Christianity 201

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

March 28, 2018

“Open Your Bibles as We Read from the Book of…”

With the 8th anniversary of Christianity 201 happening on Easter Sunday, we’ve been looking at some of the older articles on file; this one is from March, 2012…

I believe the most powerful words with which a preacher can begin any sermon is to say, “Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of…” I love analogies, I love to hear about the context in which the writers wrote, I love it when a preacher quotes contemporary and classic writers, and I need to hear the suggested application of the passage to my life…

…but it all has to begin with scripture.

2 Peter 1:16-NIV For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 in the above is key to this discussion. No matter what my will would desire to say, my words must, first and foremost, be guided by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Eugene Peterson translates the concluding section of the passage:

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

The problem we face in the Christian media, including Christian radio and television, and in Christian books, is that you’re hearing a lot of what Peter would call “private opinion.”

Any blogger or pastor or author has to be continually running a check: Is this my opinion or is this what God is saying? Is this my pet peeve or favorite subject or am I letting the passage speak?

In the U.S., there was (and probably still is) a network of radio stations that operated under the corporate name Clear Channel. That’s a radio term originally referring to certain powerful AM-frequency signals that broadcast over a wide area — especially at night — without interference from local stations that were assigned the same frequency.

Being a clear channel of what God means speaking with the power of His Word and not allowing the message to be fuzzy or subject to interference.

Continuing this theme in the next chapter — and remember the chapter divisions don’t exist in the original — Peter goes on to describe those whose signal is “interfered with” as false teachers.

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was doing research into cults to explain to our church exactly how does a cult get started. I used the analogy, “How does a rocket, properly aimed and positioned start to veer off course?”

I think it’s not a stretch to look at chapter two of Peter’s epistle as having some origins in what he says in chapter one: It began with someone’s “own interpretation” (NIV) or “private opinion” (Peterson).

A crowd can be wrong. Just because hundreds of people are jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you should also. But there is a security in both (a) the way the ‘church fathers’ have traditionally dealt with a passage of scripture; established through study Bible notes and commentaries, and (b) the confirmation that comes through the reading of other passages.

In preparing today’s thoughts, I was somewhat astounded by the large percentage of commentary and writing in the Christian quarter of the internet that begins with opinions and stores, compared with the very tiny percentage that begins with a verse or chapter of the Bible. (And yes, my other blog was trending that way so I created this one to give my own life and writing some balance.)

When it’s your turn to be the speaker, make the first words out of your mouth, “Take your Bible and turn to…”

~PW

 

December 29, 2017

When is it Right to Judge?

I mentioned on December 20th that I was so impressed by the material by Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, that we now return for an extra visit this month (plus a link to a third article) before our “six month rule” kicks in!  Click the title to read the first one at source.

Is it ever right to judge?

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Matthew 7:1

The minister stood at the church door to greet people after the service. The sermon hadn’t been an easy one to preach. He had spoken about sexual morality, and had stressed particularly the biblical ideal of marriage – one man and one woman, for life – and he knew that not everyone would take it kindly.

(He knew too, of course, that the ideal is exactly that: an ideal. And that God is compassionate and forgiving towards those who may have failed to achieve it.)

One woman had just a very brief comment to make: “I prefer to live my life according to Matthew 7:1. Goodbye.” By which she meant, of course: “I believe in not making judgments on the way other people live their lives.”

Was her frosty comment right?

In one sense, of course, yes. We should not judge others in the sense of condemning them. We are all sinners, so the sins we should take most seriously are… our own. Jesus goes on to make this clear in his words about the speck of sawdust and the plank: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… You hypocrite…” Point taken!  Ultimately, God alone is qualified to judge.

But in another sense she was wrong. Taking Matthew 7:1 as a stand-alone text – treating it as if it says everything that needs to be said – simply creates chaos.

Somebody has calculated that the Bible as a whole contains 31,102 verses (depending on which version you use), so if that minister had had the chance he could well have replied to the woman, “Er, yes, of course, Matthew 7:1 is great verse – but what about the Bible’s other 31,101 verses? What about verses that put a different angle on the matter – shouldn’t they be taken into account as well?”

For if you take Matthew 7:1 as the only word on the subject of judging, it implies that there are no rights and wrongs at all. Somebody commits murder? Oh dear, that’s bad – but, of course, Jesus says I mustn’t judge them. Somebody operates an internet scam and robs people of millions of pounds? Mmm, that sounds pretty dodgy as well. But of course Jesus says I mustn’t judge them…

Fact: some things are right and some things are wrong. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.

Jesus himself wasn’t afraid to point this out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13) Not exactly non-judgmental, that, eh?

In the early days of the church Simon Peter had to deal with a case of gross dishonesty by a couple called Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). So what did he say: “Ananias and Sapphira, you have done a seriously bad thing – but of course I am forbidden by the Lord Jesus to judge you”? Er, no. No: he spoke some quite frightening words: “… how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…?” Non-judgmental?

A little later Saul (before he became known as Paul) was confronted on the island of Cyprus by “a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6-12). This man comes in for similar rough treatment: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Again, non-judgmental?

The fact is that when we see evil and wickedness, whether in others or mainly in ourselves, something is wrong if we don’t recognize it as such.

But, having said that, shouldn’t our main reaction be one of sorrow?

This, I think, is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). He wasn’t talking about bereaved people or people attending a funeral; he was talking about people who shake their heads in sadness as they look into the darkness in their own hearts, and as they survey the sorry state of our world – the lies, the corruption, the greed, the vice and immorality, the violence.

Such people aren’t self-righteous or “holier-than-thou”; no, they are people who have looked a little into the heart of God, who have been moved by the beauty and purity they have seen there, and who long for things to be different. They are people who pray, as Jesus taught us: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) – and who add “including in my heart”.

Is that a prayer you can pray with sincerity? If it is, I think that means you can stand up for what is right, and denounce what is wrong, without being guilty of judging others where you shouldn’t.

Lord God, save me from fault-finding, criticizing and condemning others. Help me to see clearly my own sins and failings – but at the same time not to be afraid to uphold what is good, right and true. Amen.


This topic raises another important issue – how easy it is, like that woman at the church door, to misuse the Bible. It might be helpful to have a think about that next. See this article by the same author.

October 29, 2017

Sunday Worship

For this week’s Sunday Worship column, we have a writer who is new to us, but part of the WordPress family. Peter Corak has been very faithfully writing devotionals at My Morning Meal since November, 2009. As always, click the title below to read this at source and then use the archives menu to find other material.

Seeker Friendly

I guess I don’t normally think of God as a seeker. Maybe that’s because I think of seekers as needing something and I don’t think of God as in need of anything. But while God has no need of anything, there are some things He desires. This morning I read of something the Father seeks. Of something that He’s actively pursuing–something, in a sense, He craves. Something, go figure, that I can provide.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.”   ~ Jesus   (John 4:23 ESV)

God is a seeker. And He seeks true worshipers to worship Him.

The woman tried to debate the Lord Jesus on the form of worship (John 4:19)– was it after the way of the Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim or more along the way of the Jews at Jerusalem. But Jesus didn’t engage in that conversation. He was more interested in the function of worship. The “where” and “what” of worship were secondary to the “how” and “heart” of worship. True worship, said Jesus, was worship offered in spirit and truth.

Authentic worship isn’t tied to the externals of rite and ceremony, but is sourced in the authenticity and sincerity of the inner man. Real worship is less about going through the motions than it is about something moving in and through us. Offerings sourced in the heart and then finding expression as the “sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” (Heb. 13:15). True worship is worship in spirit.

True worship is also worship founded on truth, Jesus said. Not in shadows or types, which is what Jerusalem worship offered, but in the substance which those shadows and types pointed to. Yes, it is to be worship based upon sacrifice, but not the shed blood of lambs or goats. Instead, it’s to be adoration in response to the shed blood of the Lamb of God, come to take away the sin of the world.

What’s more, worship in truth is not worship offered from afar, carried by another into some cordoned off holy place. Rather, the worship God desires is to be personally, and transparently, brought before the throne of a thrice holy God by those declared to be believer priests, having been cleansed of their sin and robed in righteousness, through the power of the gospel. Able to bring their own offerings, as it were, into the very holy of holies, through the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Worship in truth is direct access worship.

People who worship in spirit. People who worship in truth. The Father seeks such people, true worshipers, to worship Him.

And so, in a sense, God is a seeker. And I ask myself, does God find in me what He’s looking for?

Am I Seeker friendly?

Oh, that my offerings would be sincere. That they would be sourced in thoughtful consideration of the One  I desire to worship. That they would be heartfelt. Brought with fervor before the One who is worthy of mindful and intentional sacrifices of praise. That I would resist slipping into an autopilot slumber with my thanksgiving. But that, instead, my worship would be the fruit of fully-engaged adoration–an expression of loving Him with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind.

That my offerings would be grounded in His word and His ways, enabled and powered by His Spirit. That I would resist the temptation to improvise and bring before the altar that which seems right to me. Rather, that my worship would be a response to the grace and truth found in the Savior. That the cross would ever be my “permission” to boldly approach the God who lives in unapproachable light.

Seeker friendly. That’s what I want to be.

By His grace. For His glory.

October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Christian Church?

Because Thanksgiving has already happened in Canada, our U.S. readers can consider this an early Thanksgiving article for them!

by Clarke Dixon

As people gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey with thanksgiving reflections, how many said something like “thank you Lord, for Christians”? It feels like right now, many would echo the thoughts of Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” Do we, who call ourselves Christian, inspire gratitude? Are people grateful for the Christian Church? If you are a Christian reading this, are people grateful for you? You may wonder why I am sticking to the series from Romans for Thanksgiving Sunday. Read on, there is a connection!

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)

As far as I know, people upon discovering their spouse is in an adulterous affair don’t say “thank you, Lord!”. Nor if they discover their family member is a murderer do they say “thank God for that.” And so on. People, whether religious or not, have gratitude when their loved ones  are righteous. Paul fleshes out for us in Romans 13 the kind of life that inspires gratitude.

A life full of love inspires gratitude: “love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. Love naturally inclines us toward the righteousness that people are thankful for when they experience it from their loved ones. When we learn to love, we do not even need the law. One who holds to a high standard of love does not need rules saying “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal”, and so on. He or she would not want to. When I am driving my wife’s van on the highway, I need the occasional sign to remind me of the rule “thou shalt not drive faster than 100 km/h”. It is easy to speed when you have a smooth ride and a 3.6 litre V6 engine. When I ride my motorcycle, I need neither the signs, nor the rule. Having an engine smaller than your average lawn mower, it is “out-of-character” for my Honda 125 to go any faster. When we are so filled with the love and presence of God that His love is overflowing from us, we don’t need the rules to keep us from hurting people. Hurting others is out of character for a loving person. Doing anything but being helpful to others is out of character for the loving person. Keep in mind we are not talking about the “I love what you do for me” kind of love, but the Jesus-going-to-the-cross-for-people-who-do-not-deserve-it kind of love. It is a decisive, sacrificial, other benefitting kind of love.

Are we learning that kind of love that inspires gratitude? If people are not generally thankful for Christians, perhaps we Christians are not loving like we can and should?

Paul continues:

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

A life full of light inspires gratitude. To give a loose paraphrase of verse 11, “do this love thing we just spoke of, knowing the age we are in, the age of light breaking in on the darkness”. There is a progression in the Bible from God saying “let there be light” through spiritual darkness beginning with Adam and Eve, through Israel called to be a light to the nations but often having trouble finding the switch, to Jesus being the true light in ways Israel never could. John calls Jesus, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9 NRSV). With Christ a new day has dawned and the darkness is receding. We are called to wake up and live in that new day. We are called to live as those belonging to the Kingdom of light, and not those who live according to the old empire of darkness.

The metaphor of waking up continues with the command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” when we get dressed. In other words, when people see us, when they see what we put on in the morning, they will see Jesus. Here is also a reminder that it is not about our efforts. It is about God’s continual presence with us.

Let us be reminded of Paul’s original appeal:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

People don’t like it when we are not conformed to this world. But when we are full of love, when we are full of light, the people close to us are grateful. If our nation is not particularly grateful for the Christian Church, then perhaps it is time for us to wake up and put on Christ. Are you up and dressed yet?

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

 

October 10, 2017

A Fire That Can’t Be Put Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a second visit to Pure Devotion, the blog of Lori Thomason. Click here to read her story. There were two other items we considered for today, but they’re much longer than what we normally do here.

If you have time I hope you’ll consider those; for today’s click the title below to read at Pure Devotion.

Fan Your Flame

2 Timothy 1:6-7 (NLT)  This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

“You cannot put out a fire that burns on the inside.” (Bethel Worship)

I am reminded today of the spiritual gift that God has given me. I have been challenged in the last few days to test the temperature of the water boiling into passion for Christ. Have I become tepid? Is the river of life flowing inside of me lukewarm? God has not given me a spirit of fear or timidity – but have I taken it anyway? He is given me power overflowing from amazing and abundant grace – am I doused in it? Is love my passionate motivation in all things? I have self-discipline. It is produced by the Holy Spirit who tends the fire that burns within me. The passionate pursuit of Christ that began with just a spark of faith turned into confident hope.

Matthew 5:14-15 (NLT) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

I am back at the furnace of the three Hebrew boys. I can feel the flame of refinement. The purification process designed to produce gold in our life. The heat that burns away all impurity to reveal the faith that is hidden within. I wonder if that is not the purpose of our life. To go through the same trials, troubles, and tragedies or to face the same temptations (rise or fall) that will demonstrate the Glory of God to all who are a witness. The church has painted a pretty picture. Religion erases the need for grace to give way to a façade of perfection not yet manifested until the return of Christ. We hide our broken hearts. Shield are scraped knees. Hide our dirty hands. When what the world really needs to see is a relationship so authentic that nothing can separate us. The Light of the Word was not lit up hiding in an upper room – but rather on a Cross for all the world to see in His Suffering. A city on a hilltop must be a reference to us. Given credibility in the Kingdom by our witness, but not to be tucked away in time. We are the reflection of His Love in its bloody, messy form. It may not be pretty but it’s the thing that we hold on to.

It’s time to fan the flame of His Spirit invested in us. To blow fresh wind on the passion growing dim within us. See when the fire is within us – the stormy winds cannot put it out. The waves of conflict or controversy will not overtake it. Trials will only make it hotter. Fearless faith rises from the ashes of burned pride as God makes beauty from them just as He promised. Our confidence becomes our conviction. Impossibilities will be the fields where faith is planted confidently and boldly knowing miracles will come up through the fertile soil.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 (NLT) Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave.  Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth, his offer would be utterly scorned.

The holy inhabitation of the Spirit of the Living God within us is the opportunity to experience true intimacy with Him. Jesus lives in us. Successful relationships thrive on intimacy. Intimacy is often considered in a physical sense but truly it is in the most spiritual sense that it is accomplished. Physical and material things change in life for they are in a constant and perpetual state of decay. Our body is born dying. Of course, we may try to maintain our appearance but truthfully the only advantage given to us is believers is new life that begins in our soul. As our soul prospers, so does our life externally. Intimacy is a close, familiar and affectionate personal relationship. It is the product of love and should encapsulate all of its characteristics. (I Corinthians 13) Those engaged in an intimate relationship know the other by close association with deep understanding and detailed knowledge of the other person. Intimacy requires openness by both individuals. It is an act of engagement that speaks, listens, knows and understands far deeper than words. Our intimacy with Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to experience a passionate love so perfect it burns away every other perception of the word.

Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Is my love and commitment to Christ born of an intimate relationship filled with passion possessing the brightest kind of flame? It was the desire of Jesus to love us and live in complete intimacy with us that provoked Him to exhibit “love as strong as death” and “jealousy as enduring as the grave”. Nothing can separate us from God’s Love now. We are more than conquerors and confident overcomers in Christ. If believers truly believed that then there would be nothing that would keep us from the fire. We would jump in feet first in hopes to grow deeper in love with Christ.

I Peter 4:12-13 (NLT) Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

For everyone will be tested with fire. (Mark 9:49) What if your present trial is actually an invitation to greater intimacy with the Lord? Could it be that He is trying to demonstrate His Love for you yet again with an outcome that is miraculous? Fiery trials will happen according to the Lord. We should be glad because it is through these incidents that we become partners with Christ. It is in His Suffering that our joy is made complete and dispensed in our life through passionate and fearless faith that will not back down from the fight or the fire but valiantly and victoriously fights for love. Are you passionate about your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you investing in your partnership with the Lord? Fan your flame. Stir the fire deep within. Let your light shine. You will not be consumed but fully connected. A flame introduces to a fire becomes one with it making it burn stronger and brighter than ever before. You are part of something bigger than yourself – become one with Jesus. Jesus came to start a fire in us producing a light so bright it burns away darkness all around us. The Light is produced by His Great Love. How bright is your light day?

Luke 12:49 (NLT) “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!

October 5, 2017

Longing for a Christian Government?

by Clarke Dixon (Note to infrequent readers: Clarke is a Canadian pastor. You need to know that today!)

Do you ever wish our nation could be best described as a Christian nation? A nation with Christian laws and leaders reflecting Christian values? A nation made up of people that reflect Christian character? Perhaps this is something worth aiming for? Perhaps it is worth fighting for?

Leave Canada for a moment and let us travel to Rome in the year 57AD. Societal values are a lot further from Christian values than those of our own time and place as is reflected both in the laws and the customs of the people. You head to the gathering of the church, held at this point in someone’s home, and you listen to the elder read a letter from the apostle Paul. “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) sticks in your mind. You begin to wonder, if we are not to be conformed to this world, then why conform to the demands of an ungodly government? In fact, since God’s values are better than Rome’s, why don’t we make it our aim to install a Christian government? Why don’t we aim at replacing the Roman Empire with what we think God’s Kingdom should look like?

Rebellion is already in the air. Bible scholars give three reasons for this. First, the Roman emperor Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome in 49 AD, which included Jewish-Christians. That left a bad taste in your mouth. Second, the Romans were not happy with extra taxes in the 50’s. That was as frustrating to Romans then as it is to Canadians today. Third, there was a growing sense of rebellion among the Jews in Judea which eventually resulted in outright war between Jerusalem and Rome beginning in 66AD. Perhaps as a Christian not conforming to this world you should join in the rebellious spirit of a people who are seeking a theocracy? Paul anticipates your thoughts in his letter:

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Romans 13:1-7 (NRSV)

Still feel like joining in a rebellion against Rome and taking the government for the Lord? That door has been shut: “Be subject to the governing authorities”. There is no need to set up a theocracy, for in fact, God is already sovereign over all: “for there is no authority except from God”. He does not need help in coming to power. Jesus reminds Pilate of this very thing:

10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above. . . John 19:10-11 (NRSV)

All governments are therefore accountable to God, even the ones that won’t recognize His existence!

The focus for the Christian is the renewal of our minds, not the replacement of our governments. Using power to overthrow the government and enforce some form of Christian agenda is actually to be thinking with the old mind. The Romans pointed to the cross as the means of keeping control. For them it is a symbol of brute force. Christians point to the cross as the means of salvation through Christ and the new way to live in the Spirit. It is a symbol of grace, mercy, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, justice, and the like. The focus in the New Testament for Christians is always on being disciples of Jesus and making disciples through the sharing of the Good News. That is how the Kingdom grows. It is through invitation, not compulsion. Jesus confirms that His Kingdom is not a matter of brute force to Pilate:

My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. John 18:36 (NRSV)

So let us leave Rome and come back to Canada today. What are the main lessons for us?

First, understand our priorities as Christians. The priority is not to seek the enforcement of Christian values on all Canadians by replacing secular laws with specifically Christian ones. The priority is summarized in the Great Commission:

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV) “18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Notice that a) Jesus already has all authority, there is no need for us to try and create a theocracy, b) that we are to make disciples, not laws, and c) we are to teach disciples to obey, not make everyone obey.

Second, understand what the separation of Church and State does and does not mean.

It does mean we do not impose our values on everyone else, which as we have seen is not to be our priority anyway. According to Romans 13 the Christian is to be subject to the governing authorities and not the other way around.

It does not mean that we cannot share our opinions on what values are good for society. So, to give an example, suppose our government decided that there should be no such thing as marriage anymore. We would be well within our rights to point out the positive impact marriage has for society. Since God’s values are demonstrably good values, we can to point to the evidence. Many a Christian value can be promoted through philosophy and science.

The Christian voice has been an important voice in the formation of our nation. We currently enjoy the best of both worlds; a secular nation with a Christian foundation. Many a secular state has been repulsive for the lack of a good foundation. Many a religious state has been repulsive for a lack of freedom. As the values of our society change it is important that we point out the blessings of values aligned with Christianity. However, we are to do so as disciple-making disciples motivated by love, rather than religious zealots seeking power through force. If the Roman Christians were to be subject to pagan Rome, then how much more should we be known for respect within secular Canada.

Read more at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

September 19, 2017

Surviving a Valley Experience

by Russell Young

Every believer will be faced with a valley experience at some point. That is, something will come into his or her life that seems devastating and destructive. It might be the loss of a loved one, financial damage, health issues, the pain of a destroyed relationship, the hurt of perceived betrayal, etc. For those living in Florida or Texas, or those suffering through the destructive earthquake of southern Mexico the valley experience is very evident.  Bad things happen and those engulfed in them must find a way through if they are to once more find hope on the other side.

When bad things happen, a person needs to clearly understand what victory looks like to him or her since without it only defeat remains. Their appreciation of victory provides objectivity and the goal that offers hope and recovery. It provides direction for obtaining the mountaintop and the ability to confidently proceed with life.

Although overcoming disaster may look different and feel different for each person, it is singular and consistent for all believers.  Victory while in this life is the attainment of God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus taught, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25 NIV) This life and the glories of this world are not to be valued. There are lessons to be learned from all “misfortunes.” For believers, the lesson may be a reminder to rely on God and to live according to his priorities and purposes. The “consistent and singular” need of the Christ follower is to focus and remain focused on him.

Paul put difficulties into an eternal perspective. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:17─18, Italics added.)

Victory must not be accepted as triumph over a momentary event but seen from an eternal perspective with the finding a place in God’s kingdom. There is no doubt that loss brings hurt and causes pain, even great pain and help and compassion needs to be shown the suffering. No one enjoys such experiences but it is through them that faith is tested and proven.  “…you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6─7 NIV) The faith of all will be tested. God made the Israelites wander for forty years to test their hearts (Deut 8:2), and Christ was tested in the desert for forty days. Those who confess Christ should not accept that they will be provided a life free of tribulation, turmoil, and pain. Trials are promised to all believers.

Whether or not release can be found from the effects of the devastations of life depends entirely on a person’s perspective. Those who do not have an eternal hope will feel great loss; those who know the Lord can find their way up to the mountaintop by fixing their sight on the only one who can meet their eternal need. They can look past their circumstance and onward to a better hope. Valleys are necessary for spiritual growth. They test our mettle and either engender and prove faith or reveal its weakness. Contrary to the teaching of many, the believer must be made into an “offering acceptable to God” (Rom 15:16 NIV) and “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:29 NIV) When the believer’s perspective becomes focused on the issues and pleasures of this life, it must be adjusted. That is not to say that all people who are walking in the valley need an adjustment.  Sometimes the valley experience becomes ours due to proximity of those around us…family members, neighbors, communities, etc. Few live in isolation.

Concerning God’s intercession Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) This understanding can provide great encouragement for those who are suffering. Regardless of the believer’s circumstance he or she can accept that through humility and obedience all will be well.

Here and now issues must not be permitted to cast the Lord aside. Things arise that require immediate effort and resources. Although the tendency might be for the troubled one to address the problem through his or her own resources without the Lord’s leading a wrong path might be taken and his purpose thwarted. In 2 Corinthians 11:23─27 Paul has listed many of his trials; however, he never gave in to defeat. He did not lose himself in their midst but set his sight on the bigger picture.

Whatever the struggles of life seem to be, they are temporal and must be seen as temporal. As bad as they are if the Lord leads they will eventually pass allowing the sun to shine once again and peace to be restored. The believer is to keep his or her eye set on Christ and on honoring him. That is faith in practice. He must be honored even in the midst of trials. Earthly possessions, health, and relationships may be lost never to be regained; but God is in control and will always remain sovereign over all things.

Paul suffered through despair but found assurance of victory through Christ.  “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” (2 Cor 1: 8-10 NIV)  Surviving a valley experience requires eyes set on God and a heart set on honoring him.

September 16, 2017

God Doesn’t Owe You

Nine years ago, in what was probably one of the shortest posts at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote this:

After walking a couple of dogs for a half-hour each, and cleaning out 14 cat cages, my son draws this conclusion about his first day helping out at the shelter:

“I volunteered for 90 minutes today at the animal shelter.   Somebody owes me.”

Is this a misunderstanding of the concept affecting his generation, or have we failed as parents?   Do we ever feel that way when we do things for God?

I thought about when reading this article by Jonathan Parrish who writes at Walking With Christ Daily, now in its 6th year. To read this at source and then check out their archives, click the title below.

God Reminded Me What He Owes Me

Tonight while doing my devotional God took the time to remind me what He owes me or any other person. God owes me nothing. There is nothing that I can give or do for God that would require God to owe me a favor or something in return. Lets take a look a single moment in the book of Job.

“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
    Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Job 41:11 ESV

That is God speaking directly to Job.  Job has had a pretty rough time, He has lost everything. He lost his children, home, servants, flocks, and even his own health. He is complaining to God wanting to know why. God reminds him who is God. That he owes Job nothing but his grace. I know its hard to see grace in the beginning of Job when all that bad stuff is happening, but God showed Job grace when He told Satan, do what you will but you can’t kill him. He chose to save Job’s life, we see that grace in our own in the cross, when God chose to save our lives from sin, instead of condemning us to a second death. God is reminding him that He is God. That he created everything he had and would have. In Romans and Psalms this thought is mentioned again

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
Romans 11:35 ESV

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

Psalms 24:1-2 ESV

God owns everything. We forget that so often when things don’t go our way. Everything around us, belongs to God. God is allowing us to be stewards of His stuff while we are here on earth. We are stewards of his money, we are stewards of the Gospel, we are stewards of our families and what ever else you can think of.  God has given us everything including our salvation and His mercy.

So the next time you think God owes you something just remember he has already given you everything.


Because we often get first time readers, every few months we like to review our purpose statement:

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. 

Usage: Items written by Paul Wilkinson contain no links and you are free to use the material provided you link back to C201 and don’t change the wording of quoted sections. For other writers, follow the link in the title and then see if their policies apply to what your planning.

Scriptures: This year we had several trees cut down on our property. Ever broken up a small tree or sticks and been aware of the green color inside? Green shows that there is (or at least was!) life inside. That’s why we highlight scripture here in green. To show that while the words of the various writers whose material we borrow are helpful and instructive, it’s God’s Word that brings life. Individual verses are sourced at BibleHub.com; multiple verse passages are sourced at BibleGateway.com

Writers: We’re always looking for contributions. Check out the ‘submissions’ page.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
 -Galatians 6:9 NIV

August 2, 2017

Christianity is a Singing Faith

We’ve frequently mentioned, quoted and linked to Mark and Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud. This is his fifth time here at C201, but it’s been nearly 3 years.

Christianity is a singing faith. It sets us apart from many other belief systems. As an old hymn, noting God’s care and protection put it, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Another hymn writer wished for “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” More recently, a popular worship writer wrote:

…We will sing, sing, sing
Grateful that You hear us
When we shout your praise
Lift high the name of Jesus.

Click the title below to read this at source. Though Mark and Stephen Altrogge and I are from different doctrinal streams, there usually isn’t an article on their blog, The Blazing Center that isn’t top-notch reading. This one is by Mark.

7 Reasons God Commands Us To Sing To Him

Have you ever wondered why God commands us to sing to him?

Does he need our songs somehow? Does he get some kind of sick pleasure out of commanding us to sing his praises?

First of all, God doesn’t need anything from us. He doesn’t need our worship or our songs or our money or our obedience. He is infinite and lacks nothing. Everything he commands us is for our joy and benefit. If God commands us to sing, then it is to bless us and add to our joy in him.

What are some reasons God commands us to sing?

First, we should sing to God because he saved us

We have so many incredible things to be thankful for and sing about – we’ve been forgiven, justified, and adopted as God’s own children and made joint-heirs with Christ. We’ve been rescued from eternal destruction. We’ve been given eternal life. Jesus SAVED us! That’s something to sing about. When God led Israel through the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on their tail, then closed the sea over the Egyptians, and saved the Israelites from certain death, and the Israelites saw the chariots and horses washed up on the beach they began to sing and dance. Can you imagine them shrugging their shoulders and saying, “That’s nice”? No, they wrote a song for the occasion. And Jesus saved us from something far worse than death – God’s eternal wrath. How can we not sing and rejoice?

Secondly, we should sing because we are loved.

God’s love is too marvelous and amazing to simply talk about. Think of all the love songs people sing. If we sing love songs about our love for human beings, how much more should we sing songs to the One who so loved us he gave his Son for us? How much more should we sing to Jesus who bore the wrath of God to redeem us?

Third, we should sing because Jesus has filled us with joy.

Singing is an expression of joy. We sing for joy at birthdays, weddings, ballgames. God has given us unspeakable everlasting joy in Christ. We just have to sing about it. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Someday Jesus will wipe away every tear and sorrow and sadness will flee away. For all eternity we will celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb. If earthly weddings have music and songs, how much more will the marriage supper of the Lamb?

Fourth, we should sing because Jesus sings over us

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zeph 3.17

Jesus rejoices and exults over his people with loud singing. How can we not rejoice in our King and Savior?

Fifth, because singing is a wonderful way to meditate on the gospel

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. CO 3.16

Our songs should be filled with “the word of Christ” – the gospel. And as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God, the gospel dwells in us richly. Singing usually involves repetition, rhyming and easily remembered phrases– it is a wonderful way to soak in and remember God’s truth.

Sixth, singing allows us to express our emotions to God in a way we couldn’t by mere talking.

What an incredible gift from God music is. How much color, joy and depth it adds to our lives. The band Cream sang a song called “I’m So Glad” in which they sang, “I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad!” (I know, not the most creative lyrics in the world). But it just wouldn’t be the same to merely speak these words. When you’re really happy you want to sing.

Seven, when we sing and rejoice in our God it honors him.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Ps 66:1-4

Singing is a way for us to glorify God – to “sing the glory of his name.” God created and saved us and gave us gifts, talents, intelligence, minds and bodies that we might glorify him. Not only are we to seek to glorify him by our lives, but with our tongues. And singing is such an easy way to glorify Jesus! It’s not like when we glorify him by suffering for him. How hard is it to sing?

Our God is so great, and so good and so glorious, he’s worthy of all of our praise. And one of the easiest ways to praise him is by singing. Let’s “sing the glory of his name!”

July 30, 2017

A Call to Help and to Encourage

by Russell Young

The walk of faith is not as easy as some might think. It is for this reason that believers have been called upon to help and to encourage one another. The Word records that all Christ-followers will be persecuted, and that they must go through many trials. It is during these times that help and encouragement is needed to pursue a walk of faith. The church of Christ is a community of believers through whom the Lord works to accomplish his purposes personally, locally, and globally. The idea of community should not get lost since strength exists in community.

The nation of Israel faced a great trial at Rephidim. Lacking water, they quarreled and complained to Moses, “Is the Lord among us or not.” (Ex 17:7 NIV) When trials strike it is easy to feel abandoned and alone. It is easy to question whether God is with us. The promises that are so readily uttered seem hollow. The Israelites questioned the intent of God—did he lead them into the desert to let them die? Anyone going through a severe trial can easily question the presence of God. It is during times of testing that believers need someone to come along side and encourage them in their faith.  Before entering the Promised Land, Moses told his people, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8: 2 NIV) Trials have a purpose. Those who are enduring them are having their faith tested; God wants to know what is in their hearts. They need to be encouraged in their faith. The Lord stated, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22 NIV) Standing firm to the end is a condition of eternal salvation. In a person’s weakness, he or she needs the help and encouragement of those who care for them and Christ has commanded his disciples to love one another. (Jn 15:17) His second great commandment is that believers are to love their neighbour as themselves. (M2 22:39) Paul has revealed that the law of Christ is to “carry each other’s burdens.” (Gal 6:2 NIV) A law is not a suggestion, but a command.

The need to help one another was made clear by the Israelites at Rephidim. Not only did they lack water but once provided it they were attacked by the Amalekites. Trial came upon trial. Moses sent Joshua to attack them and went with Aaron and Hur to the top of the hill and held up his hands to God. While they humbled themselves before the LORD and sought his help, they found themselves winning.  When Moses lowered his hands, the battle favored the Amalekites. Sometimes we do not have the strength, physical, emotional, or spiritual, to do what must be done.  Moses’ arms became tired and he had to lower them. As much as he desired, victory would have deserted him if he had been left to his own resources. Fortunately, Aaron and Hur came alongside and lifted his hands for him and victory was given.

There are Christian brothers and sisters about us who will fail if not supported.  They cannot help it. Fatigue, discouragement, and circumstances take over. Some will not even humble themselves before their God as he required of the Israelites; they presume that victory is their right. They will not metaphorically lift their arms to God. These also need encouragement and teaching. Aaron and Hur did not accompany Moses by accident. God had placed them in a strategic position. They were to help Moses in his weakness.

Trials and persecutions in the believer’s life are not accidental. They are to test faith and every confessor will have his or her faith tested to discern its measure. Based on such testing the Lord will become knowledgeable or “know” (become certain) of those who are his. This will happen! Some are walking astray and need encouragement to walk in the light. Others might be struggling through discipline and punishment so that they might share in his holiness (Heb 12:10), while others might be suffering through health problems or as a life relationship causes them to share the tribulations of a loved one.

The Lord equates ministry to the needs of others as having been done for him. “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Mt 25:40 NIV)

The family of believers is to share in the burdens of their brothers and sisters in the Lord and are to encourage and help them in their trial. They should not to be left to feel abandoned and alone. Both pain and joy ought to be shared experiences, community experiences. A person’s position in the life of another is not an accident; through the church community the hands, feet and mouth of Christ should always be available and exercised.


Starting next week, we introduce Sunday Worship, a weekly feature publishing at the end of your worship day and focusing on time spent in God’s presence. Each article in the series will have the same title. Writer suggestions and contributions are also appreciated.

Russell Young‘s writing moves to alternate Tuesdays, starting August 8th and 22nd, and thereafter on the first and third Tuesday of each month.


Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

July 19, 2017

Sharing Life

The last time we touched base with Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog they were in Ephesians. Going one verse at a time they are now in 1 Thessalonians. After reading about 20 different verses, we decided to simply choose one since we couldn’t choose them all! So I really encourage you to click through in order to see the insights on different verses in this passage or bookmark this when you need a commentary on a Thessalonians or one of the other epistles available.

1 Thessalonians 2:8

So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

1 Thessalonians 2:8

These words tie back to the simile of the mother nursing and caring for her children of the previous verse. The Greek word translated as “So” is even stronger in intent. It means, “Because of this,” or “Along with this.” What he says is following along in the same train of thought. In this state, and as a nursing mother to those at Thessalonica, Paul says he, and those with him, were “affectionately longing for you.”

They had come to Thessalonica and had developed such a closeness with them that there was a yearning to share in life with them. This was so much the case that, as he says, they “were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives.”

As nursing mothers, Paul and those with him not only imparted the spiritual milk of the word of life, the gospel, but they also were willing to expend themselves completely. Just as a mother would tirelessly give her all for her children, so were they also willing to do. They were prepared to exhaust themselves, or even lay down their lives, for their beloved church in Thessalonica. This was, as he continues, “because you had become dear to us.”

The bond of affection which had grown in their hearts was so close and personal that they were united as a family – parents caring for children and expending their lives for them. Paul will continue to explain this in the next verses.

Life application: When you lead someone to the Lord, do you consider it as something that is done and over with, or do you consider it as a first step in their new lives? It is good to offer your phone number or email address and to express to them that you will make the necessary time available to them to instruct them in this new life which they have received. In so doing, you will be ensuring that their life in Christ will develop properly. Try to remember to do this if you are honored enough to lead someone to acceptance of the gospel message.

Lord God, it’s a new day, and a new chance for us to go out and tell people about Your wonderful goodness. Help us to open our mouths and share the marvelous story of redemption which is found in the giving of Your Son. Help us not to be timid, but to be bold and willing to speak. Who cares if people are offended? Better offended in life than remorseful at the end of it. Grant us the fortitude to speak! Amen.

July 6, 2017

On the Right Track: Love in John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon

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).  This article appeared previously at C201 in April, 2015 under the title Staying On Track. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 10, 2017

Christianity 201: Quotations

For those who come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Christianity 201 started on April 1st, 2010. So we had a birthday a few days ago that we didn’t mention. The early days were rather rough and haphazard. To give you an idea, one post the first month contained the above verse, but not the reference. (For the record, it’s a shortened version of Hebrews 11:6.)  It took a year or so for us to find our rhythm.

Over the years we’ve done a quotations series from various authors, but today, in a sense, we’re quoting ourselves. Here, in no particular order, are some very random things that were posted in those early day from our very first month:

Watchman Nee:

Nothing is so hurtful to the life of a Christian as acting; nothing so blessed as when our outward efforts cease and our attitudes become natural — when our words, our prayers, our very life become a spontaneous and unforced expression of the life within.

Bruxy Cavey:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant

E. Stanley Jones:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

Oswald J. Smith:

Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?

Chuck Swindoll:

At Catalyst ’09  Chuck Swindoll shared some wisdom that he’d compiled over the course of his fifty years in ministry. One of his many points was that “God’s way is better than my way.”

He says that “our problem is that we are too capable.” We are too talented, too skilled, too knowledgeable, and too busy doing it all. No room for God. No need.

Swindoll says that “God can’t pour His riches into hands that are already full… Empty your hands… [We must] empty our hands” of our own clippings, ideas, dreams, philosophies.

Tim Keller:

Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.

J.D. Greear:

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore.

Unknown:

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout.  It is usually the result of a slow leak.

A. W. Tozer:

There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant…

They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one root lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature  is upset by the monstrous substitution.

Ghandi:

“You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature.“

Steven & Brooksyne Weber (on the scribe in Matthew 8: 19-20)

Our Lord tests the sincerity of the scribe’s loyalty by warning him that He was so poor that beasts of the fields and birds of the air have nicer accommodations than He Himself had. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” If the popular leader fared so badly, what was the follower to expect? 

Ottawa area pastor Paul Kern provided us with our first ever graphic element, borrowed from his church website:

Finally, here, in its entirety is the first of what would turn out to be many posts from Kevin Rogers. If you click the link and then look around, you’ll find that Kevin is faithfully writing and that the title of this devotional is still the tag line for his website.

Loners Learning About Community

God’s eyes are watching loners. He is the shepherd who leaves a flock of ninety-nine in the care of another and travels to find the one-hundredth sheep that wandered away and was lost.

He is the Father who watches and waits for broken rebels to humble themselves and return home to His endearing love and unmerited acceptance.

God is a father to orphans and a new husband to widows. The societal separation, abandonment and sudden loss create a lack of belonging. The loneliness of orphans becomes their new identity. Where will the widow and orphan belong? Who will provide for them? Who will be their protector?

God not only finds loners but calls them to belong to His family. He adopts and marries the ones misunderstood, rejected and divorced from their own family of origin.

His presence in a life can sometimes cause difficulty and separation from your roots. The sins of the fathers affect the family down to the great-grandchildren. But God’s blessing goes further in unlimited potential.

March 15, 2017

Right Results, Wrong Method

Numbers 20 (NIV):

1In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

This passage contains an interesting sequence of events:

  • The people are thirsty
  • God reveals to Moses that water can be obtained by speaking to a particular rock
  • Moses hits the rock instead (this worked before)
  • Water gushes forth

Maybe God had His instructions wrong, or maybe it applied to some other rock? After all, the water issued forth and the thirst of the people was satisfied.

Hardly. Moses was angry. “…Listen you rebels…” In anger he struck the rock.

In Moses defense, he was using a tried and true formula; see Exodus 17. And he got the desired result. No biggie, right?

The point is that Moses disobeyed; he did God’s work in a sense, but didn’t do it God’s way.

I find myself often guilty of this. I can justify something done in anger because it produced results. I’ve even said to myself, “I think sometimes you just have to get mad enough about something and then God uses that anger.”

Yes. I’ve really thought that. More than once.

And there is such a thing as righteous anger. But it is characterized by being shaped over a long-term, not a short-term; and by its righteousness more than its anger-ness.

James 1 19b & 20 (NIV)

…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Whether or not you feel like you are more a product of the information age or the industrial age, either way you are probably results oriented.

But just because it worked doesn’t mean that God was in it, or that He was pleased, or that you were obedient. Even if the “worked” in question seems to bear the mark (vs. 11) of the miraculous.

And a great danger lies in trusting in what worked before, when God wants to lead you into something new.

And like Moses (vs. 12) by doing it our way, you and I may be missing out on God’s greater blessing and the fullness of God’s highest goal for our lives.

~PW


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