Christianity 201

May 30, 2021

Social Media Detoxification

Rebecca Brand lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband, Kieren, daughter, Sarai, and their rescue dog, Nala. She has blogged for years at RebeccaBrand.org, has spoken nationally and internationally and is the author of Life’s Greatest Battles. We have borrowed two articles from her on this subject, so readers, please reciprocate by clicking the headers which follow and reading this on her site.

Hello, From the Other Side

Over the last two months, I have embarked on a detox for my soul, and it has been life-changing.

You see, at first, it hadn’t dawned on me that I had stumbled into the rat race of social media…I had unintentionally wanted to start to find the “best time” to post (because that is when “my followers” are most “engaged”. I had also started to think about the social media “algorithms”, and how post-after-post on Instagram and Facebook would tell me why I wasn’t good enough, and that these other people had the key to “success” in getting more followers, more engagement, and ultimately, more “famous” (like, what does that even mean?).

I had realized that I had innocently become a consumer on what these social media giants wanted all along – my time, and ultimately, what they hoped for, was my money.

I was tired of waking up, and not spending as much time with God, in order to create “the post” (which ironically was about God) that would speak to “more people”.

For the last six years, blogging was like my “daily diary.” I’d spend time with God and then write what was on my heart. I loved the simplicity of whatever revelation the Holy Spirit had given me for that day – I’d write about.

But Holy Spirit had started to show me that I was spending more time on social media and less time with God, and so I stopped, with repentance in my heart, and a cry in my soul, to truly reconnect with my saviour.

One day, before I went on my soul detox, I stumbled across #fakefamous on Netflix. As I was watching, it was as if a veil of deceit had come off my eyes!

Friends, when something takes our eyes off Jesus – no matter how many times we tell ourselves, that this is our “ministry” – it’s a lie, and we need a heart check.

God never wants us to be more focused on anything other than Himself. We need to ask ourselves some hard truths about why we want more likes, shares and saves…because I know for myself, I wanted more followers, and I had unintentionally started comparing myself!

Let’s stop giving the enemy what He wants and restart to connect with our ultimate true love

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else”

Matthew 6.33

Why Are We Still Striving?

I used to believe that I wasn’t striving, but over my two-month social media detox, God showed me that I, along with many others, still are

The catchphrase “actions speak louder than words” rang true in my ear because it was the first time that when God told me to take the break, I saw people start “unfollowing me” and (no offence), but I didn’t care

A few days ago, I wrote on when I watched a program called “Fake Famous”, and it opened my eyes to how fake social media can be. Honestly, it showed me that although we have people on our profiles who engage with our content, more often than not, the numbers that are represented aren’t an accurate representation

For the first time, and I continue to be, at peace in seeing my numbers decline because I am not interested in having fake accounts or bots follow me. This was never my intention in the first place, and yet, there I was, checking out, daily, my stats and wondering where I was going wrong?

Things have shifted in my life. I realized that I was striving to bring in large numbers as I believed that that would allow the messages God has placed on my heart to have a wider reach. Yet, Jesus changed the world with twelve faithful followers, all located right before His eyes, so why do we strive for anything less?

Kieren and I have been praying into our church – which launches end of June – but, again, we would rather have ten people “on fire” for God to change our city, our region, our nation, and beyond, than a church of ten-thousand that are “sleeping”

My absolute favourite song at the minute is “Jireh” by Elevation Worship, but a few lines within that song became true for the first time in years…

“I’ll never be more loved than I am right now”

“Wasn’t holding You up so there’s nothing I can do to let You down”

“God is enough”

Friends, when will we truly get the revelation that God loves us unconditionally, and so, He doesn’t need our ministries, but He has only ever wanted our hearts?

Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Let’s stop striving and be who God has called us each to be…

A child of God

“Give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways”

Proverbs 23:26

May 11, 2021

Heed Wisdom, Practice Trust

This is our sixth time with Melody at In Pleasant Places and it’s a double-feature today! Please, honor our writers by sending traffic to their sites and pages by clicking the headers and reading the articles where we first found them.

Written on Your Heart – Proverbs 3:3-4

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.”

Proverbs 3:3-4

This is a call from a father to his son to not only keep to the father’s teaching and commands but also for the son to bind steadfast love and faithfulness around his neck and write them on his very heart.

This goes beyond the surface.

It isn’t just obedience. It is devotion. Pure, wholehearted devotion from the core of his being. This entailed an intentional commitment by the son. His heart wouldn’t necessarily naturally incline to the teaching; he needed to write faithfulness and steadfast love onto it.

This picture of the heart as a tablet highlights how impressionable it is. It implies that the heart itself is impacted by what is written on it. It cannot lead – it follows, and it does so strongly. So we must lead it with truth.

The verses in Proverbs remind me of another, Jeremiah 31:33: But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

That is the Lord’s declaration, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. Contrasting the covenant initiated with Moses, my covenant that they broke (v. 32), with the new covenant the Lord would establish through Christ.

“And [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Matthew 26:27-28

In the new covenant, when we enter into grace through faith in Christ, we are forgiven, freed, cleansed, and our brokenness healed, because we are made whole in Christ. And the Lord has declared that He will put His law within us and write it on our hearts.

Our hearts engraved with His Word and His commands, enabled to walk in light and life as our hearts are led with truth.

It is devotion, love for Him at our core, which pours out as obedience because that is what He has written in power and grace. And that is what we continually strive to experience as we study His Word, walking in His power to resist the temptations of a world that tries to etch falsehoods in place of His truth.

So to our deepest places, He is our God and we are His people.

Does this not reveal a beautiful aspect of God’s heart?

He is involved here. Very personally.

To put His law within you, a law of liberty and love to guide you to abundant life and keep you free from sin’s entrapment.

To write it on your heart.

This is not surface-level obedience.

It is relationship, a relationship that brings whole-life change at the core.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

All My Heart – Proverbs 3:5

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Proverbs 3:5

Reading this familiar verse this morning, I began to contemplate what it is to trust in the Lord with all my heart. We generally hear and use the phrase, “with all my heart,” in contexts where it’s all-encompassing. No reservations. No hindrances. All-in.

This is a leaning-in with every piece of my heart, every part of my being, to trust the Lord.

To trust the God who is living and active; the God who reigns over all; the God who made me with all of my details and who watches over me with care because I am His through Christ.

To trust the God who has very specific and intentional commands regarding how I am to live, including where my focus should be, what my aim and motivations should be, how I am to treat people, and the lifestyle and moral character my life is to demonstrate – character grounded solidly in the morals He established in His Word as Ruler and Creator of all and as the One who reigns in light.

To trust in Him with all my heart regardless of what I perceive or understand because He is the One who knows and sees everything.

He knows better.

I do not.

But I know Him and He is trustworthy. Far more trustworthy than my own perceptions or how I feel about something. Far more trustworthy than what makes sense to me.

He is wise. He is good. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. He is comfort and peace. He is strength and joy and hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

When I trust in the Lord with all my heart, this is what it does. This is what it looks like. Unshaken. Hope abounding. Joyful, peace-filled, believing in Him.

As I share the gospel, speaking Christ to those He brings on my path. As I work. As unexpected things happen, whether painful, discouraging, scary, or expensive. As I go throughout my days in my marriage, with my family, with my friends and fellow believers. Whatever my path holds, hope abounding in my ever-present God as I look to and trust fully in Him.

A God who shows His power by giving us hope. We don’t have to muster it ourselves. The joy and peace, even the belief itself, starts with Him and flows into us. As we abide. As we rest. As we dwell with Him and abide in His Word which holds all truth because it reveals Him to us.

We set our eyes. We choose to press in. We lean our hearts and minds toward Him and toward trusting Him fully, and we rejoice knowing that He meets us there and that He has been empowering us for it the whole time.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself
give you peace at all times in every way.
The Lord be with you all.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16

April 23, 2021

Some of Jesus’ Statements We Call Hyperbole Are Still Truth

Can you imagine the crowds listening to some of the more outrageous statements made by Jesus and saying, “Oh, there he goes again!” Despite the sensational nature of some of the things he said, the phrasing is also the reason we remember them, like the one in today’s devotional.

Our online travels today took us to For Christ’s Sake Fellowship which is run by Pastor Daniel Harlow. This online ministry describes their goal as: “We aren’t necessarily looking for a congregation as much as we are trying to help establish a strong, personal, and life long connection between you and Jesus Christ.”

Click the header which follows to read at their site.

Cast Off Your Hand

“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:30

Temptations abound in this world. You can’t turn on the tv or even drive down the road without being bombarded by beckoning sin. Even the smart phones we hold in our hands create an open doorway for all kinds of evils. What is a good person to do?

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said that if your eye or your hand causes you to stumble, it would be better for you to pluck the eye out or cut off your hand and cast them away rather than to have your souls to end up in Hell.

What Jesus is saying there is not about hurting yourself, it’s about being willing to do whatever it takes to keep your eyes and your mind on Heaven. Aim for your righteousness and it will help yourself and others.

I do say “yourself and others” because you have more power and affect on other people than you realize. There is truly no such thing as a personal sin. Sin hurts and people who think much of you will follow your lead. You will take many souls with you wherever you go, either to eternal peace in Heaven or to eternal death.

Jesus mentioned the right hand for a reason. It is an example of your strong side. For most people, you get the greatest benefit from using your strong hand. That being said, even if something is benefiting you, it may also be what is doing the most damage to you in the long run.

There are many things in this world that are OK to do, but are they leading you somewhere good? Has the Holy Spirit been knocking on your door recently about something? Do you pray? Do you spend time in the scriptures? Do you use your tone wisely to help others?

I like to fish and I enjoy watching TV now and then. A few little relaxing pursuits are OK, but not when they consume my time. Even OK things, lawful things that benefit us, can get in the way of our eternal salvation. Moderation is key in many cases, but some things, even small seemingly insignificant things can take you away from the life God has called you too.

Jesus Christ suffered and died so that you can be free from sin. All of those bad things you’ve done are gone when you accept His payment on the cross. He died and rose again to give you an abundant life not only in Heaven for eternity, but here on Earth as well.

Use your abundance, whether it is food or money or strength or whatever, to help other people. Don’t use your time and earthly pursuits to chase sin. And make no mistake about it, if you are not actively chasing Heaven, you are slipping back down farther towards hell.

Jesus said there are only two roads. There is a wide one with a large gate that’s pointed in the wrong direction. Many people are on that road, heading for destruction. However, there is another road, a straight and narrow path that leads to an eternity of love and peace. Few find that road.

Which one are you on right now?

Once again, I’m not telling you to ACTUALLY cut off your hand. Please don’t! But I am telling you that we must be ready and willing to cut things out of our lives to gain God’s kingdom and blessings. Even if those things in our lives are OK and lawful, maybe they even benefit us sometimes, but if they harm us and cause others to stumble, then those things must be done away with in our lives.

If you do this, God has promised blessings and peace for now and forever. So stay on that straight and narrow path. It’s worth it.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9

God’s blessings to you.


Bonus item: Here’s a short devotional from the same author/site. Check out “Refire!”

November 22, 2019

The Woman Jesus Wanted Us to Remember

Today we dropped in again on to Dylan Tarpley at the blog One Thing. The blog’s title is based on this verse:

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. -Psalm 27:4

Although the site isn’t currently active, there is a wealth of material here for you to consider. Like this one!

Mary of Bethany

Every human being has some desire ingrained in their being to do something significant. We all want to be able to look back at the end of our life and know that we have done something that matters. For believers, there is a desire to make a significant impact for God. However, we are often misguided in the way that we go about doing this. The Bible is filled with many people who did extraordinary things for God, but there is one that Jesus called out among the rest, and that is the life of Mary of Bethany.

On the exterior, this woman lived a pretty insignificant life. We only hear of her a couple of times. We never hear her preach a sermon. We never see her perform any miracles. She never raises the dead, or heals the sick. In most circumstances, her life would be ignored or forgotten by most. Yet Jesus declared to those who criticized her extravagant devotion that anywhere the Gospel is preached, her story will be told.

Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. – Matthew 26:13

Think about this for a second. Jesus so valued her life that He literally wants everyone to know about her. I don’t know of any one else who received such an honor. There were many who walked in more power, and seemed to impact more people than Mary, yet she will be remembered in His eyes forever. 

This must cause a radical shift in the way we see our lives. We must learn to value what Jesus values in us. The Bible says that His eyes are searching throughout the earth looking for hearts after Him. This is so important for us to understand. He is not looking for good sermons, good songs, or more gifts – He is looking for hearts.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him – 2 Chronicles 16:9

I want God to use me in ministry, but I want Him to be moved by my ministry to Him first. You may never preach to the masses, or find yourself on a foreign mission field, but your life can be remembered by Him. Could it be that He measures our life’s significance not by our ministry, but by our devotion?

So as I write this, I find myself signing up all over again. Jesus, I’ll break my boxes for you – over and over and over again.

November 15, 2019

Choosing: ‘The Gods of This Land,’ or The Lord?

Six months ago we introduced you to an author who was new to us, Mark Stephenson who co-pastors Horizon Church of Towson, Maryland and writes at Fire and Light. In more recent articles, he’s following the story of Gideon, but in this one, just a few days prior, Joshua’s story is about to wrap up.

All Faithfulness

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua was nearing the end of his life and so he challenged the people of God one last time. He wanted them to know that God was giving them land they previously didn’t own, cities that they did not build, and farms that they did not cultivate. All of this was God’s inheritance for them, but He expected them to be a covenant people. God expected them to be faithful to Him and worship Him only.

Joshua warned them against worshiping the gods of their ancestors. He then warns them about worshiping the gods of the land they now possess. The gods of their ancestors were originally the Sumerian gods worshiped in Mesopotamia and then the Egyptian gods worshiped in slavery. The local religion was a little different as it included the gods of the Canaanites (Amorites, Perizzites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, etc). Joshua was warning them that all of it was a trap and that they should worship Yahweh alone.

In America, the god of our ancestors is a civil religion, a nominal Christianity that amounts to a powerless moral deism. It is more about being a good boy or girl and being a true American than it is about a relationship with Jesus.

In America, the local gods of “this land” and this culture are gods of humanism, doubt, fear, sexual immorality, comfort, pride, and self-absorption. Freedom is defined as lack of boundaries, standards, and norms. Worshiping this sort of pantheon creates a perpetual identity crisis and a life of permissive morality.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to complete devotion to our Lord. We must reject the gods of this culture and the gods of our ancestors in favor of complete surrender to Jesus. Our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are being imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. Meanwhile the American church sits around echoing the words of enemy in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say that was wrong?”

We, as the Church, have to return to a complete abandonment to Christ. We must declare with our words, our life, and our faith the words of Joshua, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”

July 18, 2019

Distraction-Free Devotion

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Marlene Limgo at Life Walk With Marlene. Click the header below to read this post with some additional graphics.

The One Thing

The One Thing… necessary and good… which shall not be taken away… what is it?

Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

We often think that ministry is about being busy… about activities… about serving others… about preparations and distractions… about hospitality… about ‘doing’ the serving… about not doing it all alone…. Martha was like that. She was a hospitable host. She was concerned to serve Jesus the best of food and to treat Him as an honoured guest should be treated. She believed that loving Jesus is about doing her best to be a good host in the kitchen.

I am reminded of how my mother-in-law often busy and hurrying to take out the tea cups, the tea and sweets to serve the visitors while leaving them all alone sitting on the sofa. And the guest(s) sometimes would call out: “No need… come and sit with me/us to talk.”

So with Martha except that she had a sister, Mary who had the initiative to sit with their guest. What was Mary doing? Nothing? She’s just seated on the floor. Nope! She’s doing something. She’s listening to Jesus.

Jesus did not side with Martha to rebuke Mary for not helping. Instead, Jesus said:

1) Martha Martha… (calling her name twice) This shows that Jesus was concerned with Martha. It’s like when you’re concerned with your child, you call his/her name twice for emphasis and attention.

2) You are worried and bothered about so many things. (Jesus knew her inner thoughts. Her anxiety and frustrations… and they were many.)

3) BUT only One thing is Necessary. Mary chose that One thing and it’s the GOOD part, which shall not be taken away from her.

a. Living the life pleasing to God is about ONE necessary thing… it is sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to his words.

b. It is GOOD… to worship the Lord, to be in His presence – to put him more important than all the activities of doing and doing.. It is about being.. being with Jesus, in His company, being His friend, companion, follower, audience.

c. It is permanent… it will not be taken away. Nothing and nobody can take away the time I spent with my Lord… the memories of experiencing His love, joy, peace, comfort and awe of being at His feet and listening to His Words. This One necessary and good thing lasts, it stays, it will never be taken from me.

The world offers so many distractions. Social media, ads, our jobs, responsibilities, our pursuits of happiness and success all taking a piece of us – our attention, our mind and heart, our time and energy.

It seems that quiet time in the presence of God – reading His Word, listening and talking to the Spirit in prayer, all these are becoming less and less a priority.

What does God want me to do today? How can I live today that will please Him? How can I love my neighbour? Do I hear the still small voice calling me to forgive? Am I kind and compassionate to the needy? Do I speak the truth in love?

Do I walk my talk? Am I a submissive wife? Do I respect my husband? Am I training my children in the way that they should go? Do they know the Lord?

Do I present my body as a living sacrifice as my spiritual worship to God? Am I conformed to the world or am I being transformed and renewed in mind – seeking to know the perfect will of God – that which pleases my Lord?

The one thing that is necessary – the one good thing that lasts, this thing called Presence… to be present at the feet of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus. Let me remember today and always. Amen.

December 18, 2018

God’s Creation Plan Is Completed Through a Baby

by Russell Young

Christians enjoy the hope that has been availed through a baby, but God has instituted the incarnation of Christ for a purpose that may not be fully appreciated. It is through Christ that God is completing his creation plan. It is easy to accept that God created, but he is still creating. His original plan has not been brought to fruition but when it is finished, he will have the kingdom that he had envisioned from the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all men.” (Jn 1:14) That “life” that was the light of all men came to bring the light that will accomplish God’s creation plan; it will penetrate the darkness that shrouds the human heart, mind, and soul.

Paul has written, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom 8:22) The King James Version states this passage as, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” All of creation, including humankind, has been suffering. That pain continues because the light has yet to over-take the darkness. The “light of men” or as Jesus has identified himself “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12, 9:5), must reveal truth so that all of creation can be freed from the darkness that brings pain.

Paul has also addressed the eager anticipation that exists in creation for the revelation of God’s true or adopted sons. (Rom 8:19) Creation is eagerly waiting to be completed as the light of Christ penetrates the darkness in humankind. When this is accomplished, it will be completed as God had intended.

God loves his workmanship, all of it (Jn 3:16), to the extent that he gave his Son for its recovery. The restorative work of Christ must not be seen as limited to that of people but includes all things. God created humankind in their (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) own image (Gen 1: 27) and had declared his final product to be very good. People had been created with special attributes. They can absorb and process information and can store it to make reasoned, informed decisions. Although originally created to know “good” only, with the Fall they also came to know evil. God had ordained people to have free-will and it is this aspect of humankind that allows a freely chosen, loving and committed relationship with him. The LORD presented the nature of the relationship with him that was acceptable. “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees…” (Deut 10:12) Matthew, Mark, and Luke have recorded the same expectation. Love is chosen, it is an act of the will; consequently, freedom to choose is highly regarded and honored by the Lord.

Some would take the value of free-will away from humankind, but God requires a heart transformed by the Spirit of light so that people can choose the humble and holy and loving relationship that will bring glory to God. Paul has written, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, (Rom 12:2) and that, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) The needed transformation will result in a new creation; it does not result at confession of faith. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15)

Becoming a new creation conformed to the likeness of Christ requires his life to be lived in the believer through the Spirit. As the believer is led and obeys, death is brought to the “misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13) making him or her “an offering acceptable to God.” (Rom 15:16) The Lord needs to be honored as the “light of men” so that he can penetrate the darkness of the human heart.

Those who comply with the leading of the Spirit, “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21) or the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) will become God’s adopted children. (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:23) Those who have freely chosen to honor the Lord will dwell in his eternal kingdom which will be on earth. Once God’s sons have been revealed, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) Creation will be liberated when Christ has defeated the devil and his schemes. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…” (Isa 65:25)

Zion’s deserts, on the liberated new earth, will be made like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. (Isa 51:3) Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made and through him hearts will be transformed to meet God’s purposes while maintaining in humankind the freedom to love him by choice, thus bringing to fullness God’s creation plan. Christ will achieve their (Father, Son, Holy spirit) purpose with the selection (election) of a people conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) freeing all creation from decay and corruption. The devil’s work will be fully defeated (1 Jn 3:8) and all things made new. “Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24)

God chose to create all things through Christ, including the holy priesthood through the refinement of the human heart and the preservation of free-will. It is through the baby, Jesus Christ, that according to God’s plan, creation will be fully achieved, a state freed from decay where he can dwell with his people. In it “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 Jn 4:14)

Merry Christmas!


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

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

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.

December 7, 2016

“I Am a Jealous God”

Last year at this time we ran an excerpt from one of the hundred entries in 100 Names of God Daily Devotions (Fall, 2015; Rose Publishing) by Christopher D. Hudson; a padded, full-color, hardcover book which features not only many interesting devotional readings, but also an index giving the Greek or Hebrew terms along with their Strong’s Concordance number. We thought we’d revisit that book today.

100 Names of God Daily Devotional - Christopher D HudsonEl Kanna

Jealous God

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God  Exodus 20:5

Who wants to be thought of as jealous?  This unflattering description brings to mind the petty schoolgirl who bitterly resents the spotlight that a peer is enjoying, or the fact that her rival’s boyfriend is cuter than hers.  To be jealous is to be vain, selfish, suspicious.  It is to want what others have, never fully acknowledging or appreciating the good things in one’s own life.

And yet, there is another kind of jealousy – a holy version. It’s this noble form of jealousy that God has for His people, according to the Bible.  But why is this a fitting jealousy?  Why is God right to want us exclusively for Himself?  Because he made us, and in Christ He purchased us (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23)

Divine jealousy isn’t motivated by greed or selfishness.  God’s holy jealousy is rooted in a desire to protect, provide and bless.  He always and only wants what is best for His chosen ones.  And what can be better than His perfect love?

Instead of imagining the negative and hurtful jealousy displayed by a petty schoolgirl, we need to imagine the protecting and providing jealousy of God.  Picture God more as a loving father who discovers his homeless son sleeping in a filthy gutter. Imagine how this father might jealously seek to rescue his son. The father’s goal is to restore his son’s life, not to further punish him.

When God freed the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, He took them to Mount Sinai.  At the foot of the mountain, God told them they would soon be surrounded by neighbours who were devoted to other gods.  He warned them they would be tempted to turn away and be unfaithful.  Lastly, He assured them He would not stand idly by and allow that to happen.  As a jealous God, He would fight fervently for their attention and affection.

When God calls Himself jealous, it is a reminder to us that our worship cannot be divided.  The Great Commandment is to love God with “all” (not part of) our hearts.  He alone is worthy of our devotion.  He alone is deserving of our hearts.  He knows that the ones He loves will find life, ultimate meaning, purpose and joy nowhere else.  He knows that He alone is the one place where our hearts will find their true home.

This is why when Jesus came, He reminded us that we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).  He told us that whoever is not for God is against Him (Luke 11:23).  It is tempting to be “sort of”, “sometimes” or “mostly” devoted to God.  But we either give ourselves to Him or we give ourselves to other lovers.  God is jealous for our love because He is zealous for us to know His.

Related readings: Exodus 34:13,14; Isaiah 42:7,8

October 31, 2016

Reading the Classics: Anselm of Canterbury

The Bible emphasizes using your intellect…

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. I Cor 14:15

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‘ -Luke 10:27

…but warns against being captivated by philosophy:

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. – Col. 2:8

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the pointless discussions and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge. I Tim 6:20

(underlining added)


anselm-of-canterburySt. Anselm? Who is he? Wikipedia informs us that,

Anselm has been called “the most luminous and penetrating intellect between St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas” and “the father of scholasticism”, Scotus Erigena having employed more mysticism in his arguments. Anselm’s works are considered philosophical as well as theological since they endeavor to render Christian tenets of faith, traditionally taken as a revealed truth, as a rational system.

Angus Stewart notes, “If Bede is the most historical, and Wycliffe the most biblical, Anselm is the most philosophical of English pre-Reformation thinkers.” Some Christians hesitate to read philosophy, either because they feel the genre is foreign, or too academic; or because they associate Christian philosophy with its secular counterparts.

His writing was often vertical in nature, and so I’ve classified these as prayers. (A similarity between this, and the vertical worship writing in our modern church music is worth observing.) You’ll also note in bold face below a particular quotation for which he is often remembered.

Writing at the turn of the 12th Century, he is revered by Anglicans and Catholics alike; the former for his position as Archbishop of Canterbury, the latter for his perspective on Mary.

Dialogues (Socratic method of teaching; this one clearly supporting limited atonement)

Gomaro: You speak often about “the elect.” How are they redeemed?

Anselm: Through the satisfaction of Christ, for this is why God became man.

Gomaro: Why then do unbelieving infidels go to Hell?

Anselm: They are punished for the great debt of their sins.

Gomaro: If their sins were punished on themselves, they were not satisfied by Christ, since it would be incongruous for the infinitely wise God to satisfy for sins twice.

Anselm: Reason does demand that it is either punishment or satisfaction for sins, but not both.

Gomaro: Then Christ did not make satisfaction for those who are in Hell, but only for the elect?

Anselm: I see no way of opposing you.

Quotations:

God does not delay to hear our prayers because He has no mind to give; but that, by enlarging our desires, He may give us the more largely.

Remove grace, and you have nothing whereby to be saved. Remove free will and you have nothing that could be saved. (attributed to him)

Let no worldly prosperity divert you, nor any worldly adversity restrain you from His praise.

God often works more by the life of the illiterate seeking the things that are God’s, than by the ability of the learned seeking the things that are their own.

In this way, then, the Lord Jesus ought not to have undergone death because He alone [among men] was innocent; and no one ought to have inflicted death upon Him; nevertheless, He ought to have undergone death because He wisely and graciously and usefully willed to undergo it.
De Veritate

Prayers:

“O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude. While I am here on earth let me know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully. On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in the fulfillment of my hope.”

“I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.

So truly, therefore, do you exist, O Lord, my God, that you can not be conceived not to exist; and rightly. For, if a mind could conceive of a being better than you, the creature would rise above the Creator; and this is most absurd. And, indeed, whatever else there is, except you alone, can be conceived not to exist. To you alone, therefore, it belongs to exist more truly than all other beings, and hence in a higher degree than all others. For, whatever else exists does not exist so truly, and hence in a less degree it belongs to it to exist. Why, then, has the fool said in his heart, there is no God (Psalms xiv. 1), since it is so evident, to a rational mind, that you do exist in the highest degree of all? Why, except that he is dull and a fool? — Proslogium

“My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily onto the day when I come to that fullness …Let me receive That which you promised through your truth, that my joy may be full.”

Thus you are just not because you give what is owed, but because you do what is appropriate to you as the highest good.
 

Sources:

AZ Quotes, Brainy Quotes, About.com, Inspiring Quotes, Catholic Fire

 

April 18, 2016

Skipping Church

NIV Heb 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

CEV Heb 10:25 Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.
ICB Heb 10:25 You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing. But you should meet together and encourage each other. Do this even more as you see the Day coming.

I don’t know of a verse which is more timely, especially in view of recent reports that regular church attendance is now considered to be once or twice per month.  We covered this topic a few months ago, and listed several benefits that come with faithful church attendance.

But some of that is fairly elementary, and this is after all, Christianity 201 not 101, so I want to share something today from a writer who takes this in another direction.

Thinking about this verse, I came across the blog 1014 Experience Street. Writer Phillip Pratt points out that the context here is not about clinging to a particular local church or congregation but about clinging to Christ. Of course, this is a two-sided coin: Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, but wanting to be with Christ’s people can be a reflection of your devotion. But Phillip sees a potential for abusing this verse when we forget the larger context.

You can click the title below to read this article at source.

Hotspots: Hebrews 10:25 Part III

So what does Hebrews 10:25 really mean then? The book of Hebrews has a theme & it is not about religious attendance but about clinging to Christ, specifically the hope of Jesus Christ (verse 23).

Other verses that speak of this great “hope” of Jesus Christ and His return:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
“Now also we would not have you ignorant, brethren, about those who fall asleep [in death], that you may not grieve [for them] as the rest do who have no hope [beyond the grave].”

Titus 2:13

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ

So lets break Hebrews 10:25 down then revisit the overall picture:

“Forsake” in Greek is egkataleipō = quit, leave entirely, abandon completely, desert, to give up or renounce

The same word is found in Matt 27:46My God, My God, why have You forsaken (egkataleipō) me? & also in 2 Tim 4:10 for Demas has forsaken (egkataleipō) me

Now, is someone who attends a church service once a month or once every 3-4 months completely abandoning or renouncing anything?

Hebrews was addressed to persecuted Jewish Christians who were completely (or considering) abandoning “faith in Christ”.

“Assembling together” is a one word phrase from the Greek word episunsgoge or episynagoge = to be gathered together but to who or to whom?

It can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together (episynagoge) unto Him…

This verse is telling us to cling to & “gather ourselves unto Christ” & don’t be shaken. It has nothing to do w/ church attendance & everything to do w/ persistence to stay focused on Christ & His return.

Check out these other verses regarding our “hope” = gathering unto Christ: Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34, Mark 13:26, Mark 1:33, Luke 12:1.

The book of Hebrews is all about not casting away the hope or confidence in Christ & His return, it is not about weekly church attendance; it is a command to hold fast to our profession of faith/hope, that was promised by Jesus that upon His return we will be gathered unto Him.

Verse 26 is a warning about what happens if a person forsakes the hope of gathering together w/ Christ: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins.”

This is encouragement not to turn away from the faith & hope of Christ coming to fulfill His promise lest they be cast into judgment as there is nothing more to be done for the remission of sins.

So, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging people throughout the entire book to hold fast, to not forsake their faith/hope/promise of being gathered unto Christ yet he takes a break in the middle of ten chapters, changes the subject & commands them to go to church every Sunday? That’s quite a stretch..

Again, is it good for Believers to get together & encourage one another on a regular or semi-regular basis? You bet it is. Is Hebrews 10:25 talking about mandatory, weekly church attendance? You bet it’s not and that’s pretty clear from the Greek study.

Is there any doubt that Hebrews 10:25 is one of the most abused & misrepresented Scriptures ever?

If more people would just take the time to study not just the content but the context, the Greek & Hebrew words and to actually be Berean regarding what they are taught we would see much more freedom and effectiveness in the Body of Christ today.

I usually let the writers we feature here have the last word, but I know today there will be some of you who feel that in this commentary the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. In his “about me” section, the writer shows where’s coming from on his personal journey and how he has a low tolerance for

  • religiosity
  • christianese
  • traditions/rituals
  • power trips
  • titles

In a previous post, he mentioned the idea of people attending weekend services out of guilt. I get that. But as I said in the introduction, I think there are many blessings that occur when we do meet together. It’s a matter of coming to maturity and finding the place of balance.

Actually, I am going to let Phillip have the last word. You may have noticed in the title that this is a ‘part three;’ here are the links to the other two sections:

Hotspots: Hebrews 10:25 Part I

Hotspots: Hebrews 10:25 Part II

 

March 7, 2016

Jerry Bridges Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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I Sam 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.

Psalm 5:5 The arrogant cannot stand
    in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
    you destroy those who tell lies…

Psalm 11:5 The Lord examines the righteous,
    but the wicked, those who love violence,
    he hates with a passion.

Jerry BridgesChristian author Jerry Bridges passed away on the weekend. You can read an extended post at Thinking Out Loud today which contains 3 articles which appeared previously here at C201 including some of the content below, which appeared over 5 years ago. Our key verses (above) all appeared in connection with other articles about Jerry Bridges and speak of holiness, as his bestselling and best-known work was the book The Pursuit of Holiness.

 

We abuse grace when, after sinning, we dwell on the compassion and mercy of God to the exclusion of His holiness and hatred of sin.


Our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.


Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved.


As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin.


So often we try to develop Christian character and conduct without taking the time to develop God-centered devotion. We try to please God without taking the time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is impossible to do.


Worship from the heart in times of adversity implies an attitude of humble acceptance on our part of God’s right to do as He pleases in our lives.


One thing we may be sure of, however: For the believer all pain has meaning; all adversity is profitable. There is no question that adversity is difficult. It usually takes us by surprise and seems to strike where we are most vulnerable. To us it often appears completely senseless and irrational, but to God none of it is either senseless or irrational. He has a purpose in every pain He brings or allows in our lives. We can be sure that in some way He intends it for our profit and His glory.


Every day is important for us because it is a day ordained by God. If we are bored with life there is something wrong with our concept of God and His involvement in our daily lives. Even the most dull and tedious days of our lives are ordained by God and ought to be used by us to glorify Him.


Peace should be a hallmark of the godly person, first because it is a Godlike trait: God is called the God of peace several times in the New Testament. He took the initiative to establish peace with rebellious men, and He is the author of both personal peace as well as peace among men. Peace should be part of our character also because God has promised us His peace, because He has commanded us to let peace rule in our lives and relationships, and because peace is a fruit of the Spirit and therefore an evidence of His working in our lives.


As used in Scripture, holiness describes both the majesty of God and the purity and moral perfection of His nature. Holiness is one of His attributes; that is, holiness is an essential part of the nature of God. His holiness is as necessary as His existence, or as necessary, for example, as His wisdom or omniscience. Just as He cannot but know what is right, so He cannot but do what is right.


We need to call sin what the Bible calls it and not soften it with modern expressions borrowed from our culture.


What is holiness? The best practical definition that I have heard is simply “without sin.” That is the statement that was made of the Lord Jesus’ life on earth (Hebrews 4:15), and that should be the goal of every person who desires to be godly. Granted, we will never reach that goal in this life; nevertheless it is to be our supreme objective and the object of our most earnest efforts and prayers.


I believe a word that forcefully captures the essence of Jesus’ work of propitiation is the word exhausted. Jesus exhausted the wrath of God. It was not merely deflected and prevented from reaching us; it was exhausted. Jesus bore the full, unmitigated brunt of it. God’s wrath against sin was unleashed in all its fury on His beloved Son. He held nothing back.


 

 

Sources: Christian Quotes, Search Quotes, AZ Quotes (the last link is great if you’d like to read much more.)

February 16, 2016

A Devotional About Devotion

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our 6th time with Andy Elmes who is better known in the UK, Australia and New Zealand than in North America. His organization is called Great Big Life and he hosts a weekday radio feature called Breakfast of Champions. You can also get the Breakfast devos by subscription (click the above link) as I do by email each weekday morning. This is part one of a series, you need to sign up to see them all.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church, part 1

Acts 2:41-43 (NIV)
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

These verses show us a really good day in the life of the early Church. What a result: three thousand people added in one day by one message! How would you like a response to your personal evangelism like that?

The other great thing that these verses give us is a glimpse into the culture or DNA of that early “blueprint” church. In these verses we see a number of values that they chose to give great emphasis to. I personally think that when we hold these verses against the ones in Matthew 28:18-20 (the Great Commission) and Acts 1:8 (the promise of empowerment to a GOing people) we find the co-ordinates for the destination we are to still take as 21st century relevant churches, and indeed the ‘blueprint’ for building what God wants built. We need to still find our DNA for building effective Christian lives and churches in that which Jesus was passionate about and commissioned us to do and that which the first Church spent their time, energy and money doing. What He desired and what they dedicated their lives to transcends style or natural culture and still gives us a great and effective building plan for our lives and churches today.

They devoted themselves
Here we find the first ingredient to their effectiveness. There was within the church, not just the leadership, a spirit of self devotion. People daily “devoted themselves”. They had great preachers, but they were not spoon fed; they were self feeders taking responsibility to get the spiritual nourishment they needed. They had great meetings and fellowship but did not need to be constantly phoned or dragged there or reminded with constant bulletins like they had memory problems; they got themselves were they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

Andy Elmes DevotionSo much of modern church is sadly about motivating people to do what they should naturally want to do, encouraging people to do things that really should be their spiritual lifestyle. Imagine if we could get even more self devotion into the DNA of the modern western Church – how much more effective would our local churches be if each member took personal responsibility for even the little things, like getting to Church on time so church services could start as strong as they could do, serving on the teams that needed them and turning up when it was their turn without a text, being faithful in honouring God with their finances and time without subtle reminders and encouragements from the stage?

I am always amazed at how people can downgrade the “God bit” of their life and sentence it to a lesser devotion than the other bits; one great example again being time keeping. In every other area of life they are on time: meetings with the dentist, bank manager, work – but why not church? What is that switch that needs to be fixed? Surely the greatest of our devotion belongs to God, right? Surely the place we manifest the greatest personal self devotion should be in His House? Imagine what we could achieve if just this one thing was to change – suddenly no challenge would be too great. Hey we might even see 3000 people get saved on our Sunday morning: 3000 people moved by His message but also moved by a group of people so sold out and devoted to what and who they believed in.

Let’s be a devoted people.

 

 

March 27, 2015

What are Devotions?

devotionals

I thought it would be interesting today to take a step back and look at the genre of writing we do here each day and ask the question, What exactly are devotions?

I know Wikipedia isn’t the place where Christians get their information, but I wanted you to see their definition; I’m not sure they got it right:

Christian devotional literature, also known as devotionals, is religious writing that is neither doctrinal nor theological, but designed for individuals to read for their personal edification and spiritual formation.[1]

The footnote is from The Encylopedia of Christian Literature and reads:

After the Bible, Christian devotional literature has provided the most popular and instructive kind of reading and guidance for believers. Most broadly considered, Christian devotional literature may be thought to encompass any inscribed verbal artifact employed to stimulate the production, sustenance, and direction of the unique interior Christian self, whether solely in relation to the divine or including also service to fellow believers, neighbor, and/or world.

Everybody got that?

Their entry for “Bible study” clears this up (a little):

In Christianity, Bible study is the study of the Bible by ordinary people as a personal religious or spiritual practice. Some denominations may call this devotion or devotional acts; however in other denominations devotion has other meanings. Bible study in this sense is distinct from biblical studies, which is a formal academic discipline.

I like the idea that devotion is a personal activity, and that it’s not about building up academic knowledge. But the first definition implies that it’s not theological in nature, but then what are you left with?  And where does it leave those of us wanting to process at a “201” and not “101” level, and go deeper? Their definition leaves you in an “inspirational” category that can be theologically vacuous. Theology is the study of God, and while that implies (to some) something taking place in a lab, we do want to know God and learn His ways, as part of our daily walk with Him. It’s going to involve, at the very least, an open Bible.

The word devotion is used eleven times in the NIV, the first few always preceded by the adjective wholehearted. That’s a point we don’t want to miss. Our devotion should not be brief, perfunctory or done out obligation, or done with grumbling. It should come from the heart.

2 Kings 20:2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” …

(That exact verse, word-for-word, is repeated in Isaiah 38:3.)

Two of the uses are in the New Testament.

I Cor 7:35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

The second one is a warning:

2 Cor. 11:3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Here we’ve picked up two more adjectives, pure and undivided, which we add to wholehearted.

The word devoted is used even more frequently.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

You can read all of the uses of devoted here.

On a personal level, when I think in terms of devotion, the verse which comes to mind most frequently is:

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The modern devotional readings we do could fall under the “teaching” or the “prayer” category, but either way we see a four-pronged devotion in the early church: Teaching, fellowship, the common meal and prayer. (I know prayer is one area where I’m weak; what about you?)

In our modern world, we sometimes despair when somebody takes a noun and makes a verb out of it, but perhaps here we have an example of someone taking a verb and making a noun. Devotions have become a thing, something printed in a book or on a computer screen, when in fact devotion to God is an action; an action perhaps based on an underlying attitude or approach toward God.

One of my longtime favorite devotional books is a one-year tour through the NCV New Testament called Time With God. But you can read the book and miss the title: God wants us to spend time with him, and he wants to spend time with us.

If you’ve read this far, the title at the top of the page is clearly wrong. The question is not “What are devotions?” but rather “What is devotion to God?” or perhaps “What is my devotion to God?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 18, 2014

Give Me This Mountain

I was enjoying the lyrical depths of a playlist of songs by Graham Kendrick and was particularly drawn to the song Give Me This Mountain (Caleb’s Song). I decided to post it on Thinking Out Loud by itself, but wanted to at least include the scripture reference. The video annotation reads:

A song about a Biblical encounter between Caleb and God. Caleb was called ‘wholehearted’ by God and was allowed to enter the promised land.

I decided to investigate that further, first in scripture,

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

and then when I landed on the blog of Harvest Pointe Fellowship in Evans, Georgia. Once there, I knew I had to include it here at C201.  Click the title below — a reference to Caleb’s character before God — to read it at source.

Wholehearted -Joshua 14

Besides God, there are two main characters throughout this stage of our study of Joshua: obviously Joshua is one of them, and the other is Caleb. Caleb is one of the spies who entered the Promised Land the first time– all the other spies gave reports of giants and fortified cities and how it would be impossible to take this land but Caleb (and Joshua) stuns everyone by boldly proclaiming that they should enter the land because God had already given them the victory. No one listened to him and the children of Israel are forced to wander the wilderness once more. We should not be surprised to learn that the name “Caleb” comes from Hebrew and means “wholehearted”. Caleb is a man who lived his entire life with wholehearted devotion to God’s purpose.

…Caleb is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. He stands as a shining example of one who never lost his edge spiritually. He himself said at age 85, “I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and coming in” (Joshua 14:11 NKJV). This demonstration of courage must have unnerved the other men. They may even have thought him senile.

At this point of our study of Joshua, God’s people have taken much of the long awaited Promised Land and Joshua was dispensing portions of it to the tribes. However, Caleb steps forward to claim that which had been promised him by Moses. In fact, Caleb asks for the land that he had surveyed as much younger man.

In response, Joshua granted his faithful friend Caleb what he asked. He gives Caleb Hebron. The old man proved he had not yet exhausted his courage, when he said:

Now therefore, give me this mountain [the land of Hebron] of which the Lord spoke in that day. . (Joshua 14:10–12 NKJV)

The other men of Israel must have breathed a sigh of relief that Caleb had chosen this portion of land. This was not some beautiful, green pasture; it was one of the most treacherous mountainous areas of the Promised Land. Even more problematic was the fact that formidable adversaries inhabited this land. This was the home of the sons of Anak, the very same giants that terrified the 10 spies sent by Moses. No one wanted to take on the giants except 85-year-old Caleb. Can’t you just envision him holding up that muscular old arm, saying, “Give me this mountain”?

I love the boldness of this man of God. I can just see Caleb running up that mountain. I can see him as he slays his adversaries. He was victorious. He had been strong all those years and he finished well.

Let me share several principles with we learn from Caleb’s life that can give us this same spiritual stamina we need to run and indeed finish in the race of life well.

1. Follow the Lord 100 percent. Scripture says again and again that Caleb “wholly followed the Lord.” It’s in Joshua 14:8–9 and verse 14: Joshua blessed Caleb and gave the old man what he asked because “he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.”

This is clearly a key to Caleb’s spiritual success. But what does it mean to “wholly follow the Lord”? It means that you must fully follow our Lord not halfheartedly, but completely. One hundred percent.

Are you wholly following the Lord your God? If you are not, you will eventually be picked off. It is only a matter of time until you become a casualty in the race of life.

2. Don’t compromise—stand your ground. At the risk of being ostracized, Caleb took a stand for what he knew was true. He knew he needed to be more concerned with God’s approval than man’s approval. And for this, he was rewarded.

As you walk with the Lord, you will face many temptations to cave in to peer pressure, to do what everybody else does. But if you are going to fully follow the Lord, then, like Caleb, you must make this principle operative in your life. Stand firm and seek God’s pleasure, no one else’s.

3. Take God at His Word. Caleb didn’t win immediate entrance to the Promised Land. First, he had to wander around with those ungrateful, complaining Israelites for 40 years. They said things like “We remember the good old days back in Egypt, where we had garlic, leeks, and onions.”

Despite the Israelites’ childish clinging to conjured memories, Caleb hung on to the promises of God. He knew God would be faithful, regardless of the time frame. Caleb trusted God’s word to him. We can do the same.

4. Long for fellowship with your God. Caleb asked for a place in the Promised Land called Hebron. There is something very interesting about the name Hebron, which—in the original language—means “fellowship, love, and communion.” Hebron is where Abraham met with God face-to-face and received the promise of the new land in the first place.

Caleb yearned for fellowship with God. While the other Israelites longed for Egypt, Caleb longed for Hebron. While the others looked back in dread, Caleb looked forward with fearless anticipation. While others wanted to please themselves, Caleb wanted only to please God.

This is an essential key to spiritual longevity. You must always move forward. You must always seek to grow spiritually and never look back. That’s what will keep you going.

If you are living this Christian life for others’ applause, you won’t make it. You have to run empowered by your love for God.

Questions for thought:

1. Have you ever felt resentful or burdened by something God was calling you to do?
2. One justification for not helping or serving is that feel we need time for ourselves, for our studies, for our work, for our own rest. While easy to understand, what do you think is wrong with this mindset?
3. When was the last time you felt excited and even proud to have the chance to serve? What made that situation so different?
4. What are some practical ways you can begin to see serving God as your privilege rather than your burden?

 

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