Christianity 201

February 27, 2020

Be Perfect As God is Perfect: So, Are You a Perfectionist?

by Clarke Dixon

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NRSV)

Be perfect, as God is perfect. So, are you a perfectionist, doing everything perfectly all the time? Do you keep the rules perfectly? Is that what Jesus means?

Perfectionism can affect the culture within a workplace, a family, a church family, an organization, or even within one’s own soul. Perfectionism can lead to a culture of excellence, with high standards coming from high expectations. However, perfectionism can also lead to a culture of judgement, a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion. We can be hard on others. We might be hardest on ourselves.

Is that what Jesus is calling us to? To be perfectionists? Let us look again at the words of Jesus in the context in which they are spoken.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

In the immediate context, Jesus is telling us to be perfect in love. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it actually say “love your neighbour and hate your enemy,” (verse 43) but some Jewish groups were indeed saying that. In contrast, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (verse 44), and in so doing we will demonstrate a family resemblance to God (verse 45). After all, God provides graciously for all people without distinction (verse 45). The original hearers could reflect on the fact that Roman, or “enemy,” farmers would receive the same amount of sun and rain as the Jewish farmer. Since God loves the enemy, we all should. In the immediate context, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not so much “follow all the rules perfectly, keeping a perfect spirituality, while being a perfect person,” as “love like God does.” To quote the Common English Bible translation:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:48 (CEB)

In the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is leading us to become the kind of people who reflect the goodness of God, in love, and in everything else. We looked last week at how the scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous in studying and keeping the rules, yet were not the kind of people God was calling them to be. Jesus said that we must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees (5:20). In pointing to a better kind of righteousness, Jesus was pointing out that those who were merely focused on the rules were no different from anyone else, no matter how perfectly they kept them:

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:47-48 (NRSV)

As we pointed out last week, it is not about the rules, it is about you and me, the kind of people we are becoming in Christ, the kind of people who show a family resemblance with God in love, and in everything else.

In the even larger context of the whole Bible, Jesus is leading us toward a goal that God has brought within reach. God has a goal for us. What is that goal?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29 (NRSV emphasis added)

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. Colossians 1:21-22 (NRSV emphasis added)

Being just like Jesus, made holy, blameless, and irreproachable before God; these are lofty goals which we could never attain on our own. God makes it possible.

In speaking of the goal of perfection, there are two big theological words that are worth learning: justification & sanctification. To explain them, let me use an illustration. Suppose your driving instructor is the devil himself. You learn terrible driving habits, and indeed you rack up so many speeding and dangerous driving tickets, you cannot afford to pay them. You are to have your day in court, the evidence is overwhelming, you expect to be in jail for the rest of your life. Judgement day comes. The judge sets the fine, and indeed you cannot pay it. You are headed to jail for sure. The judge gets off his judgement seat, comes down to your level, gets out his chequebook and pays the fine on your behalf. That is justification. You are free to drive. There may be an accuser in the gallery shouting about how guilty you are, how strong the evidence is, and why you deserve to be in jail. However, while you could never justify why you belong on the roads, the judge who just paid your fine can. So what is sanctification? You get back into your car to drive off, and there sitting beside you in the passenger seat is your new driving instructor, the Holy Spirit. You begin driving, you become a better driver. You are not instantly a good driver, but you are improving with every mile. That is sanctification.

Bible scholar Michael Wilkins talks of a “restful dissatisfaction.” We rest in the fact of God’s love and what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ to enable us to reach the goal of perfection. Yet, we are dissatisfied if we do not experience movement towards that goal in the here and now. We are not concerned with how our lingering imperfections might disqualify us from belonging to God as His children. We are concerned with how our lingering imperfections can have a negative impact on our children, or anyone in relationships with us.

Are you perfect? If that is a question on an entrance exam for eternal life, then the answer can be yes; God offers to make you perfect in Jesus Christ. If that is a question we ask the people in our lives based on their experience of us, then no, we can likely make some improvements.

Are you a perfectionist? If you are the kind of person who loves like God loves, then you will not be. You will walk with imperfect people along a journey, putting up with their imperfections along the way. You may even learn to put up with your own imperfections. If you are a perfectionist, you may be hard on other people. You may be hardest on yourself. Perfectionism is not a part of love. God walks alongside us, not as a perfectionist judging our imperfections, ready to ditch us when we stumble, but as a Heavenly Father Who helps us walk better on our way to a wonderful goal.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 26, 2020

You Can’t Have a Song Written Without a Life Lived

Yesterday at this time, I was reading the “musings” of songwriter and recording artist Lynn DeShazo who wrote the worship song, “More Precious Than Silver.” What follows are partial excerpts from four different articles she wrote last year about the 40th anniversary of that song, which you can locate at the link in the title below.

Note: Because the full original articles are also interwoven with insights into Lynn’s life which are key to the story, you are strongly encouraged to click the link and read all four parts of this reflection at source.

More Precious Than Silver

…Forty years! Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? Periods of forty years and forty days are found throughout the Scriptures. So when I realized that a significant milestone was approaching in my life, the fortieth anniversary of the creation of “More Precious Than Silver,” it got me thinking.

The Bible is full of instances where our fathers in the faith built altars of stone to mark life-changing encounters with God. In years to come, they would revisit these altars and recall to mind the faithfulness of the Almighty in their lives. They used these memorials to pass on their legacy of faith to their children. An anniversary is a bit like a memorial stone. It marks something significant and perhaps unique to you. It says, “Hey! This event happened here in this place, at that time, and it made a lasting impact on my life.” Here then is my memorial stone, my “Ebenezer raised,” as I reflect on what writing “More Precious Than Silver” has meant to me.

Every creative effort has a beginning. You sit down with your instrument and a pad of paper, or a laptop computer. You hum a melody, strum a chord, or pick out a tune on the piano. Sometimes a song takes shape effortlessly, but usually there’s a struggle involved in the creative process. Every baby born comes into the world with a degree of pain and struggle, some more than others. I think it’s the same with a song. I also think that long before there’s such a creative expression as a song written, there’s a life lived…

…God spoke very clearly to me one night following a powerful message preached at our campus church. He asked me to give up my guitar and, by implication, everything that went along with it – writing and performing my own songs. This was a difficult thing for me to hear and very painful to actually do, but thank God, I found the grace to obey Him. At the close of the meeting, I tearfully handed my guitar over to my pastor for safekeeping (something I freely chose to do), and I did not touch it again for months. As I cooperated with God’s work in me, my spiritual foundation repair began. I learned to trust in Jesus alone for my right standing with God. My striving to please began to give way to restful trust in His love for me. God had big plans for me, but the right foundation had to be in place for Him to build them upon.

Once a field is plowed sufficiently, the farmer stops plowing and starts sowing seed. In like manner, the difficult seasons of God’s dealings with us only go on until He accomplishes His intention. My season of not playing guitar and writing songs did not go on forever. It only lasted until God was satisfied that my spiritual foundation was solidly upon Christ alone. Now He was ready to build upon that foundation, and I began to walk into His purpose for my life…

…When God spoke to me about laying down my guitar, I had a decision to make. My music was very important to me – almost all the self-esteem I could muster up came from being able to play my music “for the Lord.” How could God possibly take that away from me? I chose to trust Him, but it was still difficult.

Putting selfish flesh to death is a hard business and, let’s face it, dying flesh stinks. In ancient times, fragrant spices were used to prepare bodies for burial in order to mask the stench of death as a body decomposed. When Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare His body for burial (see John 19:39-40). Myrrh is also one of the spices used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle worship. One of the blessings of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives is that He works to mask the stench of our dying flesh as we learn take up our cross and follow Jesus. We begin to produce the fragrance of the Christ within us, even in the midst of our “dying.” (See II Corinthians 2:14-16)

Jesus, speaking of His own imminent death, said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Before a single grain of wheat can produce a stalk bearing multiple grains, it must first go into the ground where it dies. Its hard exterior is softened through a process hidden from view until the germ of life within is finally able to sprout up through the soil. The tender green shoot is the first sign of the harvest to come…

…Music has a natural power to lift your mood, but it’s the anointing* that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27). So how is it that some ministers have such an evident and consistent anointing flowing to people through what they do, whether it’s preaching, leading worship, counseling, or you name it? I believe it is because of a significant spiritual sacrifice made by that person before the Lord, and a firm commitment to obey Him in every season and circumstance of life.

God called Abraham to Mt. Moriah and required him to sacrifice that which was most precious to him, his son Isaac (See Genesis 22). Thankfully, it was only a test of Abraham’s faith. Isaac’s too, for that matter. But you must understand that Abraham’s test was a foreshadowing of what our Father in heaven would do in giving His only Son as a sacrifice for sin. Now, anywhere in the world that the Gospel is preached, there is an anointing upon the message for people to believe and be saved. Why? Because there’s an anointing at the place of sacrifice, and that place is the Cross of Jesus.

Every believer in Jesus Christ who desires to be a fruitful disciple must come to the Cross, to the place of total surrender to Him and be willing to be made a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We are called to obedience, and God will test that in every one of us. Will we live by the strength of our own will, or out of obedience to His will for us?


*Read the entire (4th) section of the article where Lynn defines ‘anointing’ quite clearly at this link.

February 20, 2020

Extra Rules from Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

Do you have the rules and commandments given by Jesus memorized yet? Jesus tells us we are to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 5:20. So on top of the Old Testament law we get extra rules as Jesus followers, right? For example, within the Old Testament there are rules about adultery, but now with Jesus we have a rule about lust as well:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 (NRSV)

Is that what righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees looks like? Extra rules? Actually, no.

We can be meticulous in keeping the rules, yet still miss the mark. Let me give an example. Suppose my wife gives me plans to build a vehicle. Being an avid motorcyclist, I begin building a motorcycle. I pay careful attention to the instructions on making wheels, brakes, electrical components, and most importantly, engine components. Since the instructions are excellent, and I follow them meticulously, the motorcycle I build is excellent. However my wife is not happy. She tells me to look at the plans again, but this time take a step back and look at the big picture. I have been too focused on the little details to do that. Taking a step back, and taking in the big picture, I see my mistake. These were plans for a mini-van! We have a family to cart around. Oops, I missed the bus!

We can be super meticulous in keeping the rules, yet we don’t become the kind of people God is calling us to become. We ‘miss the mark,’ which is what one of the words used in the Bible for ‘sin’ literally means. We can become so mired in the details of religion, that we miss the big picture of what God has in mind, what is on God’s heart.

Jesus is not giving us new rules in his teaching, but rather is deepening our understanding of the kind of people God is looking for us to become. Continuing on in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, God is calling each of us to become . . .

  • the kind of person who does not blow their top at others. (See verses 21,22)
  • the kind of person who always seeks reconciliation, who seeks to have good relationships. (See verses 23-26)
  • the kind of person who gives their best to their spouse, in devotion and faithfulness. (see verses 27-32)
  • the kind of person who does not objectify others. (see again verses 27,28)
  • the kind of person who is honest and walks in integrity. (see verses 33-37)
  • the kind of person who handles offence with generosity. (see verses 38,39)
  • the kind of person who goes above and beyond in relationships, who goes above and beyond in making things right, who goes above and beyond in helping someone in need, who is generous, and who serves others. (See verses 40-42)
  • the kind of person who loves people like God loves people. (See verses 43-48)

Jesus is that kind of person! Jesus calls you to be that kind of person. It is not about the rules. It is about you and the kind of person you are.

Suppose you adopt a dog, and the adoption agency asks you to agree to a set of rules. You commit to walking the dog, feeding the dog, watering the dog, and keeping up with medications. You could keep all those rules, yet still be an awful dog owner. There is something lacking in the relationship, like; affection, time spent, and playfulness. Something is missing – you are! Your heart is not in it, and the dog knows that. That can happen with a strict rule-focused style of Christianity. Something is missing – you are! The rules are there because they will help the dog stay healthy. However, the dog needs more than your performance of the rules, the dog needs you. The dog needs you to be a certain kind of dog owner. My wife and children need more than my attention to the rules. They need me. They need me to be the kind of person who is an engaged husband and father. The people in our lives need more than scribes or Pharisees who can quote Scripture from memory. They need us! They need us to be the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people God is helping us to become.

To change to an analogy from sports; God, the coach, is not looking for players who are fanatical about the rules. He is looking for players who score goals while being respectful of the rules. He wants people who are engaged in His Kingdom purposes in the world. The best way to keep the rules is live alone and stay at home. If we are followers of Jesus, we will follow him into the world where being the kind of person God is calling us to become will make a difference in the lives of others.

Our aim is to be Christ followers. Our aim is not to become Christian Pharisees. We want to be followers of Jesus, not scribes & Pharisees who have traded in Jewish rules for Christian ones, yet have still missed the mark. If we do that, then our righteousness has not surpassed that of the scribes and Pharisees, it is really no different.

We can be fanatical about the commands of Jesus yet miss the mark. When we lean into the teaching of Jesus, we see the kind of people God is calling us to become. When God leans into us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we become that kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article continues a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays. You’ll also find these articles at his blog.

February 14, 2020

Moses’ Reasons Why He Was the Wrong Choice

NIV.Exodus.3.11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Today we’re introducing you to Chris Miller at the blog Get Encouraged. There are some other articles here we considered, so take the time to look around the site. Click the header below to read at source.

3 Responses to Procrastination

I don’t know about you, but I procrastinate sometimes, particularly when I need to do something I am dreading. It seems our natural response to dreaded life change is procrastinating if possible.

This may be especially true when we believe the Lord is calling us to a life change, we do not understand or a project for which we feel ill-equipped. The good news is we are not alone. Moses shared in this experience.

“The good news is we are not alone. Moses shared in this experience.”

Moses was tending sheep one day when a nearby bush was ablaze but not consumed by the flames. Moses’ curiosity got the best of him, so he walked over to see what was happening. Moses walked over to see a burning bush but had an encounter with the Lord. The Lord revealed his plan, and Moses made every attempt to tell the Lord why it would not work.

When I arrive at my “burning bush,” I often procrastinate by telling the Lord I am not the right person. What about you?

Moses tried to convince the Lord he was not the right person, but for every reason Moses offered, God provided a response. It seems we offer the same reasons, and God offers the same responses. Here are 3.

No one’s listening.

Moses said no one would listen to him. They would just accuse him of being in the sun too long. God dismisses this reason by obvious work in Moses’ life.

Do you ever feel like you are talking, and no one is listening, so you just stop talking? Maybe you ask yourself, “Why do I even say anything? It is like talking to a brick wall.” Like Moses, the Lord’s work in our lives is obvious. And, while it may seem no one is listening, it turns out they are paying attention.

Reimaging Faith Formation for the 21st Century cites studies showing our family members are listening. For those of you who are grandparents, you are the second most influential person in your grandkids’ life. You follow only their parents, and in some cases, you are in the number one slot. You sit in a position to speak a lot of wisdom into their lives as they witness the Lord’s obvious work in your life. Just when you think no one is listening, it turns out they pay much attention.

The work the Lord is doing in our lives is obvious. It stands as a testimony to the words we say.

I can’t.

Moses tells the Lord he is not a good speaker, so how can he stand before Pharaoh and say anything. God responds by saying, “I gave you the abilities you have, so go, and I will help you.”

We may feel we are inadequate for God’s calling. We know we should do something, but we try to convince ourselves and the Lord we are not capable. We identify a barrier that could cause us to fail, and instead of jumping it, we hide behind it.

Moses identified a barrier of speech. What is your barrier? It could be any number of things. No matter the barrier, the Lord’s response is the same. “I gave your abilities and I will help you, so go.”

Not me, please.

After other reasoning failed, Moses simply asks the Lord to send somebody else. The Lord tells Moses to stop procrastinating. He has already put provisions for him in place. Moses is the one God called for this purpose, and the Lord will help Moses accomplish it. He began a good work in Moses, and he will bring it to completion.

Can you relate to Moses? “Lord, I just don’t want to,” you say. Perhaps we can all relate to Moses. The Lord’s response is always the same; he has called us each to a unique spot in his plan. Therefore, he will help us accomplish the purpose. He, who began a good work in our lives, is bringing it to completion.

Moses was in a special place in time to perform a special task for the Lord. His biography records Moses leading God’s people out of Egyptian bondage and guiding them to the border of the Promised Land. He may have felt inadequate, but God used him in a mighty way. God completed a good work in Moses’ life.

Acting

We are in a special place in time to perform a special task for the Lord. Each of our biographies will record how we served in the Kingdom. What is the Lord calling you to do? You may feel inadequate, but the action step you can take is growing in the Lord. Paul tells the Philippians to grow.

  • Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
  • Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Continue to walk with the Lord and fulfilling your purpose. Again, what is the Lord calling you to do? How have you responded to your “burning bush?” Share in the comments below, and remember, he, who has begun a good work in you, will bring it through to completion.

 

February 6, 2020

“Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Should We Be Worried?

by Clarke Dixon

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (NRSV)

Should we be worried? Is it even possible that our righteousness can exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? Keep in mind how meticulous they were at keeping the Old Testament laws. Jesus’ words here can stress us out. Are we good enough?

Let’s leave aside whether we are good enough for a moment. The scribes and Pharisees were certain, that Jesus was not good enough:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. . . . Matthew 5:17 (NRSV)

That is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were thinking! Jesus often seemed to be very un-Jewish in not keeping the laws and customs as expected. Healing on the Sabbath was considered work and so Jesus was obviously a lawbreaker! Further, for his first miracle, Jesus used jars that had been set apart for religious purposes to turn water into wine at a party. Not only did Jesus seem to be un-Jewish, he even seemed to be irreligious. Therefore the scribes and Pharisees were obviously exceedingly more righteous than Jesus. Or so they thought.

Jesus set the record straight:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 (NRSV)

Though the actions of Jesus seemed to indicate that he didn’t care about the law, he declares that it is very important. The law and the prophets, a short-hand way of referring to all the writings of the Hebrew Bible, reveal the heart of God, and point to Jesus himself. Far from ditching the Old Testament, Jesus was the focus of the Old Testament!

In setting the record straight, it turns out the the scribes and the Pharisees were the ones who were not good enough:

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 (NRSV)

Ironically, despite how meticulous the scribes and Pharisees were at keeping the rules, Jesus, in what he would go on to say, insinuated that they were the ones breaking the commandments and teaching others to do the same. They kept the letter of the law, but they missed the intent of the law, the purpose of the law. They might have been meticulous with regards to the rules, but they were heartless. It is possible to keep all the rules and yet be an awful person. In calling the people of Israel into existence, God was looking to establish a good people, not an awful people who kept the rules. If “love the Lord” and “love your neighbour” sum up the law, then the scribes and Pharisees were not keeping it well at all. They needed to have a better kind of righteousness if they wanted to impress God. They needed a deeper righteousness, a heart righteousness, a righteousness expressed through good character.

We can now ask, is anyone righteous enough?

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul spends some time in chapters one and two establishing the fact that non-Jews have no right to a relationship with God. They are not righteous enough. Then he spends some time in chapters two and three establishing the fact that Jews also should have no right to a relationship with God. Though they have the law and the prophets, they also are not righteous enough. In conclusion,

. . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; Romans 3:9-10 (NRSV)

However, there is good news:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 (NRSV)

Though the Scribes & Pharisees were thinking Jesus was not righteous, actually Jesus is the only righteous one. Are any of us righteous enough? No, but God is good, and offers to make us good. God makes this offer because of His love for us, not because we make a good impression on Him.

God came to us in Jesus so that we could be forgiven of all sin. We will stand before the judgement seat of God with a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is Christ’s righteousness placed on us. God comes to us in the Holy Spirit to change our hearts for the better. We grow into a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. That transformation of character is Holy Spirit work. Though we might not feel good enough for God, and really, we are not good enough, God is good and wants to do good for us, and in us.

Jesus says “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Should we be worried? Should we be concerned that we will not “make the cut?” Without Jesus, if you want to impress God, then surpassing righteousness is an obligation. Good luck with that. Even the scribes and Pharisees, with all their meticulous law-keeping, failed to make a good impression. However, with Jesus, and with the gift of the Spirit, surpassing righteousness is an opportunity, through which God will make an impression on the world. Changed hearts, hearts in tune with God’s heart, lead to a changed world. “Surpassing righteousness” should not be a source of stress, but a source of great hope, not only for ourselves, but for the people around us.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

February 1, 2020

Be Happy When Others Are Happy; If They’re Sad, Share Their Sorrow

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you who came recommended. Heather Adams is a Christian author, and speaker in New England. She’s been on WordPress since 2014. You can learn more about her at Heather Adams Worship Walk. This article, and the bonus article which follows, were sourced at her blog, Worship Walk Ministries. The two shorter items here are very much inter-connected.

Worship Walk: Comparison

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” Romans 12:15-16

I have a confession to make, and it’s not pretty.  I’ve not been as generous in spirit as I ought to be when others get something I want. There, I said it!

We all face moments of watching a friend or co-worker, or co-minister get an opportunity we ourselves would like. The question is, how do we respond in that moment? My confession gives you a hint about my default: either self-pity (what about me?) or frustration (it’s not fair!).

The thing is, thinking that way has never made me feel one bit better about the situation. I actually end up worse off, because I know enough about God to know that it grieves Him when I rebel. Yes, rebel.

To struggle with rejoicing at someone else’s good news means I’m doing some comparing between us, assuming I come up short. I’m also questioning God’s decision, wondering why He didn’t choose to bless me that way.

I do have a praise about this, though. Lately, the Holy Spirit has been working in me to soften my hard towards God and others. In fact, it’s getting easier to truly give thanks for the good gifts that God gives someone besides me. And when I can let go of myself for a moment, it really does feel like a celebration!

I don’t do many New Year’s resolutions, but this one keeps coming to mind: that rejoicing with others when they receive blessing needs to become my new default mindset. God wants that for me, and He’ll do it in me.


Worship Walk: Envy

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30

That’s a pretty strong statement. Just that word “rots” evokes such an image doesn’t it? And other translations use language that’s just as harsh: “jealousy is like a cancer in the bones” (NLT), or “envy can eat you up” (CEV).

Unfortunately, I can attest to the truth of this idea. Early on in life I became very good at comparing myself against other people, always coming up short. My thought pattern then led me to feelings of jealousy and envy towards others. Trying to ignore or dismiss those feelings didn’t get rid of them. They settled in each time, chipping away at my self-esteem.

But I’m convinced now, that my physical body suffered as well as my heart. Letting jealousy into my spirit brought a whole host of other negative emotions, like resentment, frustration and even anger. And it’s been proven scientifically that any of those can hurt our bodies in any number of ways.

It’s important to realize that beyond being bad for us, letting envy and jealousy take hold is sinful. When we covet something someone else has or does, it is showing a lack of contentment and trust in God. Sin of any kind is destructive to us and our relationship with our Lord.

King David wrote about this idea. In Psalm 32, he gives us a vivid description of how being separated from God affected his whole being:

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Psalm 32:3-4

David goes on in this song to give us the way out, and it starts with confession. His agony turns to rejoicing because he knows that when he turns back to God the relationship will be restored – he will be restored. The next step is repenting – making a decision to turn from those sinful feelings and thoughts.

Following David’s example will bring us to a place of healing and even better, renewal of heart, mind and body.


Again, click the individual titles to visit Heather’s blog.

January 6, 2020

The Word of Knowledge in Action

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The situation described in the story below is probably beyond the experience of many readers here. But because Christianity 201 describes itself as a “melting pot” or a “potpourri” of the various expressions of Christian faith, I wanted you to have exposure to this one. For those who are new, cessationism is a belief in Protestant theology that the supernatural gifts (such as described in I Cor. with speaking in tongues receiving most frequent mention) ceased when the original apostles died off. It’s opposite is continuationism which believes that those gifts are still operative today. Today’s article would be written from the latter perspective.

Tim Halverson blogs at The Lion’s Head Café. Click the header below to read this there.

No Risk, No Reward

“For to one is given . . . the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:8).

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in the Bible in I Corinthians 12: 4-11. They are the super-natural work of the Holy Spirit through the Body of Christ. These nine gifts could be classified in three groupings of three gifts each: 1) The Word Gifts: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues. 2) The Revelation Gifts: the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, the discernment of spirits. 3) The Power Gifts: faith, healings, the working of miracles. Remember this factor: faith is spelled r-i-s-k.

It is my observation that to flow or operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit will involve risk-taking. I’ve been sputtering and misfiring (to use an auto mechanic’s terms, which I are one) with these for decades now but am seeing a big increase in my function in them lately. This seems to be chiefly due to watching on-line since February Catch the Fire – Toronto, where the revival went through my screen and into me somehow. I want to relate a short story to tell you what I’m learning, and that is about risk.

Last night I attended a Bible study with about ten people. Before it even began I had a feeling that God was up to something more than just the study of Acts 14, which is sufficient for me in itself. At the end we prayed about some things. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t really see many faces. As we prayed I really tuned in to God and he showed me in a word of knowledge something only he could know. This impression took several minutes, a basic thought that grew as I considered it. It was this:

“There is someone here who is still suffering because of persecution that happened to them when they were testifying of Christ (I know this is vague but it’s none of my business to know the details of what happened in this case). The devil took advantage of you in this vulnerable moment to say, If you ever speak of Jesus again something worse is going to happen. Plus, we all know you don’t have the courage to do it anyway. The person feels whipped, condemned, and stuck.”

It was a risk to say it but somehow I did. And after I said that with trembling, there came some more to the message:

“But Jesus is healing you right now of that awful experience, the Holy Spirit is upon you here and now, and from this moment on I am making you Lion-hearted. Take courage!”

There was a sort of hubbub for a moment that happened but I couldn’t see anything, and then the prayers went on. A minute later I was wondering if I had missed the Lord in this, so I determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and said, Excuse me, but could we re-visit that word I just had? Is that person even here? A short pause happened, and then a lady in front of me turned around and said, “You were describing me exactly, and God is working on me right now.” She was all red in the face, tears still streaming down, Kleenex in hand and radiant with joy as could be! I was ecstatic to put it mildly, though I covered it up pretty well by trying to blend into the curtains behind me, not wanting to be a spectacle. Too late. What a privilege to work with God. And yet I could have said no to the whole thing. But I took the risk instead which freed a woman of something she felt too embarrassed to talk about. Praise God.

January 1, 2020

A Year of Vision

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Just face it. You’re going to see many, many references over the next 366 days connecting the year 2020 to the idea of 20/20 vision. So vision seemed like a good place to start.

We kick off the year with an article from a site that is relatively new and offering resources for the whole family, Minno Life brings us this brief devotional by Carlie Kercheval.

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

As we enter into a new year, many people are searching for a fresh, new start and a new vision of what God has for their life. And with it being 2020, this seems like the perfect year for vision and clarity.

In the world of optometry 20/20 vision refers to a person’s visual acuity. More specifically, 20/20 vision measures how clearly a person can see objects 20 feet away. There are limits to what we can see clearly with the naked eye.

Yet, isn’t it amazing to know that there are no limits on the vision and clarity that God brings into our lives? His omnipotence means that there are no limits or constraints to His vision, and His truth stands the test of time.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about vision and lean into His Word for wisdom to enter into this new decade and beyond.

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

Without a Vision People Perish

Where there is no vision, the people perish . . . Proverbs 29:18 KJV

One of the things that this verse makes very clear is that a vision is vital to carrying out God’s will for our lives. And without any revelation of His will, we have no way of creating a Christ-fueled vision for our family. However, when we are actively seeking God, we not only download His vision for our lives, we are able to teach our children to do the same. Our children watch everything we do and by modeling a life of seeking God, we are sowing an eternal legacy that will bless our children’s children.

God Has a Good Plan

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

The words of Jeremiah 29:11 bring a confident peace in knowing our good Father has a good plan for our lives. He promises us that we have hope and a future. Knowing this gives us a great understanding of what our future with Christ holds, and it is always good. This is so comforting as a parent as we seek to teach our children about God’s love and goodness. This verse is a wonderful way to keep God’s vision for us at the forefront of our minds, especially when circumstances are leading us to believe otherwise. It is important that we hold fast to the vision of God’s plans to guide and protect us as we raise our children unto Him.

The Holy Spirit Shows Us Things to Come

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:13 NIV

I don’t know about you, but this verse gets me really excited. Why? Because Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will show us His truth and things to come. This is especially helpful through the different stages of parenting so we can continue to trust in Jesus for our children’s future. That means when we position ourselves to hear God speaking to us through prayer, reading the Bible, and worship, that He will give us wisdom about His vision for our future. I am so thankful for this promise!

The beautiful thing about serving a mighty God like ours is that He is all-seeing and all-knowing. There are no limits to the wisdom and vision that He gives as He shows us things to come through His Word and His Holy Spirit. Be sure to keep this truth at the forefront of your heart as you enter into this new year!


Go Deeper: The website Bible in One Year offers an article on the importance of vision, the power of vision and the fulfillment of vision. Check out From Vision to Action.

December 28, 2019

A Post-Charismatic Looks at Miracles

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NIV.John.4.23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

This is the second half of an article based partly on a news item from last week which continues to be the center of much discussion as I write this. I try to keep C201 articles somewhat timeless, using the other blog to discuss current events as they arise. But I thought this was well written and worthy of your consideration here. Click the title below to read the article in full. The author is Ethan Renoe who is now serving in Guatemala.

Dear Charismatic Sisters and Brothers

Subtitle: Strive for spirit AND truth; neglecting one will always be damaging

…Take, for instance, the recent tragic episode of a Bethel worship leader trying to raise her daughter from the dead: without going into the details of the story itself, a lot of Bible verses were thrown around out of context in order to prove one side’s point. This is obviously a detrimental way to build arguments and do hermeneutics no matter which side you’re on. This heart-wrenching event served to expose a lot of the beliefs of the charismatic church and the grounds upon which they build their theology.

Many people filled comment sections with Bible verses yanked out of context, not realizing that the other ‘side’ could just as easily yank a different verse to prove another point. Thus, it’s impossible to argue with someone who is throwing little pebbles of individual Bible verses in lieu of a larger structure on which to build their theological arguments.

Think of it like this: before I went to Moody, I had a string of small arguments strung together through various anecdotes or quotes from pastors’ sermons. I didn’t have much of a foundational theology on which I built the core of my beliefs. I had a series of small, adjacent city-states rather than a massive nation to draw resources from. And which is more sturdy—small clusters of thoughts, or massive, deep-rooted, well-established doctrine and belief?

That’s the impression I got reading a lot of comments on this event: People were pitching little verses like Matthew 10:8, where Jesus tells His disciples to raise the dead…all the while neglecting that in the same paragraph, He instructed them not to go among the gentiles. Clearly that imperative was meant for only that specific group at that time.

Others would talk about how, when Jesus died, many dead people got out of their graves, and use this as justification for why people can be raised no matter how long they’ve been dead. However, they left out the part that Jesus died when this happened. Clearly it wasn’t a regular thing. There’s a difference between prescriptive and descriptive passages of scripture and it’s important to delineate between the two.

Someone from the other side could just as easily have quoted Isaiah (“Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness”), or Ecclesiastes (“The dead know nothing; they have no further reward…never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”)

My point is not to argue for one side or the other, but to show that this method of building an argument is fundamentally flawed and it actually proves a lack of larger biblical/theological understanding. If one’s theology is pieced together with scraps of scripture apropos to the situation, that structure cannot stand when stronger, more robust arguments are presented, arguments which are not as dependent on the current situation.

The issue with building your beliefs on the foundation of miracles and supernatural occurrences—as I did for years—is that when they don’t happen, you are left with some anemic view of God. A better view of miracles would be thinking of them as sprinkles on the cake: they are not the substance or the core of my belief, but if they happen, they are sweet and we get to rejoice and praise God together. 

Of course, no charismatic person would say that they’ve built their system on top of miracles, but to be honest, that really was the driving force of my faith for many years. And movies like Finger of God and Furious Love—favorites among pentecostals—only serve to reinforce this culture of ‘miracle hunters.’ It almost felt like my faith wasn’t good enough because I didn’t see healings left and right as people like Todd White claim to. Again, I don’t think their hearts are insidious, or that they’re intentionally trying to mislead people; but this pursuit of spirit needs to be balanced out by a pursuit of truth. 

Perhaps a deeper understanding of miracles and scripture would help round out the times God doesn’t heal the leg, or eradicate the cancer. A sound theology of suffering will help comfort us in times of suffering. After all, it’s tempting to bypass passages about ‘taking up our cross daily’ in favor of those promising God giving us what we ask for, building anemic theologies of ‘open heavens’ and other false hopes for salvation in this life. Much of this, I eventually realized, was flat-out denial of reality. I can’t count the number of times my sinuses were ‘declared’ healed before I actually had surgery on them.

Perhaps charismatic brothers and sisters need to balance out their doctrine of resurrection with a healthy cruciformity: seeing life through the lens of the cross. After all, we are still in the Golgotha phase of our existence. It hurts and we suffer and die. Resurrection has yet to happen to us.

(There needs to be a balanced notion of “already but not yet” when thinking about the kingdom. Many preachers emphasize the “already” portion of the kingdom, leading them into over-realizing their eschatology which inevitably leads to health and wealth gospels contrary to the Bible. It needs to be balanced out with “not yet”: the kingdom is not here in its fullness and we live in a very broken world. But again, that’s a post for another day.)

After all, if we hope for miracles in this life, even if they come, we will ultimately be let down. One speaker at Moody once shifted my perspective when he said:

“You know what the greatest miracle of all is? Salvation. All other miracles are temporary. If your knee gets healed, it will eventually break down again. Even Lazarus died again.”

Neglecting this as the center of Christian faith and hope will always disappoint us. What good is rejoicing at a miracle if it will one day inevitably be undone? This is why the core of our faith must always continue to be unio Cristi, knowing Christ as He is and introducing others to Him. This means explaining that their life won’t get better just because they know Him. In many cases, it will get much worse, yet Jesus did not leave His followers unprepared for this. “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Our hope is not that this world will bring healing, or that it will satisfy us. Our hope is that Christ is with us, that He has us in His mighty hand, and will not let us go. May we not get sidetracked by focusing on temporary miracles, but continually focus on the one that will not end: knowing Christ and Him crucified, joining Him in His suffering that we may one day, somehow, join Him in His resurrection.

December 27, 2019

The First Christmas. An Ordinary Day?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This week Clarke Dixon posted both his Christmas Sunday message and his Christmas Eve message. We decided to share this second one while it was still closer to the 25th.

by Clarke Dixon

For most of us, Christmas is no ordinary day. We prepare for it, we take time off, we meet with family, we play special music. This is no ordinary day. Yet the first Christmas was actually quite ordinary in many ways. It was not marked on anyone’s calendar as being a holiday, or anything out of the ordinary. Yet there was something extraordinary about that first Christmas. Let us consider the many ways Christmas Day points to both the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Mary. An Ordinary Woman. An Extraordinary Calling!

Mary was an ordinary young woman, like every other young woman. We don’t know too much about her, but we can assume that she had quite an ordinary childhood. Like other young women of her age, she was engaged to be married. Her life was quite ordinary, until she had an extraordinary calling from God.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”
 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.Joseph.

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

Joseph. An Ordinary Man. An Extraordinary Family!

Joseph was also quite an ordinary person. He was a descendant of David, but he was also a normal man like any other man. In fact when he learned that Mary was pregnant, he decided to do what any good man would do, he decided to call off the wedding. However, this was no ordinary child Mary was carrying. As it turns out, while Joseph was an ordinary man, he would have an extraordinary family.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

Bethlehem. An Ordinary Town. An Extraordinary Fulfillment!

That first Christmas took place in an ordinary town. Bethlehem at that time was probably no bigger than the small town we live in which only has 2000 or so people. It had a rich history, with King David being from Bethlehem. However, living in Bethlehem would feel no different to the locals than living in a small Canadian town does today. Life there was quite ordinary. But something extraordinary did happen there.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)

While being an ordinary town, through the birth of Jesus this town became the site of an extraordinary fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1-6 (NLT)

The Shepherds. Ordinary People. An Extraordinary Invitation!

You might think that the birth of a long awaited king would be announced to a long list of important people, like rulers or religious leaders. God chose to announce the birth to quite ordinary people, shepherds working nearby. In doing so, God indicated that ordinary people are important people. They are important to him.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

Jesus. An Ordinary Baby. An Extraordinary Baby!

Jesus himself was quite ordinary in some very important ways. He was a baby like any other. Despite the claim of a favourite carol, he cried like any other baby would. He needed fed like any other baby. He probably kept his parents awake at night, like any other baby! But he was also extraordinary. He was the incarnation of God. He was “Immanuel,” God with us.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone…
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:1-4,14 (NLT)

Christmas. An Ordinary Day. An Extraordinary Event!

That first Christmas Day was a very ordinary day. It was not marked as special on anyone’s calendar. There were no decorations. There were no Christmas carols. There were no Christmas trees. There were no gifts under the trees. There was no Christmas shopping. It was such an ordinary day, that really the only ones who knew about it were Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and perhaps a few others. The Magi probably didn’t arrive until later. It was actually a very ordinary day with a very ordinary birth.

Yet that first Christmas Day was an extraordinary day. It was a day which would lead to the possibility and opportunity for reconciliation with God. Because of the Son of God, Jesus, who was born on that day, we could become God’s children.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:4-5 (NLT)

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. John 1:10-12

We could go on to speak about how ordinary people would experience the extraordinary teaching, miracles, and presence of Jesus. We could speak of his crucifixion, unfortunately an all too ordinary event in that time and place. We could speak of God’s extraordinary love expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although we may feel like we are far far extraordinary people, we can experience that extraordinary love.

My family and I wish you a Merry Christmas!

December 22, 2019

An Advent / Prophecy Mix

Today, an original article from some previously published material invites us to think of ways the second coming of Christ could be similar to the first. But as you read this, remember there will also be dramatic differences…

Consider for a moment two aspects of the advent of Christ as it might relate to his second coming:

  • The timing of His coming
  • The nature of His arrival

The timing of His coming

I’ve heard many sermons about the fact that before the time of Christ, we find what Christians call the “inter-testamental period” wherein the prophets seem to be silent. It’s a kind of ‘calm before the storm’ before Jesus breaks on the scene and teaches like no other rabbi or prophet ever.

Will there be a calm before the storm before Jesus returns a second time? The voices (prophets if you will) of our day are being silenced. In the east because of the rise of militant Islam or religious radicals in places like India. In the west because of the rise of militant atheism or political correctness. Could it be that the second coming of Christ will take place in a time where the voices of the prophets are not heard in the land?

The nature of His arrival

We tend to think of Jesus’ arrival on earth at Bethlehem, but really Jesus arrived so to speak when He began His public ministry. You can date this arrival by His submission to John’s baptism and identification by John as “the lamb of God;” or you can choose the wedding at Cana or the beginning of His teaching ministry.

We tend to think of Jesus’ second arrival as being signaled by the sound of trumpets and his appearance on a white horse.

I am not, in the following paragraphs, suggesting that it’s possible that Christ has already returned and is alive and on earth now; so please don’t write me off as a heretic.

For the next two paragraphs, play a game with me. Not because I personally believe this, but because it stretches our imagination.

What I’m wondering is, if it’s possible for Jesus to embed himself here on earth somehow for a short period of time, and then, suddenly, there is the sound of trumpets, there is the appearance of the conquering King on a white horse (as opposed to the submission symbolized by the donkey the first time around) and every eye sees and every ear hears. I say that only because that was the nature of His first coming. There was a beginning in Bethlehem that preceded — in this case by 30 years — the beginning of His taking up His spiritual office.

Before you jump all over this and find it full of flaws, remember, at the time of His birth, it is the belief of many commentators that nobody understood the “…then a virgin shall conceive…” passage as meaning exactly how we know today the story played out. There wasn’t the “messianic mindset.”

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, controversial author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned herself as being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior. Though all was quiet on the western eastern front, there was great expectancy. None of this type of speculation discounts the aspect of “being caught up to meet Him in the air;” the idea that the quietly building return should not have its moments of drama. (We can’t edit out verses of scripture just because they don’t fit with our particular model!)

I’m just saying it would be most consistent if, in addition to the timing of His second coming following the pattern of His first coming; that the nature of His arrival should also include something that has an element of ‘process’ to it. That perhaps instead of looking “up” we should be looking to the left and to the right. Scanning the horizon for the Lion of Judah who has massed his forces, or, more likely, will mass his forces, right here prior to that moment when every eye will see and every ear will hear.

Or perhaps it’s something closer to the more traditional view, but there is a physical presence — similar to the angels at Bethlehem singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ — followed by the taking up of the spiritual office. A period, a moment filled with signs in the skies followed by a dawning of the great significance of what is happening. Only instead of it taking up to a year for the Magi to arrive on the scene bearing gifts, we have CNN carrying the event live.

Either way of course, it will also be a dramatic intervention into world history on a par equal to His first coming; but seen and known by everyone instantaneously.

The point is, ultimately we just don’t know. However, though we don’t know “the day nor the hour,” we can know “the times and seasons.” And we can be prepared. Are you?

My point is to ask, “What if…?” We read scriptures with so many built-in assumptions — as I am sure Old Testament saints did with the writings available to them — and I think we need to be challenged to think outside the box, without tossing out the basic elements necessary for the Grand Story to play out to completion. Is it heretical to ask, “What if…?”? I think the next chapter will be full of surprises on so many levels.

I Cor 2:6 Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7 No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8 But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.” NLT

December 13, 2019

Good Habits

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.4.14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.

Today we are back again at the blog with the unusual name, More than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Click the title below to read this at source.

He Went as Usual

Father, it is much later than I like but I just couldn’t stop what I was doing. You and I were working on this coming Sunday’s sermon and You were speaking and guiding me so clearly that I just couldn’t stop! May it be a blessing to those that hear. May our time be a blessing, as well. Amen.

Luke 4:14-16 (<<see above or click to read the passage)

Frequently, I see and hear excuses for why people don’t attend church. Let me share one from a slightly different angle.

12 Reasons Why I, as a Pastor, Have Decided to Quit Attending Sporting Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites – they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Now this list is shared with a little tongue in cheek on my part but as I read through today’s passage something important was pointed out. At the beginning of verse 16, it says of Jesus,

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath…

First of all, my Life Application Bible states, “During the exile when the Jews no longer had their Temple, synagogues were established as places of worship on the Sabbath and as schools for young boys during the week. [They] continued to exist even after the Temple was rebuilt.”

So, verse 16 states that Jesus “went as usual”.

Just for review, who is Jesus? He is fully God and fully man. Do you think that God needed to go to worship? And if you really give it some thought, wouldn’t His local synagogue had been a little sub-par, especially when compared to the majesty of heaven? But He went “as usual”.

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us by saying

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. NLT

Sunday is coming – and if Sunday doesn’t work others meet on Saturday night. Find yourself a place to set down the burdens you carry every day. Jesus will welcome you with open arms! Don’t miss out!

December 12, 2019

Did Elizabeth and Mary Earn their Special Place in the Christmas Story? Do We Earn Our Place in God’s Story?

by Clarke Dixon

God was up to something big at Christmas. Elizabeth and Mary were chosen to participate in very important ways. Why were they chosen?

We might write a sermon on how they earned their special place in the Christmas story. Elizabeth has a fine resumé:

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Luke 1:5-6 (NRSV)

Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron, so has a good family lineage. She is righteous and blameless according to the Old Covenant law. She is also married to a priest, which as anyone married to a pastor will know, means she must be a saint. Elizabeth is a very good woman. She ticks all the boxes for being top of the list for earning God’s favour.

What about Mary? Mary does not get the same build-up from Luke in his Gospel account as Elizabeth, but we can point to her humble character and her willingness to follow God’s lead:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 (NRSV)

We might therefore write a sermon about both Elizabeth and Mary earning their special place in the Christmas story and encourage everyone to earn divine favour. But I won’t. Why? The message “we are good, therefore God was good,” was not a sermon Elizabeth or Mary would preach.

Consider Elizabeth’s response when she conceived:

“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:25 (NRSV)

Notice what she did not say; “being good has paid off. I was good, so God was good.” Elizabeth does not put the spotlight of her own goodness, she highlights God’s goodness. Notice further her response when Mary comes to visit:

She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! 43 And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me? Luke 1:42-43 (NET)

Elizabeth’s attitude is not, “I have earned this privilege,” but “who am I that I should have such a privilege?”

Let us also consider what Mary has to say:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Mary praises God, not herself. She does not say “he looked on the goodness of his servant,” but “he looked on the lowliness of his servant.” Throughout the song, God is spoken of as doing great things for others, especially the “lowly” and the “hungry.” He acts according to His promise, and not according to Mary’s perfection. In this song, Mary sees herself as being an example, not of perfect obedience and righteousness, but of weakness. In this song God does something special, not because people are perfect and deserve better, but because people have needs and God is good.

Neither Elizabeth nor Mary get overly religious. We are being very religious when we think that our own goodness leads directly to the experience of God’s goodness. When we experience blessing, we think it is because we earned it. When we don’t experience blessing, we think we have failed to earn it. Mere religion puts the focus on us, and what we do or don’t do. Truth is more important than religion. Truth is, God is good. His goodness to us does not flow from the building up of our merit, but the outpouring of His love. Our goodness follows from the goodness of God, it does not lead to it.

Religion has a nasty habit of putting the spotlight on us. We humans have a nasty habit of enjoying that spotlight. Christmas puts the spotlight on God. God has done something amazing, regardless of the goodness of the people involved. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary focus on their own goodness, or their lack thereof. Both point instead, to the goodness of God. Christmas causes us to stop thinking of ourselves for a moment, of how good we are, and instead to focus on God, how good He is.

A spirit of entitlement comes from one’s religiosity. “I am so good, therefore God must be good to me.” Elizabeth and Mary don’t say that.  A spirit of humility comes from one’s grasp of reality.  “God is so good! Who am I to receive a blessing?” Elizabeth and Mary do say that. Do we, through our goodness, earn a place in the story of God? A spirit of truth will bring our focus where Elizabeth and Mary’s was; on the goodness of God. God makes us a place for us in His story because God is good.


Listen to the sermon on which this article is based. Look for the December 8th message.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

December 10, 2019

Devotional Thoughts When You Don’t Expect Them

I had this article as a link for our weekly news roundup at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud. I thought this was a rather provocative teaser: Lessons in replacing toilet seals and the Corinthian church.

Much later in the hour it occurred to me it would also make a good fit here. This from the blog The Cripplegate, which we linked to in 2012, but not since! The author is Eric Davis.

Plumbing, Self-Esteem, & the Great Love of God

I recently noticed that the floor around my toilet looked stained with water. Knowing very little about plumbing, I contacted my trusty father-in-law. He knew what to do right away. “The wax seal is broken.” When he was in town for Thanksgiving, he held my hand through changing the seal. This was a first for me. In addition to saving $300 in plumber costs, many things about the experience were memorable; one in particular.

But first, a brief detour.

One of the first epistles I preached through as a pastor was 1 Corinthians. It was a good challenge.

Paul writes the letter to help this beloved church make some spiritual adjustments to their lives. Many in the Corinthian church were full of pride. They lusted after significance. They craved the praise of men. Likely they didn’t want to hear any “bad” news about things like sin, hell, and the need for repentance. They liked the more “positive” things. They were too sophisticated to talk about sin. It was all too fire and brimstone for them. Thus, the message that salvation is exclusively through an unflashy, unfashionable Jewish guy nailed to a cross was too offensive for their self-esteeming sensibilities. They wanted to feel important and esteemed. They lusted after recognition. They jockeyed with one another for popularity and praise. If a relationship or ministry association did not help them get notoriety and spotlight, then it wasn’t worth their time. In other words, they were self-worshipers.

And the apostle Paul loved this wrecked church. So, to shepherd them, he says things like this:

“[W]hen we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Cor. 4:13).

Their founding pastor shepherds them here to understand how the world views Christians, and apostles in particular. He does so to corral them away from their craving of praise and esteem. And it’s good shepherding.

Let’s consider two words he uses, translated “scum” and “dregs.”

The word translated, “scum,” is the Greek word περικαθάρματα (TDNT, 3:430-431), and, “dregs,” is περίψημα (TDNT, 6:84-85). They are rich, colorful words, being synonymous in Greek.

The word, “scum,” meant, “to clean around,” and “dregs,” literally meant, “to wipe around” or “rub.” Sometimes they referred to a sweat rag or bath towel, used to wipe away those less noble areas of the body. Also, they referred to something of no value that had to be scraped off and thrown away, particularly sewage and refuse. In ancient times, human waste would sometimes be carried out in pots and disposed of. As one can imagine, “build-up” would accumulate in these pots. In order to effectively love one another in a household, the “build-up” would have to be scraped off and diligently disposed of.

Back to my recent plumbing inauguration. So, after undoing a few bolts and draining the water from the toilet, the enlightening moment came: we lifted the toilet off of the seal in the floor. And for those of you who haven’t done this, let me tell you. Actually, let me show you (see the pic above, taken after I had scraped most of it off, to spare you all). There it was. The dregs. The scum. The “build-up.” The scrapings. And I had the privilege of scraping. It was necessary character building. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 4:13 will never be the same to me.

So, how does the apostle of grace help people struggling a bit with the love of significance and a lust for mattering? How does he come alongside those battling a tad with self-exaltation syndrome? How did this exemplary church leader love those who did not have much of a pallet for those unfashionable, negative things like sin and a bloody cross?

It’s as if he says, “So, you want to be praised and popular in the world. I understand. Ok, so, you know the sweat rags people use at the bath houses and gymnasiums? And you know the excrement pots in your house? And how you have to scrape them often? That’s what we are. We are nothing more than sweat wipe and sewage scrapings. Glory to God.”

“Scum” and “dregs.” Scrapings. Wiping-around. These are the words that our good and loving God decided to preserve for the ages in Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit could have spoken many words here. He chose these. And we shouldn’t try to soften this. Beware of being too sophisticated for God and his word. And beware of using the Bible to shield the Bible.

Glory and praise be to Almighty God. The Lord Jesus Christ bore our wrath on the cross. He loves the scrapings and the sweat-rags. He loves us! He loves us! And by faith in Christ, we will bask and rejoice in his love for all eternity!

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

 

December 9, 2019

Who You Are in the Good Samaritan Story

NIV.Luke.10.25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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

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

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

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

Twitter is increasingly become a long-form medium. Individual tweets can be strung together in a thread to present more detail insights. As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve occasionally encountered material there that might not get well-deserved exposure to the people who read blogs, and I’ve strung many of these together at Thinking Out Loud, and, as of three days ago, here at Christianity 201.

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg describers herself as “Author, Survivor, Recording Artist, Mommy, Wife, Church Pianist.” Her book is Not Forsaken (Good Book Company). Learn more at her website. The link in the header below takes you to the thread itself which contains some highlighted verses.

Picked Up From the Dust

NIV.Luke.10.30 … Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The first thing we must ask is, “Who is Jesus telling this parable to, and why?” As we see in verses 25 and 29, Jesus is speaking to a lawyer who wants to justify himself. He asks Jesus for a to-do list of good works he can check off so he can get into Heaven on his own merit.

Jesus goes back to the Old Testament, asking, “What does the Law say?” The man, educated, correctly summarizes the Law. Jesus replies, “Do all that, and you’ll be saved.” The man knows he can’t love everyone, so he asks Jesus to narrow things down; “Who qualifies as my neighbor?”

Jesus replies with a parable. A man gets robbed and beaten. A priest – a holy man well versed in the Law – passes by the beaten man. A Levite – another holy religious leader – also sees the man but passes him by. Likely, they didn’t want to become unclean from touching him.

But then a Samaritan comes by.

Now, Samaritans were not full Jews, and were looked down on by the Jews as idolaters and sinners (the woman at the well in John 4 with seven husbands was a Samaritan). But this Samaritan proves himself more Godly than even the priest or the Levite.

Then Jesus asks the lawyer, “Who was a better neighbor?” In other words, who was more Godly? Who fulfilled the Law? The lawyer rightly answers, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus says, “Yes, be like that man.”

Jesus is telling this lawyer, in order to earn Heaven he must be holier than a priest and more righteous than a Levite. He must be perfect. He must know the Law backwards and forwards, and not only do everything in the Law, but be merciful and pay the price for other’s suffering.

What I want you to understand is, Jesus is The Good Samaritan. The glorious Son of God became a lowly human. He walked the road of life perfectly to pick us up out of the dust and filth of our sin and rescue us from the oppression of wicked people, Satan, and the powers of evil.

He has put us in the care of his Spirit, who tends our wounds and cleanses our sin. But Jesus has promised to return one day to redeem us once and for all. Jesus is telling this lawyer, who wants to justify himself with his own acts, “To earn Heaven on your own, you must be Me.”

You aren’t The Good Samaritan. You’re the guy lying on the side of the road, beaten up, dirty, bruised, and bleeding, incapable of saving yourself. Evil has been cruel to you. People have failed to love you. But Jesus got down into this dirty fallen world to pick you up.

It’s good to aspire to be merciful, compassionate, and helpful. We’re called to be Christlike, and the Spirit works in us to create good works. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that nothing we do, no matter how well we try to follow the Law, we need Jesus to save us…

[Postscript]

…This tweet attracted some odd responses, including a “church leader” who thinks the Good Samaritan possibly did ask these questions, and a few who think the parable teaches free healthcare. So, I thought I’d do a little thread about what this parable means. Grab your popcorn.

Things the Good Samaritan did NOT say:

  • Have you forgiven the robbers yet?
  • What were you wearing?
  • Why were you out here alone?
  • How’s your prayer life?
  • God’s trying to teach you something.
  • You need to have stronger faith.
  • Think positive.
  • God helps those who help themselves.

Oh yeah, and “Are you sure you’re not faking this to get attention?”

And, “It’s a sin to falsely accuse! You could ruin a robber’s life if you report.”

 

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