I’ll mention that C201 has offered a fresh devotional daily since its inception. But scrolling through the archives for August, 2013 — only 5 years ago — I was reminded that technically that isn’t true. Stuck in the middle of nowhere I had to confront the reality that unless I covered up by backdating an extra post the next day, there would be what I considered an unsightly gap in my perfect blog attendance record. It would be the end of Christianity as we know it. After all, it all depends on me!

Instead, I let the date roll by and posted this the next day. (I even broke a rule and began with an illustration, albeit one I made up on the spot!)

Ritual Versus Faithfulness

I Cor 4:2 ESV Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

The Henderson Family very rarely misses a church service, church meeting, or church function. They are what a previous generation called “pillars of the assembly;” people you can count on to be there and to do whatever needs doing in the church. A check of Mrs. H.’s pocket calendar shows a church event or responsibility consuming much of 17 of this month’s 31 days.

Some would say they are being faithful, while others would prefer to think they are in some kind of religious bondage. They could certainly use a copy of the book Boundaries, because saying ‘no’ isn’t in their vocabulary. How do you tell the difference between people who joyfully make the church the center of their lives, and people who serve under duress?

II Cor. 9:7a NIV Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

The Bible distinguishes between service and giving which are done joyfully and cheerfully versus that which is done under a sense of obligation.

I thought of this a lot in the last 48 hours when it appeared that I would not be able to post a devotional reading here for yesterday, August 17th. I tried to get online using a rather primitive smart-phone, but it wasn’t to be, as the limitations of the phone met the very limited internet access in the remote area where we were.

‘But I haven’t missed a day here in years,’ I thought to myself. Ah, there’s a religious spirit creeping in. The feeling that I must do this; compounded with the feeling of If you don’t _________ it won’t ________. Not a good place to be in. Instead of God being the center, I become the center. It also shows a misplaced appropriation of my place in the building of God’s Kingdom; a rather self-centered, egotistical sense of my own importance.

In fact, scripture describes ministry as more of a symphony concert than a solo recital:

I Cor. 3:6,7 Message Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

And then, the worst thought of all, where faulty attitude becomes outright sin: I considered backdating a post to yesterday once I got back online. It wasn’t so much trying to create a false impression of my faithfulness to this, as it was the feeling a curator of a set or collection must have if one of the items is missing. I must restore the museum/gallery to its pristine state. That’s pride.

Matthew 6:1 The Voice Jesus: But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. Don’t do them where you can be seen, let alone lauded, by others. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Amazing how writing a daily devotional blog can cause one to sin, isn’t it? So what would you tell the Henderson family? What would you tell me?


As it would turn out, I realized the same religious spirit — or addiction to a misdirected perception of how to measure of faithfulness — was plaguing my writing at my primary blog, Thinking Out Loud. So last month, when we were heading for holidays, I deliberately left a gap of seven or eight days. It would have been easy to post things ahead (as we did here and on my book trade blog) but I decided the non-stop streak had become a source of pride.

What’s the equivalent in your life?

August 19, 2018

Creator: A Worship Liturgy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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a worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

An hour is coming, and is already here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and Truth…
~ Jesus

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
This is your spiritual worship.
~ Paul

…Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit? He is in you and He is from God.
You are not your own.
~ Paul


Who is this God we worship?

He‘s the great God, creator of Heaven and Earth.

He’s the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that surrounds them, and of time itself.

He’s the one who calls us to Himself, and calls us to each other, and calls us to worship.


Give thanks to the Lord of Lords.
His love endures forever.
He alone does great wonders.
His love endures forever.
He made the heavens with unsurpassed skill.
His love endures forever.
He spread the land on the waters.
His love endures forever.
He made the great lights:
His love endures forever.
the sun to rule by day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to rule by night.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven!
His love endures forever.


Not only is He the creator of all, but He is especially the creator of the human heart.

Of our hearts, our bodies, our imaginations.

Patterned after Himself.  Lived in by Himself.  Perfected by Himself.

Shaped of earth dust, breathed to life with His own Breath.


For it was You who created my inward parts;
Your love endures forever.
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
Your love endures forever.
I will praise You because I am wonderfully made.
Your love endures forever.
My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret,
Your love endures forever.
All my days were written in Your book before a single one of them began.
Your love endures forever.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
Your love endures forever.
See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.
Your love is the everlasting way.
Your love endures forever.



To see all of Ruth’s readings here at C201, click this link.

July 27, 2018

When the Religious Outsider Gets it Right

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV Luke 10.25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead…

I’ve been a longtime reader of Ed Cyzewski but this is only his second time here at C201. Click the title to read at source.

An “Outsider” Can Show Us How to Love Our Neighbors

There is a significant benefit to explaining the Bible to our preschool age children: they ask a mountain of questions that help me see the stories with fresh eyes.

For instance, have you ever considered whether the robbers who attacked the man in the good Samaritan story also stole his lunch? What did he eat while he was stuck on the side of the road? Did he have more food at home? Would someone bring his lunch back to him if the robbers stole it?

No doubt the illustrations in our children’s Bible fueled this line of food-related questions, but as I’ve thought of this story over the past few week’s in light of the American government’s increasingly aggressive and cruel immigration policies on the southern border, my children continued to prompt me to look at this story. Outside of their concerns over the man’s lunch, it truly hit home how this story reveals the Samaritan as the hero.

At a time of manufactured crisis and unnecessary cruelty that has been condoned by far too many Christians or simply explained away with “law and order” arguments, many of us have spoken about loving our neighbors.

Are we loving our neighbors if we send asylum seekers back to their violent countries?

Are we loving our neighbors if we separate asylum-seeking parents from their children?

Are we loving our neighbors if our government shrugs its shoulders about reuniting parents and children?

These are all necessary and important discussions about loving our neighbors. There is no doubt that loving our neighbors will have political dimensions because government policies impact real people. Laws and policies aren’t just static givens that must be accepted with resignation.

Immoral or unjust laws and policies that deface the image of God in others should be countered by those who believe that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” It shouldn’t be a stretch to believe that God cares for the well-being of his creation. However, the Good Samaritan story doesn’t approach love of neighbor from such an angle of advocacy or helping those in need from a majority culture position, let alone privilege.

In this story, the foreign man whose views of the Torah surely offended the listeners in Jesus’ audience was the hero. Jesus brought this outsider front and center, showing that despite his national and religious “barriers”, he had grasped what it meant to love a neighbor well. Love of neighbor extended beyond national and religious boundaries. You could even say that this love eradicates such boundaries.

The man going on the journey in this story is nondescript. His lack of defining features helps us identify with him. He could be all of us.

Any one of us could set out on a journey with certain plans and goals in mind. Any one of us could suffer an unexpected tragedy.

In a moment of need, perhaps I’ll turn to a pastor for help, but he may be on his way to a meeting about electing more conservative political leaders and leave me behind.

Perhaps I’ll turn to the leader of a ministry group, but she has big plans for a revival that she can’t neglect.

Finally, help arrives. It’s not the help I asked for. It’s not the help I expected. The help isn’t from the country or religion that I would have chosen. This is the person who meets me in my moment of crisis and cares for my wounds.

As Jesus sought to pull his listeners out of their national and religious prejudices, he challenged them to consider that the people they tried to avoid at all costs could be the ones who grasped the message of the Gospel best. It could even happen that one day their well-being would depend on the help of one such person.

Politicians seek to inflame hatred and suspicion of immigrants and asylum seekers to ignite the racist, nativist passions of their base for an election.

Jesus asks us to consider that our policies against asylum seekers could keep out the very people who may stop along their journey to help us in our moment of need one day. There’s a good chance that many have already done so on their journey north.

 

July 19, 2018

Slimeball Sibling (How Not to React When a Brother Reaps What He Has Sown)

by Clarke Dixon

How do you respond when someone suffers a mess of their own making? Do you find your attitude is different when it is one of your own, when a loved one suffers the consequence of bad or even immoral decision? Are you gracious and understanding or do you say “I told you so”?

When foolish people are brought down, we might cut them some slack: “there may be reasons, pressures and influences that we know nothing about”. Or we might think “good, they are getting what they deserve”. Sometimes we are gracious and sometimes we add to the pain the already suffer.

In the Bible we are given an example of how not to be a brother. Back in Genesis we read about two brothers, Esau and Jacob. Esau’s descendants were the Edomites. Jacob’s descendants were the Israelites which split into two kingdoms, Israel to the North and Judah to the South. The Edomites were neighbours and relatives to the the people of Judah when Babylon came along and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Here is what the Lord had to say to the Edomites through the prophet Obadiah:

10 “Because of the violence you did
to your close relatives in Israel [Hebrew is “your brother Jacob],
you will be filled with shame
and destroyed forever.
11 When they were invaded,
you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.
12 “You should not have gloated
when they exiled your relatives to distant lands.
You should not have rejoiced
when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune.
You should not have spoken arrogantly
in that terrible time of trouble.
13 You should not have plundered the land of Israel
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have gloated over their destruction
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have seized their wealth
when they were suffering such calamity.
14 You should not have stood at the crossroads,
killing those who tried to escape.
You should not have captured the survivors
and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble. Obadiah 1:10-14 (NLT)

Out of all the nations, Edom was the closest in blood relationship to the suffering people of Jerusalem. According to the prophet Obadiah, the Edomites ought to have helped rather than heaping on more hurt. Edom acted more like an enemy rather than a brother. Do we serve up opportunities for healing, or dish out further hurt? When our loved ones mess up, do they feel they can come to us? Does our presence feel like a safe place, where they can experience grace and growth? Or does coming to us just feel like yet another war zone?

“But they deserve it!” That might be our next thought. However, Judah deserved the consequences. God had said all along that if He was kept in the picture, He would be in the picture. But if not, then the people were on their own among stronger empires bent on expansion. Judah messed up and paid the consequences. Yet Scripture records that Edom still did the wrong thing in heaping on more hurt rather than helping. When fallen loved ones reap what they have sown, it is better for us to focus on what we are sowing rather than on what they are reaping. We have the opportunity to sow good seeds of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). We have the opportunity to help.

So we ought to be gracious to loved ones when they suffer the consequences of their misdeeds, but we can stick it to to everyone else, right? Not so fast. Esau and Jacob parted ways long before Edom heaped hurt on Judah. In fact well over a thousand years had passed which makes these “brothers” very distant relatives indeed! God expected Edom to be helpful rather than hurtful despite that distance.

How big is our family? Those of us who are Christians are part of a very large family. Having been adopted into the family of God we have brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. Many of them may seem distant. Some of them might seem odd. Some of them might even make us want to shake our heads in disgust. Nevertheless, are we giving space for healing when we see a brother or sister in Christ suffer a mess of their own making?

Our family is actually even bigger than that; much, much, bigger:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Ephesians 3:14-15 (NRSV)

Never mind just loving our relatives, Jesus taught us to love our enemies as well!

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven … Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSV)

Not only did Jesus teach it, he did it:

For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. Romans 5:10 (NLT)

Fact is, you have never had an enemy you are not related to.

How can we start living out this message from Obadiah? Since we tend to be more gracious and understanding toward our own, we can start by treating everyone like one of our own. When people get themselves into a mess of their own making, ask, “what if it was my son or daughter, mother, father, brother, sister? What if it was the person I most admire and love in the world?” Keeping in mind the Golden Rule we can also ask “what if it was me? Would I want everyone saying ‘serves you right’ or could I use a good friend right now?”

We know that love for family is important. Being gracious and understanding is part of that. We get that. We want to help rather than cause further hurt. What we tend to forget is just how big our family really is. Love for family is super important. Grace within family is super important. You have a big, big family.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. (I also got to hear this sermon preached live at Clarke’s church!)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (32 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

June 10, 2018

Only One Sacrifice Could Effect a Momentous Achievement

Deborah (named after the prophetess) is a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales; a Christian for over 40 years, and an avid reader of the Bible. This is our first time featuring her writing here. To discover more, click the title below and then look around at some of the other articles.

Focus on Jesus: He is the ultimate sacrifice

“Fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1)

Hebrews 9:1-10:18

The worship of the old covenant took place in the Tabernacle (and, later, the Temple, which was constructed in a similar way) The sanctuary was divided into two rooms by a heavy curtain. In the outer room, the priests would perform certain duties (such as burning incense and tending the lamps); but they could not enter the inner room, where God was present. Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, was the high priest allowed to enter the Most Holy Place – provided he took with him the blood of sacrifice to sprinkle onto the lid of the Ark.

Thus the very nature of Tabernacle worship bore witness to its inadequacy. God was not really approachable; even while living symbolically in the midst of His people, He remained at a distance, and access to His presence was severely restricted. There was an impenetrable barrier between the first and second rooms that no amount of animal sacrifices could break down. This symbolized the real barrier between human beings and God – which was never a physical barrier in a building but an internal, spiritual barrier located in the conscience. And so it could not be removed by the physical rituals of the old covenant.

But the death of Jesus has changed everything!

“He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11,12)

What made the difference was the nature of the sacrifice that He offered and the location where He offered it. For He alone was able to enter God’s actual presence in heaven – not once a year, but once for all. And the death that He presented as atonement was not that of an animal but His own. Thus He paid the full redemption price for all God’s people – a price for which nothing in this world would have been sufficient (I Peter 1:18,19).

The animal sacrifices had to be endlessly repeated because they never actually achieved anything. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) But Jesus was a willing, rational and morally perfect Victim, and His sacrifice was accepted by God – which is why it will never need to be repeated (Hebrews 10:14). He had to die only once to save everyone!

Only one sacrifice could effect this momentous achievement – but now that it has been made, there is no need to repeat it or add to it. It is ‘the sacrifice to end all sacrifices’; the old system has been abolished at a stroke. The real, heavenly sanctuary has now been cleansed, signifying that God has forgotten our sins and that we shall be welcomed into His presence. We can neither be shamed by them now, nor condemned for them later! So while the repetition of the old covenant sacrifices was a reminder of sin’s continuing dominion (Hebrews 10:3), the repetition of the Lord’s Supper is for us a reminder of sin’s definitive removal.

All Bible quotations are from the NIV

May 29, 2018

The Chastisement of Our Peace

Sometimes a reader will leave a comment at very old post here, and it will remind me that the article might be worth sharing again. This one is from January, 2011…


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did this morning at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

May 28, 2018

Jesus Raised the Bar, Making Law-Keeping Impossible

This is our 9th time featuring Christian musician and author John Fischer. Click the title below to read this at The Catch.

How good are you?

“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Matthew 5:20

In other words: Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the most holy people you know, don’t even try.

This was one of the main things Jesus accomplished in the Sermon on the Mount. He established a new order. He put the law on a new basis. He made the law harder (indeed, impossible) to obey, but easier to fulfill. If that sounds like the same thing, it’s not. Think of it this way: If you are setting out to make yourself righteous on the basis of following all the laws of God … forget it. But if you want to know the point of the law — the reason behind it — so you can know why God gave it in the first place, and what to focus on, because you want to please Him and align your life in close proximity to His will … then you can do that by following only one law: the law of love.

Jesus made the law impossible to follow by reinterpreting some of the basic laws of Moses from an internal basis. He’s concerned with what is going on in our hearts and minds not just our behavior. So six times in this sermon He says something like, “You have heard it said,” or “You have read,” and six times He says, “But I say to you …” and that’s when He restates the depth of the law in our hearts, which we all have broken and continue to break because of our sinful nature.

Instead of murder, hatred in your heart will do the same thing. Instead of committing adultery, wishing you could, will put you in the camp with adulterers. Instead of allowing divorce, as Moses did, think of divorce as another trip to Camp Adultery. Instead of keeping your vows, don’t even make them, because you’ll break them before you even walk out the door. Instead of meeting evil with evil, meet evil with good. (This is what we talked about yesterday.) And instead of hating your enemy, which was acceptable by law, love your enemy. Six times He stated the law; six times He reinterpreted it in a way that made us all guilty.

This restatement of the law did two things:

1) It showed how the law is impossible to follow from the inside out. (The Pharisees followed the law on the outside but inside they were full of dead men’s bones.) We are all guilty. No one can justify themselves by the law specially as Jesus reinterpreted it.

2) There’s a New Deal as far as the law goes. Jesus said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.(Matthew 22:37-40)

So we follow not the laws, but the purpose of the law which is love. And we follow as those who have been humbled to realize our spiritual poverty. We start where the sermon starts: Blessed are the poor in spirit. And from that place, we realize His power to make us into those who love as Christ has loved us.

May 27, 2018

Fanning the Flame of Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our first visit to the site, “A Great, Real Place” written by Caleb Westbrook, a teacher from Kansas City.  As always, click the title below to read this at source.

Worship: The Flame of Life

The word worship elicits all kinds of images. One person may think of pew on pew on pew leading up to a large Gospel choir in the front of the sanctuary. Another person may recall the used and careworn pages of an old hymnal–maybe even the smell of those pages. Or perhaps one imagines hands raised in the concert hall of a mood-lit mega conference, singing alongside hundreds if not thousands of other believers. One may also remember the emotions: joy, elation, penitence.

When we think of worship, we almost always envision a form of singing. Even for those who know that worship is more, we still, upon instinct, normally associate the word with singing. This is natural. Worship through song has a rich and beautiful tradition in the Church, and it is probably the easiest way to confess love and honor to God. However, just because it is the easiest, that doesn’t mean singing is the only or even the best form of worship. True worship, of course, encompasses the whole individual and the whole church assembly.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

Paul writes this to the Romans, urging them to submit their lives to the rule of God, and he defines worship as a presentation of one’s body as a living sacrifice.

At my church, The Avenue, we’ve begun a series entitled Valley of Vision, drawing its name and inspiration from the well known Christian devotional compiled and published in 1975 by Arthur Bennett. The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers meant to provide form and inspiration to each believer’s personal prayer life. It has also become a simple liturgy used in some churches like The Avenue.

One of the prayers in The Valley Vision is “Worship” (read the whole prayer here), and in the opening lines, the writer promulgates the importance of worship and its significance.

“Glorious God, It is the flame of my life to worship thee, the crown and glory of my soul to adore thee, heavenly pleasure to approach thee.”

It is the flame of my life… Yes, adoration can come in the form of singing. However, notice how much more poignant is the message of this Puritan prayer. Worship is not a flame for the singing time of the service. It is not the flame of Sundays. True worship is the flame of life. Therefore, if this Christian practice is bound to the whole life, it makes sense that worship must consume more than a thirty minute segment of one’s week!

Worship is the offering of all of one’s self to the object (or objects) of one’s allegiance, and by offering one’s self in all areas of life, that becomes the act of praise. As an aside, notice that I mentioned objects, plural, can receive worship. That was intentional. We are always worshipping something; if it’s not God, it’s whatever consumes our devotion, and sometimes that consists of lots of little distracting somethings that steal our attention from God.

Thus, if worship is an offering of all of life, you are worshipping as a parent, caring for your child and pointing her to Jesus. You are worshipping on your hands and knees (prayer-like!) in your garden, pruning God’s good earth for His glory. You are worshipping as you serve your city. And, I believe, you are even worshipping in your failures when that failure becomes an offering of confession and a recognition of your need for grace. God is other in His greatness and power.

This leads me to another aspect of this important prayer. One of the reasons we worship God is because He has given us a mediator, a go-between between man and the Almighty.

“Give me knowledge of thy goodness that I might not be over-awed by thy greatness; Give me Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, that I might not be terrified, but be drawn near with filial love, with holy boldness; He is my Mediator, Brother, Interpreter, Branch, Daysman, Lamb…”

In the Old Testament, Moses asked to see God’s glory (what an audacious request!), and God acquiesced to his request with the caveat that Moses would not be allowed to see God’s face: “for man shall not see me and live.” In the Old Testament, God was personal but not exactly approachable. However, in Jesus Christ every believer has access to God through Jesus Christ.

Therefore, we also worship with the humbling knowledge that, without Jesus, we would be left to worship from afar, unable to comprehend or survive the absolute holiness of the Divine. In Jesus, however, we have a brother and mediator. He is the high priest who gives us access to the throne of God.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

So let us fan the flame of our lives, let us worship without ceasing by bringing our adoration of God into every area of our lives, and let us praise Jesus all the more because we know that He makes a way for us to enter the eternal kingdom of the most high and eternal God.

May 19, 2018

Identifying the Source of Our Opposition

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
 – Eph 6:12 NLT

The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.
 – John 12:31 NLT

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
 – 2 Cor. 11:13-14 NIV

We’re back again at Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church, a numerically significant group. He is able to make contact with people that other blogs, including this one, might not. To see some of that dialog, click this link and read the comments.

Fight Evil Not People

Growing up in church we have always been told that God was a god of love. In fact, it is stated in the bible that God IS love. Yet so often we have seen more of a judgmental and condemning God by the actions of many christian people over the years.

Take for instance a popular song I remember singing while growing up in the church: Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war. Now I know the intent was to show we are in a battle, but the battle is a spiritual one. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but so often we fight people rather than spiritual forces and principalities. We turn people into enemies rather than the spiritual forces of evil.

SpiritualWarfare

To often these days we seem to live in a spirit of war rather than love. We spend more time arguing over doctrine and interpretation with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We argue so much over sin that we become judgmental and condemning toward those who see things differently or are not of faith or belief in God.

Over the years many churches have taught that although God is a god of love, he was also judgmental, mean and condemning. We are told that we better do our best to please him or we will be in danger of judgment.

Yet Jesus came to show us what the Father was really like. He showed love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness to everyone, especially to those most of the religious world would have no contact.

Even though Jesus showed us that God loves us, we still turn the cross of Jesus into a weapon for our personal cause or belief rather than a symbol of love and good news.

If we are going to be Christian soldiers let it be against spiritual forces and not against our fellow human beings. Rather than fight and argue, let the love of God touch everyone you meet throughout each day.

May 9, 2018

Awaking from Spiritual Slumber

Back in November I introduced you to Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him, calling it at the time “a goldmine of devotional resources.” These posts today are recent and appeared back-to-back and it occurred to me they had sleep or unconsciousness as a common theme. Click the individual titles to read each at source.

Snap Out of It

Prior to the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, most professional sports ignored game related concussions.  Athletic trainers often took smelling salts laced with ammonia inhalants to awaken concussed or knocked out athletes.  As portrayed in several older films, this trainer would apply the salt, then clap their hands over injured heads.  The goal of this archaic practice sought to help snap individuals out of their woozy state.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified, Galatians 3:1.

You don’t have to receive a concussion to be dizzy, slightly off or weak.  From a spiritual perspective, anyone can randomly stray off course.  During this period of time, your mind is susceptible to making poor decisions.  This prodigal mindset might even lead you to become bewitched, tricked into believing a lie planted within you by the Devil.  If you ever reach this state, you need the Holy Spirit’s help to snap out of it.

You were running [the race] well; who has interfered and prevented you from obeying the truth?  This [deceptive] persuasion is not from Him who called you [to freedom in Christ], Galatians 5:7-8.

The apostle Paul found a similar climate during a visit to Galatia.  Peer pressure, opposing views and a lack of guidance caused many from within the church to lose sight of what’s important.  Luke 4:8 sheds light on this, to worship the Lord and serve Him only.  Sure, there are plenty of worldly chores and exercises that must be completed daily.  Yet, in the end, human beings were created to worship God.  Falling short of this goal leads to compromise and temptation.  Therefore, snap out of it by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:25.

The Greatest Temptation

Then Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter, Matthew 26:40.

When the Son of God spoke in the first century, eager followers flocked to hear his teaching.  Afterward the needy, poor and sick lined up, pushing their way to the front, hoping for a miracle.  To a certain extent, the twelve disciples became complacent, taking their access to the Messiah for granted.  During special occasions Jesus left nine disciples behind, confiding in his inner circle composed of James, John and Peter.  During his greatest temptation, surrendering to religious leaders to be beaten, crucified and left to die, Jesus urges his disciples to pray late into the night.  An hour later Jesus returns to find his trusted leaders sleeping.

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Matthew 26:41.

Disappointed, Jesus addresses the unseen battle going on within the human body.  The Spirit is willing to yield spiritual fruit detailed in Galatians 5:22-23.  Unfortunately, these traits often lose out to a weakened flesh, Galatians 5:19-21, by giving into temporary pleasures.  Way too often the events of Eden in Genesis 3 are re-enacted daily with forbidden fruits replaced by modern delicacies.  While current readers can take Jesus’ advice at face value, all but one disciple were about to abandon Jesus in his greatest time of need.  John, the one whom Jesus loved is the only disciple who doesn’t go into hiding.  Only one man put Jesus’ words into practice.

He went away a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done,” Matthew 26:42.

Jesus was a victim of a mob mentality, innocent of the charges made against him accept of course for being the son of God.  Overcome by emotion, Jesus pours out his heart to God the Father in prayer.  If this was any other person, justification would be made to not go through with this sacrifice.  However, without Jesus’ death, there would be no forgiveness, left to rely on Old Testament animal sacrifices.  Realizing this fact, Jesus submits to God’s will, surrendering early Friday morning.  While there will always be new temptations that arise and attack your soul, the greatest temptation is to reject God’s will for your life.  May you find your purpose on earth using Romans 12:1-2 as a guide.  From here its up to you to apply Matthew 26:41 so that you will keep in step with the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:25.

May 2, 2018

Extreme Love

While preparing an article for a book industry blog I edit, I came across the name of Pastor Ray Bentley, founder of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, California. The two devotions which follow are from his blog. Click the titles to read each at source, and then if you have time, navigate to other devotionals posted there.

Extreme Love, Extreme Living

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”— 1 Peter 4:8

Extreme love. Love so great that it makes up for not just a few sins—but a multitude! And you know, we are not forced to live in this extreme stratosphere of love. We are invited.

Jesus initiated extreme love.

First He taught His followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15: 13); then He did it.

As He hung on the cross, He had few friends left to witness His suffering.

But He hung there anyway. He died for his friends, and for those who hated Him, who misunderstood His purpose, and who were lost in sin and hardness of heart. “While we were still sinners,” He died for us, so that we can know love. We are invited to experience it, to live it, to demonstrate it in our own lives.

Love is the most potent emotion and power in all of creation.Love motivated Creation, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life for mankind. Abundant love, when accepted gratefully, gives us abundant lives, full of purpose, meaning, sacrifice, and ultimate love.

Hebrews chapter eleven is a partial list of daring individuals who chose to live in extreme love. They are as varied a group of people as you will ever encounter, and they laid the foundation for our faith.  

They were judges and farmers, rulers and prostitutes, prophets, and parents.

They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, escaped the edge of the sword; their weaknesses were turned to strength; they fought battles, and saw their dead raised to life.

Some were tortured, some faced jeers and flogging, others were chained in prison.

They were stoned; they were tortured; they were put to death by the sword.

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. They lived in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

They were commended for their faith…and God declared that the world was not worthy of them.

Now that’s extreme living.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” —Amy Carmichael


Love Experienced

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” —1 John 4:8

The apostle John simplified everything when he stated, “God is love.”

But we can misunderstand that love. You might regard your relationship with God as an invitation you once answered when He knocked on the door of your life and you let Him in. Now you’re a Christian. Simple.

But don’t let that be enough. We’re not supposed to just start going to church, put a Bible on the coffee table, and figure, OK, took care of that. I’m right with God.

That’s not love experienced!

A life that knows true love is filled with a multitude of invitations, because of the nature of love. Love is a living relationship that never remains exactly the same, but grows deeper, more intimate, more secure. We can never get enough of it, and we will never come to the end of it, because God Himself, the Author of love, is infinite and His love knows no limits.

Every day, in a variety of ways, the Lord comes knocking on the door of your heart. Through circumstances, people, new opportunities, a change of venue, the beauty of nature, and sometimes heartache and tragedy—God gives us the chance to experience and live with His love in a new way, everyday.

Don’t miss your daily invitation to grow deeper in God’s love.

Seek Him in His Word.

Look for Him in the faces of the people around you.

Accept the hard things, as part of what makes you a deeper, more compassionate person.

Give the love God gives to you away freely, abundantly, wisely, and with a grateful heart.

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