Christianity 201

January 30, 2017

Christianity 201: Devotional # 2500

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

Then the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 2,500 posts here at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only touches readers, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

December 10, 2016

Your Smell – Part Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the second two.

Your smell affects others

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

The fragrance that comes from your life affects three people, according to Corinthians. Let’s look at the first of these three this morning.

First of all, God smells you
“We are to God the aroma of Christ”. How awesome is that – when God leans over and sniffs us living our everyday lives, He smells the incredible fragrance of the beauty and righteousness of His Son, Jesus. You may say, “But you do not know what I did this week”. My response is that you need to know that, according to God’s word, your life is hidden (positioned in) Christ and when God smells you, He smells the fragrance of Jesus and of His finished perfect work of redemption.

A great comparison is found in Genesis 27:27, in the account of when Isaac blesses his son Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac was blind by this time, and knew His sons by touch and their distinctive smells. Jacob, acting on the plan of His mother, wore the smell of His brother to get his father’s blessing, and it was because of that smell that Isaac was convinced he was with Esau, not Jacob, and blessed him. (Read the account. It is a good read.)

Genesis 27:27, NKJV
And he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him and said: “Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed”.

The smell that is upon your life is the smell of the Son He loves and the field (life of His Son) that He has blessed. How awesome is that! When you approach God you smell like Jesus. Also, you need to know that, unlike Jacob, this is not a con but rather an intention of God, because it is He who positioned you in Christ. Don’t feel like a fraud, like Jacob did, because you’re not. Your scent is the result of His intent and it is He that coated you in the Son of His delight.

Because of this you can again today approach the Father, knowing that His approval of you is established in Jesus. You can, as it invites us in Hebrews, “approach Him with boldness of faith.”

Know that the Lord your God loves the smell of you…

…Two groups of people are mentioned in the above verses, and two distinctive smells. If we let them follow their natural order I think we may be able to see that God intended both smells to exist and play their part.

Those who are being saved
Corinthians says that we are the smell of death among this group. Death? One way of looking at it could be that our lives should smell of the death we have experienced in Christ. When people (church folk) get to experience our aroma they should smell the scent of the death we have died in Christ on us. It is that divine death that separated us from everything we used to be and so liberating and enabling us to be the brand new creations we now are. They should smell the death of such things as selfishness, pride and other scents that were once common to us and also that there is a new creation smell to us now.

• Those who are perishing
Our aroma among the unsaved should be one of extreme life. When unsaved people get a whiff of us they should be overwhelmed by the scent of resurrection and new life that comes from every pore of who we are. Remember that through new birth (death, burial and resurrection) we have been made alive together with Him and so our lives should smell of life, not like the musty corridors of religion. Let’s face it, the smell of life is so much better than the smell of death. Life is more likely to attract followers than that of death. What would you follow?

As we move forward to possess our day let us be conscious of the aroma our life is giving out to the world God has called us to change.

December 9, 2016

Your Smell – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two more titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the first two.

What do you smell like?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

A better way of saying ‘smell’ would be to use the word ‘fragrance’, or ‘aroma’. Paul’s challenge to us is this: What aroma or fragrance is coming from our lives as we live them out daily?

God’s plan was that our lives would “spread everywhere the fragrance of Him”. Is that what your life smells like today? When people get a whiff of your life do they smell the scent of grace, and the aroma of someone who knows Jesus?

This is a good challenge for each of us to consider and, as with many things, there is a natural and a spiritual reality to smells and people. We can compare them both to make a point.

All of us have experienced, or been exposed to, at one time or another, a person passing us with a nice scent – maybe an expensive perfume or after shave. It’s also very likely you have experienced the smell of someone passing near to you with bad BO (body odor). Have you ever sat in the same room or enclosed place with someone who removes their shoes and they have really unpleasantly cheesy-smelling feet? Yep, we have all experienced both.

Naturally, our lives can release a smell or a fragrance that is either pleasing or not-so-pleasing to the senses of others, and spiritually this is a reality too. What does your Christianity smell of today. Smells are very interesting things. They can attract people or repel them depending on what type of smell they are. When people encounter you do they smell the sweet perfume of knowing Jesus or the odor of religion, with all its various scents of law and legalism – or worse, the pungent stench of hypocrisy?

We shouldn’t have to struggle to daily release the sweet scent of Christ from our lives, but simply remember that it is the natural reaction of His life resident within us.

Again, look at the natural body as an example. The reality is that whatever is in you, or put into you, can play a large part concerning the odor that comes from you. One of the times that I took Gina out to eat, I ate a very large chunk of garlic without realizing it was raw. By the end of the night it was manifesting its odor nicely from every pore in my skin and, by the next morning, had contaminated every inch of who I was – especially to my family who sadly had to experience my breath.

The fragrance of your life should be Christ-like in its scent simply because of two things:

• Jesus now lives in you. You are not a hotel He visits but rather His home (place of residence). He does not pop in and pop out when He feels like it but never leaves according to His promise. Christ in you is the hope of Glory but also so the source of the pleasing fragrance that comes from your life.

• You realize and accept that your life is now His home and, as you do, you daily yield and submit everything you are to Him. The fragrance of His life comes from every part or through every pore of who you are.

Also, while we talk about the principle of “what goes in affects what comes out”, it is important that you be daily feeding your life the stuff that you want your life to be smelling of. For example, if you keep feeding your life the law of Moses then it will be the law of Moses that you smell of. Feed your life daily the truth and grace that comes through Jesus and you will love the way your life starts smelling, and so will others.

Bless you and consider again the One who has now become the very contents of your life. Let His life flow out of you again today.

May our lives today release wherever we go that sweet aroma of Christ in us. May that smell attract people to follow Him.

Be smelly, in the right way!

 

November 27, 2016

Is there a Crisis in the Church?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.
 (Isaiah 24:5 NIV)

by Russell Young

Could the church be in an unrecognized age of crisis?  It is prophesied that a time will come when church doctrine is no longer sound (2 Tim 4:3), that the power of the Spirit will be lacking (2 Tim 3:1-5), and that people will seek out teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Tim 4:3). The Lord said that at the end he will destroy the earth and its people because of their disregard for his everlasting covenant, his laws and his statutes. (Isa 24:5) Disregard for his government is the issue that will bring an end to civilization as we know it. The decay of truth is gradual and the practices and attitudes that are so offensive to God will not suddenly appear.

It is easy to dismiss God’s prophesies with the understanding that they do not apply to our churches and that they do not apply to us. Unless Isaiah’s prophecy is wrong, and it cannot be, the time will come when the people who inhabit this earth will have departed so far from the standards acceptable to him that he will bring all life to an end.  Does the church recognize the need for compliance to his covenant, laws, and statutes?

Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John.  Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.  It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Lk 16:16─17 NIV) From John’s time and the realization that a hope for a place in the kingdom of God became known people have been devising ways to gain entrance into it. Much philosophizing has allowed departure from the truths of the Word through teachings that are more acceptable to human nature.  These philosophies are having an impact.  When was the last time that you preached or heard preached the need to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law. (Rom 8:4)

Consider the common message:  Confess that you are a sinner and invite Jesus into your heart or simply be baptized and your place in heaven is assured.  Such teachings have nothing to do with God’s covenant, laws, and statutes. They make no requirements on the “believer” and offer him or her everything.  How could the message be made more attractive to those with “itching ears?” Contemporary gospel music assures humankind that God’s unconditional love and favor rests upon them and much praise is offered to God for his great mercy and blessings.  Little is being presented concerning the need for sacrificial or righteous living and of the judgment to come.  The destruction that awaits many is seldom heard.  The teaching and attitudes portrayed are far from honouring much of the teaching of God’s Word. His everlasting covenant is being broken and current teachings often allow for his laws and his statutes to be disobeyed.

Biblical truths have been abandoned in an effort to appeal to humankind and their wayward nature.  Empty promises are being uttered and false hope is being given. The work of the evil one is rampant in this world and his persuasions and lies are too appealing to refute or even, it appears, to desire to refute.

Paul wrote to Timothy: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3 NIV) He also warned that in the last days people would have a form of godliness but denying its power.  And cautioned him to have nothing to do with them. (2 Tim 3:1-5) (The power of God comes through the presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit.) Has this time come? Could teachers be scratching itching ears rather than face the rejection that could possibly accompany calls to righteousness? Has the expansiveness of God’s grace replaced teachings about judgment?  Is the cost of being a disciple of the Lord being made known or has  It has been traded for the offering of “freedom” without commitment?  What is the cost of following Christ in the western world?

Should the cry of John the Baptist and the distress of Jeremiah be heard again? Where has courage gone? Paul taught: “Work out your own salvation with fear [terror] and trembling.” (Phil 2:12 NIV) God will not be mocked! (Gal 6:7)

Is there a crisis in the church?  How close is time to the fulfilment of God’s prophecies?


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


 

November 25, 2016

Fighting Back, Piece by Piece

Today a first-time writer here. Lisa Sharpe came recommended to us and blogs at Thoughts, Ponderings and Random Nothings. You can encourage her by clicking the title below and reading this at her blog. If you know someone who deals with fear, anxiety or depression; you might want to direct them to the article linked below.

Daily Battle: How I Fight Back

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:31-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

There are days where I wake up or go to bed simply to reset. The day was too long, too hard, or too empty and so I had to close it out and hope that the next day would be different. Better, somehow. But a reset doesn’t always happen, and I still have a day to get through. So this is how I fight.

I wake up and I can feel it immediately. I don’t have it in me today. “It” being that magical thing inside of you that helps you feel like “you’ve got this”. And mine today, is missing. Why? I don’t know. I try to find it, gathering what pieces of it that are left lying around. There isn’t much, and what I can seem to grab slips through my fingers. I’ve got none of it today.

The rapid fire thoughts start coming even before I’m fully awake. Starting with simple questions, only to find out later down the line that it’s Fear in disguise. Do you really think you can make it today? Maybe you should just stay in bed. Today is going to be hard, are you sure you can handle it? You don’t know what’s waiting for you outside those doors today, and you’re sure you can handle it? Not just it being there, but the unpreparedness of it coming at you? No. I’m not sure. Gosh, this feels hard.

Then, after the questions begin to turn into concerns, the self-doubt bursts through the door like the Kool-Aid man. Why can I not get up and face life like everyone else can? My life’s not that hard, I know it’s not. So the problem must be me. Why can’t I just be strong enough to easily get through a day? Why do I always have to struggle?

Then the statements show up. Self-declared statements that feel like facts. I’m never going to be able to beat this. It’s always going to follow me. This is the rest of my life, and I’m already having a hard time. How can anyone put up with someone like this when it makes me a monster? I am a monster. And I can’t stop. I can’t handle today. I’m not going to make it. I’m not enough to get through this day. And if I keep trying, I’m going to keep failing and this world will crush me. And no one wants to deal with a crushed person.

Geez. I can’t handle today.

So let’s break down today into smaller pieces and see how I do.

Let’s close our eyes and slow down for a minute. Whatever it is that you know needs to be done can wait a minute. Forget about all the people you think you need to be there for. All the things you know you need to do today. Forget about the details of what you need to do at work. If you could take it all out of the equation for just a bit, where would that leave you? That leaves me with nothing. Great. So now I’ve broken my life down to nothing. There would be nothing left. Nothing but God. I almost forget about Him. I keep confusing Him with “it”.

He’s still here. So it’s back to me and Him. I keep forgetting this is exactly where He wants me. Not getting too wrapped up in all the “stuff”. He told me I’m not supposed to be strong enough. “It” was just a lie anyway. I forgot that it’s really kind of Him to break me down until my only prayer can be, “Help. God, just hold my hand”. That way I won’t forget He’s there. That He controls my day. That He knows what’s outside the door, and He is ready to face it boldly, even when I’m not. I forget that my day is His, not mine, and that He has a reason for having me go through today. And that includes this struggle. He is ready for every step of the way, so that I don’t have to be. My interactions with people are for Him, not for others. I work to be faithful, not to impress. I hold His hand because I trust Him and want Him to guide my day, not because it’s the only option. Even though it is the only option. I’m broken. But He knows that, and He said it’s okay.

Geez. I forgot everything. I want to be free again. I want to give Him back my day again. I want Him to have it. I think I could face today if He had today. I don’t want this day to own me. I want to be free again. God take this day back. It was already about you, but I had forgotten, so please take it back and make it about you for me too. Help me to remember. And please, hold my hand while I keep trying. I’m going to need so much help. But I think if you were there, I know I could make it. And even if I fail again, at least I won’t be alone. Help me to remember and see that today is for you. For your plan. It was always your plan.

OK. Eyes open. It’s time to move. My first step can’t wait forever. I’ll just work on making it to breakfast first. Then to the car. Then until lunch. Then home again. Piece by piece. And somehow I’ll turn around and be amazed at what happened in the “in between” spaces of all those place markers in time. Somehow in the in between spaces, I listened and prayed for a friend. I accomplished a task. I solved a problem. I avoided an accident. All while avoiding a meltdown. But how? I’m not even sure, but I do know one thing: It wasn’t “it”. It was Him.

 

September 2, 2015

The Conflict Between Tradition and Jesus

Jesus and Traditions

by Clarke Dixon

When a Baptist preacher announces that he is about to preach a sermon focused on tradition you can usually guess what is coming up. Said preacher will be looking to encourage the trading of stale churchy traditions for new “attractive” ones. But I’m not going there for many reasons including one very simple one. When Jesus spoke about tradition he did not go there. He had much bigger fish to fry. There was a much greater problem with tradition that he needed to address:

1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. ’ 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition Mark 7:1-8 (emphasis mine)

We should be struck by the possibility that we too might “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition” (v.8). The word tradition literally means “to give over” or as we more commonly think of it, “to hand down.” What traditions are handed down to us that are in conflict with the things God would have us think and do? What traditions are handed over from people around us that likewise do not lead us to honor God? The tricky thing with traditions is that we often keep them without thinking about them or questioning them. It is so easy to just keep doing the done thing without realizing that in doing so we dishonor God. Do the accepted traditions of our families, friends, and society honor God?

Jesus continues:

9 Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die. ’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) — 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this Mark 7:8-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus gives an example of people declaring that something was dedicated to God as an excuse for not helping their own family with their own wealth. So the accepted tradition of the day distracted from the keeping of what God had said ought to be done. This is just one example: “you do many things like this” (v.13). The question for us is: do we also do many things like this? Do we ever distract from and “make void” the Word of God through traditions we keep? Here are some possibilities:

  • We make void the Word of God when we justify sinful practices by appealing to a few verses of the Bible rather than looking to the whole message. A very sad example can be given of those who would use the Bible to justify slavery. The following of Jesus meant a transformation of slavery. We see an example of this in the wonderful and short book of Philemon where Paul encourages Philemon to welcome back his thieving runaway slave Onesimus: “that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother.” (Philemon 15,16) Yes, slavery is found in the Bible, but so too is the focus on serving others as Jesus served, including slaves. Jesus is our example. To appeal instead to the traditions of the societies of Bible times is to make void the Word of God.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow church-taught traditions to usurp or confuse Biblical belief and practice. As examples, traditions around purgatory add confusion to what the Bible teaches about salvation. Traditions around praying to the saints, no matter how meaningful some might find the practice, adds confusion to what the Bible teaches about prayer. We must be careful we root our beliefs and activities in God’s Word, not church tradition.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow misconceptions to persist. For example there is a common misconception that God is judgemental and mean in the Old Testament, but nice in the New. God is consistently represented as holy, therefore a God of justice and judgement, and gracious, therefore a God of mercy, in both the Old and New Testaments. The expression “God is love” is consistent. Misconceptions can become traditions that are handed over or down, making void what the Bible really teaches.
  • We make void the Word of God when we keep society’s traditions around conversation. There is a tradition in Canada that we would rather talk about weather, hockey, and politics than about religion. And if we do talk about religion we certainly do not want to talk about sin. This tradition runs so deep in our society that it is sometimes even kept in churches. We say things like: “Jesus welcomes everyone, so don’t talk about sin or people won’t feel very welcome.”  The intentions are good, the result is not: God is dishonored by our sin and our sin persists in part because we are not talking about it. The Bible talks about it. We make void the Word of God when we don’t.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow media to tell us what Christianity is all about. If you were to base your knowledge of Christian theology on what is said or sung in popular culture you would think that Christianity is focused on “good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell.” Rather, Christianity is focused on Jesus Christ. It is not just about getting to heaven and there are no good people who can get to heaven anyway. It is about Jesus being alive and Lord. It is about relationship with God made possible through Jesus dealing with our sin on the cross, relationship that changes everything now and in our lives beyond death. We make void the Word of God when we make popular media our source of Christian teaching rather than the Bible.

So should we trade stale churchy traditions for new attractive ones? The more pressing questions are: Are we abandoning the commandment of God to hold to human traditions? Are we making void the Word of God through our human traditions?

All scripture verses are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada

August 31, 2015

Offering Unauthorized Fire

Leviticus 10:1 (NIV) Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me
I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored.’”

Aaron remained silent.

4 Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” 5 So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. 7 Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, 9 “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, 10 so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.”

These are two excerpts from the book What Would Jesus Read by Joe Amaral; two readings related to Leviticus.  In the last year, Joe turned his attention from First Century studies to the heavens. Check out our review of The Story In The Stars.For more of Joe here at C201, click this link.

Leviticus 10:1
They offered unauthorized fire

Aaron’s sons offered unauthorized fire to God. God struck them dead as a result of their sin. Seems a little strong, yet that is what the Scripture records. God is love and God is fair, but God is also just. We like to forget that sometimes.

Many Christians are taught that the God of the New Testament is not the God of the Old Testament – that the God of the New Testament is filled with love and compassion, and the God of the Old Testament is a violent, cruel, and angry God. That is simply not the case. The Bible says in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.”

We need to understand the holiness and justness of God. He is slow to anger and he is willing to bless and love for a thousand generations. But we have to live in the reality that there are consequences to sin.

A police officer may forgive us for running a red light, but we still have to pay the fine. We must learn to live in reverent fear before the Lord and to walk in His ways. He is a loving God who guides our steps, even when we sometimes veer off the path.


Leviticus 10:7
So they did as Moses said

Have you ever used the term “scared to death”? That would apply to today’s passage. The entire camp was literally scared to death. Aaron’s two sons had just been killed for offering unauthorized fire.

God spoke through Moses, and the people did as Moses said. You can be sure that no one was considering disobeying Moses after what had just happened. This wasn’t the first time the people suffered death because of disobedience. Remember at Mount Sinai when they worshiped the golden calf? Three thousand were put to death that day.

People always judge the people of Israel for not “getting it.” They always seemed to stray away from God, get punished, get forgiven, and then stray away again. Let’s take a good long look in the mirror: are we any different today? How many times have you been forgiven for the same sin? We have all fought the same fight with our sins.

Let the fear of the Lord guide you as you strive to live for Him. He has given us His Word to be a light.

~Joe Amaral in What Would Jesus Read? (FaithWords, 2012)

 

August 19, 2015

The Source of Wisdom

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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wisdomDesiring Wisdom? Desire God

by Clarke Dixon

There has never been a time of greater access to information. We have so much information, knowledge, and opportunities for education in our society today and yet sometimes people seem to make the craziest choices!  Just having access to information does not ensure that we will use the information to make good decisions. Recently I discovered that a major Christian website has deleted the comments sections from its blogs. Why? I suspect it is because some people say the dumbest things in the dumbest ways and the editors could not keep up. People comment without wisdom, just as people often speak and act without wisdom. We need more than information to make good choices. We need wisdom.

Solomon was known for his wisdom. In 1 Kings 3:1-15 we learn about how Solomon came to be wise. Solomon had recently become the king in place of his father David, and God told him to ask for one thing. Solomon asks for wisdom.  There are six things there we can learn from his request in our quest to speak and act with wisdom:

First, in seeking to be wise Solomon acknowledges God.

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 1 Kings 3:5-6

Notice that Solomon does not immediately shout out his request. I think many of us would have done just that. Instead Solomon takes the time to recognize who God is and what God has done. Notice also that Solomon does not focus on his father David. Yes, David is mentioned, but it is God who is reason David did so well as king. God is the focus. If we want to make wise decisions we would do well by starting off with an acknowledgement of, and focus upon, God. This is one reason why weekly worship with other believers is so important.

Second, in seeking to be wise Solomon becomes humble.

And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 1 Kings 3:7

Notice again Solomon still has not rushed into his request. Before he does he acknowledges who he himself is, and what he is like. There is something about acknowledging God that inspires confession and humility in us. Many people do and say the dumbest things because they think they know everything already, therefore everything they speak and do must be good. They do not have teachable spirit. We will not speak and act with wisdom if we do not learn to say “I have much to learn.”

Third, in seeking to be wise Solomon recognizes the importance of his calling.

And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 1 Kings 3:8

Notice that Solomon still has not made his request yet. Before he does Solomon realizes the gravity of the situation. He is now responsible for many, many people. Not only that, but they are the people God has chosen, they are “your great people” v.9. Solomon understands that his role is very, very important. I wonder if people say and do the dumbest things because they do not realize that what they say or do is important. We can carry around the attitude that “it doesn’t really matter”, or “I am of no significance, I don’t really matter, so what I say or do is of little significance and does not really matter.” Every Christian person has a calling from God. Wisdom becomes a greater priority for us when we understand the importance of God’s call upon us.

Fourth, in seeking to be wise Solomon knows the importance of listening.

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people . . . 1 Kings 3:9a

Now Solomon finally gets to his request. I often go over the passage I preach on in the original languages, but please don’t think of me more highly than you ought for I am not a master of the Hebrew and Greek languages, I am a student. Being such I was amazed when in verse 9 I did not come across the Hebrew words I was expecting, words for “wisdom.” There instead was the word for listening. It reads something like “give your servant a listening heart.” This also rings through the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. But it does not ring through the English translations. We can have great trust in the English translations, but I wonder if something has been lost here. When we have the idea of listening, the obvious question becomes, “to whom are we listening?” Given that we have already seen Solomon acknowledge God, express humility, and recognize the importance of leading, not his own people, but God’s, it is clear that Solomon is asking for a heart that listens to and is obedient toward God. We can do and say the dumbest things because we are not listening to God.

Fifth, in seeking to be wise Solomon understands the importance of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

. . . able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people? 1 Kings 3:9b

Have you noticed that in educational situations in today’s society right and wrong, good and evil are barely talked about? The reason is obvious. If good and evil are real, then so is God. So instead we are given information and then asked to discern the best choice. Do you see the danger in this? The astute student (and they all are), figures out, even if only in the back of his or her mind, that while some choices may not be the best, they are still permissible. And so why not if it looks like fun? Christianity moves beyond a discussion of best choices, to right and wrong choices, good and evil choices. Many dumb decisions could be avoided if we knew the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Solomon knew that.

Sixth, in seeking to be wise Solomon will need to remain committed to God.

Next follow three verses where God expresses his delight in Solomon’s request, and His desire to grant that request and more. But it will not always be automatic, there is a big “if”:

If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life. 1 Kings 3:14

Notice the emphasis on God’s ways, God’s statutes, and God’s commandments. These are not the ways, statutes, and commandments of the king, but of the King of kings. Solomon gets off to a great start, but there are already hints in the opening verses of 1 Kings 3 that Solomon will not always be wise. Indeed he does not listen to the wisdom of God concerning marriage as defined in Genesis 2:24. His many wives and concubines end up being his undoing. Somewhere along the line Solomon’s commitment to following God waned and he started doing dumb things. How is your commitment?

To conclude let us summarize: If you desire wisdom, desire God. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
Psalms 111:10 

One final, but important thought: The most wise decision a person could make is to become a follower of Jesus. Some think that following Jesus and becoming a Christian is a stupid thing to do. But again we go back to acknowledging God, being humble, realizing the importance of His call, realizing the reality and implications of good and evil, and making a lifetime commitment. Some just don’t want to do that. But many of us find that following Jesus is the best and most worthwhile decision we have ever, and could ever make.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:1

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV


Regular Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon @clarkedixon is a pastor in Canada and blogs at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

August 2, 2015

A Post-Resurrection Teaching

great-commission-revisted

We often generalize that the days following the resurrection and before the ascension consisted of Jesus seeing people and being seen. But there are some great teaching moments that take place in that time period.

This devotional is by Ashley Bonnell at The Gideons Canada blog Send Me. Click the link in the title below to read it at source. Also, if you or someone you know speaks French, recently there was another shorter devotional by her that was translated en Francais. (If you want to know what you’re sending this is the English version.)

Me? Mission?

Did you know that after Jesus rose from the dead—before going back to glorious Heaven—He stuck around earth a little while longer to relay one important message to His disciples? One main message.  Of everything he could say in His last moment on earth, Jesus chooses one message in particular.

When we think about it like this, we realize that whatever His message, it had to be pretty important for Jesus to stick around to deliver it.

So what was it?

It was the Great Commission. Let’s look to Matthew 28…

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

It’s interesting the context in which Jesus says this. It’s from a position of “It is finished”—meaning, Jesus already defeated death. Jesus already paid for your sins; He has already made you righteous through His sacrifice. And in light of this, Jesus invites us on this mission that we get to be a part of.

Maybe you feel like this is an enormous message and task, and you as the messenger, aren’t quite sure if you have what it takes to do this… But I assure you, Christ in you—you have all you need.

Take Moses for example,

God told Moses he was going to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, out of years of slavery. That was quite an impossible task. And Moses, like us, felt inadequate. Moses responds to God saying,

Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?
(Exodus 3:11)

And God says:

I will surely be with you; (Exodus 3:12)

God’s presence with us is all we need. It is God who does the transformative, freeing work—not us. God promises us, just as he promised Moses, that He will be with us; He will not leave us, or forsake us.

Despite God’s promise, we still sometimes feel incapable. Moses too doubted God’s presence to be enough because of his own inadequacy. But you see, God can use anything and anyone He wishes to reveal Himself. Look what he says to Moses’ doubt:

The Lord said to him, What is that in your hand? And he said, A rod. (Exodus 4:2)

And then God instructs Moses to throw it on the ground, and it turns into a slivering snake.

“This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you. (Ex 4:5)

God uses Moses and his rod—both useless in and of themselves. A stick cannot free slaves, and Moses alone couldn’t either… Just as our talent, gifting, and interests and human strength can’t save people…

Jesus demonstrates, through Moses who feels inadequate, and the useless rod—His life-giving, transformative power. God demonstrates that He can bring a dead thing to life; a dead piece of wood into a live snake.

God does the same with believers like you and I—He takes us as we are, in our inadequacies and weaknesses, and He takes the things in hands that are in and of themselves useless, and demonstrates His life-giving power.

God is with you, and He will work through you … not because of anything you do, but because of who He is. God working through us, will set people free, set nations free, and bring people to faith in Christ.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt. Look to Jesus, and GO and Tell!

July 11, 2015

Reverse Engineering The Promises

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

A few days ago, we re-ran a piece on Thinking Out Loud that has also appeared twice here at C201, though not for three years. Apparently this time around, it really resonated with some people.

The idea was to look at areas in my life where it might seem like “it’s not working” and ask ourselves if maybe we’re doing something wrong.

We need to watch the logic of this however. A Biblical statement of promise such as, “If you do _____, then I [God] will do ______ …” is of the form “If ‘A” then ‘B’.” But we can’t logically automatically assume from that, “If ‘not-B’ then ‘not-A.” Moreover, some of the promises in scripture are guiding principles of how things work. For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it;” is a statement of general principle, but not an iron-clad assurance that every child raised in the love of Christ will not wander from the faith. Clearly, some do. (I realize some will say, ‘I have to believe that eventually they find their way back, or the Bible isn’t true.’ I guess we can debate that some time!)

All that to say, here’s what I wrote as it appeared (without this long introduction) a few days ago…
 
 

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

 

July 5, 2015

Blessed Are…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

Here are two different takes on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. If you are not familiar with the full text, or wish to do some comparison, click here.

Author and theologian Monika Hellwig gives us the following:

  1. The poor in spirit know they are in need and can’t help themselves.
  2. The poor in spirit know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with others.
  3. The poor in spirit rest their security not on things but on people.
  4. The poor in spirit have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
  5. The poor in spirit are less interested in competition and more interested in cooperation.
  6. The poor in spirit instinctively appreciate family, love and relationships over things.
  7. The poor in spirit can wait, because they have learned patience.
  8. The fears of the poor in spirit are more realistic and exaggerate less, because they already know they can survive great suffering and want.
  9. When the poor in spirit have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threatening or scolding.
  10. The poor in spirit can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.

~found in files; original source unknown; one blog notes a citation in The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.

The Beatitude Creed:

I believe that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
I believe there will be comfort for those who mourn.
I believe that being meek is a good thing and that those who give everything will inherit the earth.
I believe that those whose heart is set on seeking righteousness will find it.
I believe the merciful will receive more than they think they deserve.
I believe the pure in heart will be blessed and will see God.
I believe that those who long for peace and do more than others think is safe are children of the living God.
I believe in a place of safety for those who are hurt for trying to do the right thing.

I believe that being poor, and ignored and weak, and sick and tired and broken and messed up and kicked around is not as spiritually dangerous as being self-satisfied and clever and well-clothed and well-fed and degreed and creed-ed and important.

~posted July 17th, 2008 at A Life Reviewed blog – Joe and Heather live in Coventry in the English West Midlands

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

June 24, 2015

Hoping to Let Ourselves Off The Hook

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Time for our always-appreciated midweek post from Clarke Dixon.

You Are Only Human

We have all heard it. Some of us have even said it: “We are only human.” Typically, what we mean by that is “cut me some slack, I’m not perfect.” I must confess that I used to be a perfectionist but gave it up because I found it too depressing. I needed to cut myself some slack. Now I am only a perfectionist while working on home renovations. The weather has to be perfect and I have to be perfectly in the mood otherwise renovations are put off for another day!

There are none of us perfect. None of us were perfect students in school. Those of us who are parents know there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There are no perfect teachers. There are no perfect prime ministers. Sometimes we need to cut each other some slack. But do we maintain this attitude toward people like the leaders of ISIS and Boko Harum who are also not perfect? After all, they along with Hitler and Stalin are only human. Do we cut some slack to the people involved in things like human trafficking? Or is there not a place for higher expectations, for saying enough is enough?

The Psalmist writes “they are only human” but it means something quite different to what we normally mean:

19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
let the nations know that they are only human.
(Psalms 9:19-20 NRSV)

In Psalm 9 there are some people who could say “I am only human, cut me some slack.” They are less than perfect. In fact they are oppressive, they are murderous. They are destructive and wreak havoc in the lives around them:

9 The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13 Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death.
(Psalms 9:9-13 NRSV emphasis mine)

The theme of rescue from evil men runs through Psalm 9 and also Psalm 10 which many scholars believe were once one Psalm. We may not be as bad as the oppressors spoken of in these Psalms, we may never bring another person to “the gates of death.” But we may, like them, wreak havoc in the lives of those around us. This Psalm has something to say to us also. Let us look especially to verses 19 and 20:

“Do not let mortals prevail”

This prayer of the Psalmist is very much like a prayer that our Lord taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Not the oppressors’ empire come, but God’s kingdom. Not the oppressors’ will be done, do not let them prevail, but the Lord’s will. How often do we pray “Thy kingdom come” then strive to build our own empires and to have our wills prevail. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal, do not let my way prevail, may Your kingdom and Your purposes prevail in my life.

“Let the nations be judged before you”

We do not like to hear about judgement. But we do like justice. Justice does not happen without judgement. God’s sense of justice is impeccable:

4 For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment. . .
8 He judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with equity.
(Psalms 9:4,8 NRSV)

God’s judgement is right and good. In fact it should not escape our notice that this Psalm calling for God to act in judgement is actually a Psalm of praise:

1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(Psalms 9:1-2 NRSV)

That God will bring judgement to evil men is something that should inspire praise. Oh Lord I am mere mortal, while I depend on Your grace, may I be aware of those things you would judge in my life.

“Put them, in fear, Oh Lord.”

A better translation of fear is ‘terror’. Things would be better for the oppressed of the world if the oppressors of the world were terrified by the thought of the judgement that is looming over them. People do not have an appetite for hellfire and brimstone sermons any more. Yet we still need them for people think they can get away with murder. Many people need to be very afraid. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal. May I never think I can get away with murder, but may Your Holy Spirit convict and unsettle my heart.

“Let the nations know that they are only human.”

Now that we know the context we can see that “Let the nations know they are only human” is no “cut them some slack Lord” kind of prayer. Rather this is ”let them know they are only human and that therefore they need to seek You in repentance.” Since we are only human we should be turning to God. We should be turning to God for ethics, our sense of right and wrong. We cannot come up with that on our own. After all we are only human. We should be turning to God for salvation, for redemption from our sin. That is something we can not attain on our own. We are only human. God brings His perfect justice and grace together through Jesus at the cross. Since we are only human we ought to turn to God in repentance, going our own way will not get us very far. Oh Lord, I’m only human. So I turn to You and turn my life over to You.

When we say “I’m only human” we are usually trying to get off the hook. But knowing we are only human, we should be getting onto God.


Read more of Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 20, 2015

The Father Image Jesus Wanted Us To Keep

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Two years ago, for Father’s Day — which happens Sunday here in North America — our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

Today, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross.

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

April 29, 2015

Staying on Track

On the Right Track: Love and John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon (Click title above to link)

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).

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