Christianity 201

July 16, 2021

The Angel Taking Notes

Today’s devotional doesn’t have direct scripture references, but you’ll see allusions to key passages all over this piece of writing.

This is a poem written by Canadian pastor Craig Pitts. It’s been reprinted in a handful of other places by permission, so we’re taking the liberty of doing so here as we were unable to contact anyone directly.

God’s Eternal Ink

by Craig Pitts

I dreamed I was in heaven
Where an angel kept God’s book.
He was writing so intently
I just had to take a look.

It was not, at first, his writing
That made me stop and think
But the fluid in the bottle
That was marked eternal ink.

This ink was most amazing,
Dark black upon his blotter
But as it touched the parchment
It became as clear as water.

The angel kept on writing,
But as quickly as a wink
The words were disappearing
With that strange eternal ink.

The angel took no notice,
But kept writing on and on.
He turned each page and filled it
Till all its space was gone.

I thought he wrote to no avail,
His efforts were so vain
For he wrote a thousand pages
That he’d never read again.

And as I watched and wondered that
This awesome sight was mine,
I actually saw a word stay black
As it dried upon the line.

The angel wrote and I thought I saw
A look of satisfaction.
At last he had some print to show
For all his earnest action.

A line or two dried dark and stayed
As black as black can be,
But strangely the next paragraph
Became invisible to see.

The book was getting fuller,
The angel’s records true,
But most of it was blank, with
Just a few words coming through.

I knew there was some reason,
But as hard as I could think,
I couldn’t grasp the significance
Of that eternal ink.

The mystery burned within me,
And I finally dared to ask
The angel to explain to me
Of his amazing task.

And what I heard was frightful
As the angel turned his head.
He looked directly at me,
And this is what he said…

I know you stand and wonder
At what my writing’s worth
But God has told me to record
The lives of those on earth.

The book that I am filling
Is an accurate account
Of every word and action
And to what they do amount.

And since you have been watching
I must tell you what is true;
The details of my journal
Are the strict accounts of YOU.

The Lord asked me to watch you
As each day you worked and played.
I saw you as you went to church,
I saw you as you prayed.

But I was told to document
Your life through all the week.
I wrote when you were proud and bold,
I wrote when you were meek.

I recorded all your attitudes
Whether they were good or bad.
I was sorry that I had to write
The things that make God sad.

So now I’ll tell the wonder
Of this eternal ink,
For the reason for it’s mystery
Should make you stop and think.

This ink that God created
To help me keep my journal
Will only keep a record of
Things that are eternal.

So much of life is wasted
On things that matter not
So instead of my erasing,
Smudging ink and ugly blot.

I just keep writing faithfully and
Let the ink do all the rest
For it is able to decide
What’s useless and what’s best.

And God ordained that as I write
Of all you do and say
Your deeds that count for nothing
Will just disappear away.

When books are opened someday,
As sure as heaven is true;
The Lord’s eternal ink will tell
What mattered most to you.

If you just lived to please yourself
The pages will be bare,
And God will issue no reward
For you when you get there.

In fact, you’ll be embarrassed,
You will hang your head in shame
Because you did not give yourself
In love to God’s Name.

Yet maybe there will be a few
Recorded lines that stayed
That showed the times you truly cared,
Sincerely loved and prayed.

But you will always wonder
As you enter heaven’s door
How much more glad you would have been
If only you’d done more.

For I record as God sees,
I don’t stop to even think
Because the truth is written
With God’s eternal ink.

When I heard the angel’s story
I fell down and wept and cried
For as yet I still was dreaming
I hadn’t really died.

And I said: O angel tell the Lord
That soon as I awake
I’ll live my life for God-
I’ll do all for His dear sake.

I’ll give in full surrender;
I’ll do all He wants me to
I’ll turn my back on self and sin
And whatever isn’t true.

And though the way seems long and rough
I promise to endure.
I’m determined to pursue the things
That are holy, clean and pure.

With God as my helper,
I will win lost souls to Thee,
For I know that they will live with thee
For all eternity.

And that’s what really matters
When my life on earth is gone
That I will stand before the Lord
And hear Him say, well done.

For is it really worth it
As my life lies at the brink?
And I realize that God keeps books
With His eternal ink.

Should all my life be focused
On things that turn to dust?
From this point on I’ll serve the Lord;
I can, I will, I must!

I will NOT send blank pages
Up to God’s majestic throne
For where that record’s going now
Is my eternal home.

I’m giving all to God
I now have seen the link
For I saw an angel write my life
With God’s eternal ink.

Copyright © Craig F. Pitts

July 10, 2021

Why Did David Run?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from Ruth Wilkinson. Armed with a Samsung phone and a strong desire to delve deeper into the Psalms, she’s been making teaching videos for a small church about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. The one we’re featuring today is part five in a series.

It’s impossible to copy and paste from a video, so I’m hoping that all of you will click through and watch this in full. It runs about 11 minutes.

Teaching notes for the video:

LORD, how my enemies increase!
There are so many who attack me.
So many who talk about me, saying, “There is no help for him in God.”
Selah

But You, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head.
In full voice I cry to Yahweh, and He answers me from His holy mountain.
Selah

I can lie down and sleep; I can wake again because Yahweh sustains me.
I do not fear the arrows that fly against me on every side.

Rise up, Yahweh! Save me, my God!
Oh, that you would strike my enemies on the jaw; that you would break the teeth of the wicked.
Oh, Yahweh–Salvation!
Oh, Yahweh–on Your people, Blessing!
Selah

__________

Psalm 3 written about arguably the worst day of David’s life.
-running from Absalom
—asked before… David is brave. David is strong. David is a fighter.
Then why did David run?

___________________________________

If I were making that movie…
**opening shots:
-messenger running up the hill, into the palace, shouting.
-out of breath, panting out his warning “Absalom is coming!”
-David, after the first shock, looking out the window of his palace, the hills beyond… Any sign yet?
-then down over the streets, the markets, the homes.
-women carrying water, the children playing and learning, the men working.
-what Absalom’s army will do to the city in order to get to David.

My movie…
-David walking fast, giving orders.
-first stunned silences, then moving on… explosion of organization…
-packing… rounding up kids… directing servants….
-what and who to leave behind.

My movie…
-overhead travelling shot…
-David at the head of the evacuation, leading his people through the city,
-still giving orders, making plans, staying at the front…
-guessing, maybe, that if Absalom might try to block the exit (David needs to be first to meet him.)
-guessing, maybe, that in the narrow streets of the city, his people are safest behind him.
-guessing, maybe, that most people didn’t know why the king is leaving, and it’s better that way.

-David leading his wives, children, servants and supporters, military forces to the gates, the way out.
-open space, wilderness, salt flats, Jordan River, a chance at survival.
-hoping Absalom doesn’t get there first.

My movie…
-David passing through the gate, looking around, walking to the last house on the edge of town and stopping. Stepping off the road.
-looking around for any sign of ambush, seeing nothing.
-gathering his courage, taking a deep breath and smiling as he waves on past–wives and children to keep on down the road.
-waving past his servants, his armed men – go – go – go –

-David waiting until the last straggler, last soldier has gone ahead, before he follows, watching over his shoulder.
-guessing, maybe, that once out of the city, Absalom is more likely to catch up from behind.
-David needs to be last in line to meet him.
_________________________

First time we meet David, he’s a shepherd. Called in by his dad from the fields with sling tucked into his belt, oil under his fingernails, dust in his hair, smelling like sheep.

Now years later, decades from those pastures,
—–King David, husband, father, soldier, killer David is still a shepherd.
Providing for his flock.

Why did David run? So that he would be followed.
Shepherd. Sheep knew his voice, and they followed.

Knew David would lead.
-Bringing up the rear when the rear is where the danger lies.
-Standing between them and the predator.
-Being the target. Being the bait.

________________________

My movie…
-David walking, weeping, barefoot, breathing in the dust raised by those who relied on him.
-down into the Kidron Valley – down away from the holy mountain, where God’s presence.
-up the Mount of Olives where once he had worshipped YHWH God, but where he cannot stop.
-again down and down and down into the dusk and the sunset, his mind full of words.
-until finally he has to pull himself together, walk back in among his people, and be their shepherd.

____________

My movie…
-closing scene for that day….
-stars in the sky, sound of the Jordan River, the comfort of the narrow green strip between the burning hot salt flats and the cool of the water; smells of food and a fire burning, encircled by exhausted people with just enough energy to eat, and to worry.

Out of the darkness
-David would walk into the crowd, through the circle of people who were here because of him, carrying his harp. and carrying his courage.
-He would stand where everyone could see him and he would sing.
-He would sing his fear – enemies, and what if God doesn’t help?
-He would sing his faith – His shield, his hope, and the voice that echoes still from that far-away high and holy place.
-He would sing in the knowledge that Absalom and his troops were in the city, taking over everything and everyone that David’s people had had to leave behind.
-He would sing his trust into the shaken hearts of those who trusted him…

“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again.”
“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again.”
“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again. Because YHWH sustains me.”

My movie…
-David the shepherd sings his exhausted flock to their rest.

July 7, 2021

When We Learn Our Lives Mattered to Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Pastor and author Greg Laurie is featured here at least once a year. Click the header below to read this on the devotional blog of Harvest Church in Riverside, California. You can also listen to a reading of this devotional at this link.

An Eternal Impact

When the Rapture takes place, not only will we meet the Lord in the air, but we’ll also rejoin friends and loved ones who have already gone on to be with the Lord.

Isn’t that wonderful to know?

If you’ve lost loved ones who were believers, then you will see them again. That’s a great comfort for anyone who has ever lost someone they cherished in life. Death is the great separator, but Jesus Christ is the great reconciler. Jesus will bring together those whom death has separated.

The Bible also reveals that we’ll not only be reunited with Christian relatives and loved ones, but we’ll also be reunited with those who trusted in Jesus through our witness.

For example, the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19 NKJV).

Paul was saying that his spiritual children would be his crown of exaltation in the Lord’s presence when He returns. From this it would appear that in Heaven, each of us will have those whom we helped to believe in Jesus grouped around us. Think about that.

Understand, God gives the increase in evangelism. I’ve never saved anyone, and neither have you. But God, by His grace, does allow us to participate in the wonderful process of seeing people to come to faith.

You might have sown seeds of the gospel in someone’s life, or you may have had a key role in watering a seed that another Christian had sown as you shared your faith in the Lord.

Ultimately, when we get to Heaven, we’ll be able to see what kind of impact that our lives on Earth have had.


Several times at Christianity 201, we’ve looked at what I’ve heard described as the chain of grace and how we can be play a part in it. Although we just ran it in October, 2019, I love telling this story over and over.

One of the best stories I ever heard in church a youth service where a girl, got up and (I’m changing the names at this point, I am sure) said, “My name is Amanda…” and then went on to tell the story of how her life was changed because of a friend named Brittany. Then the next one stepped up and began, “My name is Brittany…” and told her story of coming to faith because of the influence of a girl named Crystal. Next — and you’re probably guessing the pattern already — a girl stepped to the microphone and started with “My name is Crystal…” and told her story which included being invited to an event by her friend Danielle.

You might think this all sounds too contrived to be true, but when the last girl got up and said, “Hi, I’m Danielle…” I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. You could hear a pin drop.

In today’s devotional, Greg used the phrase “we’ll also be reunited with those who trusted in Jesus through our witness.”

Will there be people in eternity because we modeled life in Christ?


For a complete list of devotionals here where we’ve used the phrase “the chain of grace,” click this link.


Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

July 4, 2021

Prayer Scripture Medley

With our U.S. readers pre-occupied today with their big national holiday, I thought we’d keep today’s devotional shorter.

If you’re open to it, sometimes people who have left us can still speak to us. Before you panic as to what that means, let me explain. Although it’s been 18 years since my father died, I often find his words speaking to me through notes left in various books and notebooks. When my son asked if I had a copy of Practice of the Presence of God, I found a two-in one edition containing With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, with these scripture references tucked inside, which probably are verses on which Murray based his text.

Today I share them with you.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
 – Luke 11:1 NIV

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
 – John 4:23,24 NLT

But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
– Matthew 6:6 CSB

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
 – Matthew 6:9 ESV

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
– Matthew 7:7,8 NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
– James 4:3 NLT

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
– Matthew 7:9-11 NKJV

Give us day by day our daily bread.
– Luke 11:13 KJV

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
– Mark 10:51 NLT

Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for —believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
-Mark 11:24 CSB

Next to each verse some key words were highlighted. I want to share these as a separate list, extrapolating a little from the notes:

  1. Ask God to help teach you to pray
  2. Pray in spirit and in truth
  3. Don’t make your prayers a public spectacle, pray in secret and let God provide the answer in public
  4. Pray to God as a father and use the principles from what we call The Lord’s Prayer as a guide
  5. You only get what you’ve asked for. If you don’t ask you don’t receive.
  6. God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give you good gifts.
  7. At the absolute minimum, pray daily and ask God to meet daily needs; don’t take that provision for granted.
  8. Check your motives. Ask with right intentions.
  9. Prayer should be definite. Make your requests specific where possible.
  10. Pray with faith anticipating an answer.

This is based on my father’s notes. I believe that Murray has twelve major points or lessons and I encourage you to read the book, is available everywhere and doesn’t take long to read.

 

July 1, 2021

Ready to Meet Your Maker?

Thinking Through 1st John 5:6-21

by Clarke Dixon

So you have become a Christian trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. But are you sure you are ready to meet your Maker? Should I be bringing you a “Shrunk Sermon” right now on how you need to try harder and do better so that you will be okay on the day you meet your Maker?

In our day it seems there is an epidemic of doubt among Christians. Not doubt in God’s existence, but in our standing with God. In the apostle John’s day it seems there was an epidemic of doubt thanks to a certain group of false teachers.

So John wrote a letter. What John said to the Christians of his day in addressing their doubt is going to help us with ours in ours.

Here near the end of John’s letter we find the main point:

And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:11-13 (NRSV)

What is the main point? You can have confidence!

Since you have the Son, you have life! John does not say “Whoever has kept all the rules has life, or whoever has been religious enough, or knows enough, so that when you meet the Son, you will perhaps get life,” but “Whoever has the Son has life.” It is clear that John believes his readers have the Son. He says that he wrote the letter “so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Note the tone of confidence! John knows they have life, they should too!

The word “know” shows up a lot in the final paragraphs of John’s letter:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. . . . We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:13,19-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

John did not say “you need to know,” but you know already. Note the confidence! Reading between the lines, and knowing that the false teachers were, according to Bible scholars, spreading an early form of Gnosticism where you are saved through increasing your knowledge, John was in effect saying “don’t let the false teachers tell you that you need something more, that you are lacking knowledge, that you need to learn from them.” Whoever has the Son has life.

In our day, many Christians have doubts, through false teaching, but also through incomplete teaching.

For example, God is thought of by many primarily, and sometimes only, as a judge. While that is to be taken seriously, Jesus taught us to also think of God as our Heavenly Father, as we see, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus also said “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Want to know what God looks like? Jesus is the best picture we have!

There are two very different kinds of relationships we can experience, egg shell relationships and solid rock relationships.

In egg shell relationships you are not sure where you stand. You think it could all fall apart at any moment. You start each day knowing that you need to be the right kind of person, doing the right things in order to be accepted, to be loved, to still be in the relationship at the end of the day. In this kind of relationship, the phrase “suffer the consequences” is important. You try, and try, and try harder, and keep trying. You live in fear.

In solid rock relationships you are sure where you stand. You have confidence that you are loved. You are able to lean into that love, you are able to live out of that love. You live in confidence.

People often portray God as the God of egg shell relationships. It is a “suffer the consequences of your actions, and even your thoughts,” kind of relationship.

In Jesus we see that God is the God of solid rock relationships. He suffered the consequences of what we have done so that we might enjoy the consequences of what He has done. God is faithful, not fickle. That solid ground allows us to lean into God’s love, to live out God’s love in all our relationships and in all of life. Yes, we can always be growing and doing better at living out the Christian life. But that is a walk of confidence, not fear.

So are you ready to meet your Maker? If you trust in Jesus, you already have.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and articles here appear first at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 27, 2021

Only God Can Satisfy Our Thirst for God

Today we return to Brothers of the Book, written by writer, speaker, entrepreneur and marketing consultant Bill Hood. His thoughts this month have come from the Book of Psalms. Click the header below to read this and find other parts of the series.

Turn Off The Noise

Text: Psalms 61-67

This world is full of distractions that keep us focused on the meaningless and leave us too exhausted to focus on the eternal. We’ve got to turn off the noise.

I love gadgets; I always have. I guess I live in the right time for gadgets, don’t I? I walk around with two cell phones, each of which receives e-mails; one of them receives e-mails from about seven different addresses. I have a Bluetooth headset for each phone; in fact, one of them is a stereo headset for listening to music I have loaded up on my iPhone. We have two desktop computers, one is a Mac and the other a PC. I have a work laptop and a personal laptop. I have a cordless headset for my office line, along with a cordless handset. All of our phones in the house are cordless. We have five TVs in a household of three people.

The best gift I ever got my wife was one of those single serving coffee makers where you put a little sealed package in the thing and it pops out the perfect cup of coffee quicker than I can fill a cup at the refrigerator’s filtered water dispenser. We have two Kindle e-readers, two iPads, and I have a hand held electronic organizer, or three, lying around here somewhere. We have a portable DVD player we can take in the car with us on long trips away from our other three DVD players in the house. I have an old but still powerful stereo system to which I have the Bonus Room TV hooked up. I could go on and on but I’m getting tired of the game.

You know what all of that stuff is? Distraction. I was talking with a brother in Christ Wednesday night about the fact that kids today talk through texting. The telephone is so “last century”. Texting is the thing. We went on to talk about how things were when we were kids; you were really upscale if your house had a microwave or a VCR. It’s funny; I’m all “gadgeted” out and I’m complaining about the kids these days. Go figure.

I didn’t give much thought to all of my gadgets or the distractions they provide until I read today’s Bible verses. They are so powerful in their praise. I become almost breathless as I contemplate the truth of these praises. I wonder; why does God’s greatness only seem to strike me when I take a moment to read His Word? Listen to this:

Psalm 61:1-8 ESV
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.”

Does your soul thirst for God? Do you remember Him on your bed and meditate on Him in the watches of the night? Do you know what image came to me as I read that? I pictured David lying out in the fields with his sheep; he was a shepherd as a youth. Laying there with no TV or books or DVDs or CDs or Nintendos or cell phones; what did he have to occupy his mind? He had God. What do you and I have to occupy our minds? TV, books, DVDs, CDs, Xbox, and cell phones.

I drop into bed at night, exhausted from all the noise, in a pitch-dark room, and drop off to sleep, only to get up and start rushing first thing in the morning. David fell asleep under the stars with no sound of traffic or electronic clatter in the background. He could feel the grass beneath him and see the stars above him and God was self-evident in His majesty. Laying there, enveloped in the awesome reality of His power, how could David not meditate on God?

I don’t think I do enough of that, and I wonder if you’re in the same boat. The wonders of this age are significant but they are nothing compared to a solid, moment by moment relationship with the Father God. They are nothing compared to meditating on Him. I think we miss a lot of what God has for us simply because we are too busy with stuff and things. All that glitters is not gold, and this is never more true than when we compare the wonders of this world with the wonders of God.

I know I’m “preaching to the choir” here, but guys, we need to start turning off the noise and distractions. We have got to make time for ourselves. Surprised you there didn’t I? You probably thought I would have said we needed to make time for God. I almost did, but that would have been incorrect. God doesn’t need time with us; we need time with Him. It starts with this time we take every day to read the Bible, but it needs to be more than that. We need to spend time with Him in Prayer. We need to meditate on His Word, and on His character, and upon His ways. We need to lie down at night and meditate on Him in the watches of the night. To do this we are going to have to turn off the noise.

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

June 23, 2021

We’re Christians, We Sing

Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
 – Eph 5:19 NLT

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
– Ps. 96:1 NIV

A year ago we introduced a new writer, A.K. Francis who has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles during the time of pandemic, in a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude. Click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

Singing in Church

…[T]here has been something that I have been thinking about doing a blog on for a while now – kind of since the beginning of lockdown. But I’ve always been a little worried it might turn into a rant…or a science paper.

You see, it is about one of my favourite things, which happens to be illegal at the moment.

No, NOT raves – I’m not remotely interested in those.

Or Hugging, which I can live with or without.

What I am going to talk about today is…

Congregational singing 😀

Or, to be less posh, singing in church.

‘But you sing in church now’ I hear you say, ‘And you sang in church last week, and like twice at Easter.’ Yes…But…the church I went to where we sang was outdoors, and the other times I was in a band or a choir…and no one was singing back.

Normally, in the kind of church I go to (Slightly towards the evangelical end of middle of the road Anglican) there is a group of people who lead the singing (a choir, a band, or a dude with a beard and a guitar) and then everyone else joins in, following their lead.

One of the things I have always felt is great about church is getting to worship – in the form of singing – together.

But right now, we can’t do that. Unless we are not actually with the others in the service (e.g we are on zoom or youtube) we cannot join them in worship.

This might seem like a small complaint, and it is when the case load is as high as it was in January. But my fear is that as we return to ‘normal’ this key part of church might not be allowed to return or might be forgotten. And that its importance may be overlooked.

Of course, not all Christians share my views about this. There have been bans on singing in church during points in our history that have nothing to do with illness. Battle also continue to range over exactly what kind and style of songs should be sung in church.

But here is the thing…

I think there are two aims to our singing in church. The first one is probably most obvious, and probably doesn’t require each one of us to be in the same building to sing the words.

We sing to worship God.

Throughout the Bible, people sing to God – most of the longest ‘book’ in the bible – the Psalms – are poems put to music – and singing in large groups features in old testament celebrations and in visions of the end times. In these visions, people of every race, tribe and people gather together to praise God for eternity. There is a suggestion here that, on the place with no sickness, sorrow, or death, people listen to the singing – very much the whole multitude sing to God together.

While it has been wise, out of love for one another, not to sing while covid risk was high, it is harder to justify the prevention of collective praise of God as the risk decreases. To lose this opportunity to point towards our hope – that eternity we will spend praising God together – is deeply painful.

There is evidence that actually, speaking and singing at the same volume gives the same level of risk. So why the reduction to only a choir for singing, when we can also recite the words of a service together?

Although helpful for reflection and prayer as worship, it is perhaps difficult to fully worship as a group without being able to lift our voices together – an echo of that future day when we join together in one voice.

Some churches have been so fixed on this point that they have refused to meet until singing in church is fully permitted. They are worried perhaps that it will become a performance, rather than an act of worship, shared as a family/community in Christ. I am less sure on this total ban, as I think it removes any chance to meet with others to worship in prayer and to do the other major role of the church – to pray for the needs of the world, and to encourage one another.

And here we reach the second purpose of prayer in the church:

We sing to encourage one another.

In singing to God, we also spur each other onward. One of my pet peeves of modern church is that it can feel very robotic and detached. People come along and sing in their own bubble, but never build a community, never aim to ask about one another’s lives. It can also often feel rather like the music is a performance. The band or choir stand up and play and sing beautifully – or at least very loudly – and at the end people clap.

But the congregation don’t tend to sing as loudly – and the words don’t necessarily make sense of this easier. There are a lot of modern songs which use the first person – I – far more than is useful. (they have sometimes been nicknamed ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ songs). They talk about faith as an individual journey, perhaps suggesting a path independent of everyone else. When, actually, this is a walk we go on together as a church. If lockdown has shown us anything, it is that we need one another. I hope we can take that into our churches, and remember to encourage one another in the faith.

Older hymns speak of the wonder of God, but also encourage others in their journey. We should join in to encourage others that our experience is the same. We sing to be a community.

In the secular world, most of us can remember a song which was connected to a community we were involved in. Be it songs we learnt in cubs, scouts, or brownies, ‘the school song’ (in english or sometimes Latin), songs of a particular social justice movement such as spirituals in the civil rights campaigns, or even a national anthem. These songs speak of our collective goals, aims and desires in that community. We know them by heart, and we sing them to one another with pride (or at least hum the tune because the Latin is unpronounceable and the tune sounds like a merry-go-round)

Singing builds us up as a community, encouraging us that we are not alone.

Christian hymns, psalms and spiritual songs should not be any different – they should be a major part of both our worship and the holding together of our community.

In the Old testament, the Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the festivals at the temple sang what were called the songs of ascent (because they went up the hill) a number of which are recorded in the Psalms. These are songs of praise to God, listing all that he had done for them. They also include confession of sins, and calling out to God with verses of praise following, reminding the Israelites of all that their God had done for them, and all that he promised still to do.

They include several psalms I have featured in previous blogs. Including 130, and perhaps most famously, Psalm 121 which begins:

I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep

Psalm 121 v 1-4

The Israelites were encouraging one another that their belief was true and God’s love and promises certain – even as they praised Him collectively for His love and promise. They were songs to build one another up in the faith.

This is, I fear, what we lose when we cannot sing together. Yes, we can praise God, and I am sure that being back together as one people in church in silence has developed our reflection, focus and prayer lives.

But, there is a lack of singing together, or being able to build one another up, which begins to chafe as we get to this stage of the pandemic where we so want to be able to heal and build one another back up after the months of hardship. When the case rate was high, this sacrifice made sense. As we come out, we need to look at how we can get singing again.

It is something that does not make sense to those outside of the church – it just seems like a sing song add on to a religious event – nice to look at and listen to, but not something which brings sustenance to the people involved. But this is something which builds us up – and speaks to those coming in to church from outside.

It has been brilliant to focus on the words as we hear them sung to us. It has been a time to strengthen prayer in our lives and our churches.

And now, I think it is time to hold one another up again in song as we praise God together for bringing us through the long night of the pandemic.

That is certainly my prayer for the future.

God willing.

 

 

June 20, 2021

God’s Honor and Our Spiritual Welfare

This is an excerpt from The Root of Righteousness by A. W. Tozer, as posted by a Presbyterian Church in Singapore, 9 years ago. If you’re not familiar with the co-founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, this video devotional we posted 7 years ago contains a link to a biographical article.

The Sanctification of Our Desires

In nature it is easy to watch the activity carried on by desire. The very perpetuation of the various species is guaranteed by the presence of desire, and each individual member of each species is sustained and nourished by the natural operation of desire. Every normal creature desires a mate, and so the perpetuation of life is achieved. Every creature desires food and the life of each is supported. Thus desire is the servant of the God of nature and waits on His will.

In the moral world things are not otherwise. Right desires tend toward life and evil ones toward death. That in essence is the scriptural teaching on this subject. Whatever a man wants badly and persistently enough will determine the man’s character. In the Pauline epistles the gravitational pull of the heart in one direction or another is called the “mind.” In the eighth chapter of Romans, for instance, when Paul refers to the “mind” he is referring to the sum of our dominant desires. The mere intellect is not the mind: the mind is intellect plus emotional tug strong enough to determine action.

By this definition it is easy to understand the words of Romans 8: 5-7,

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

When our dominant desires are bad the whole life is bad as a consequence; when the desires are good the life comes up to the level of our desires, provided that we have within us the enabling Spirit.

At the root of all true spiritual growth is a set of right and sanctified desires. The whole Bible teaches that we can have whatever we want badly enough if, it hardly need be said, our desire is according to the will of God.

The desire after God and holiness is back of all spirituality, and when that desire becomes dominant in the life nothing can prevent us from having what we want. The longing cry of the God-hungry soul can be expressed in the five words of the song, “Oh, to be like Thee!” While this longing persists there will be steady growth in grace and a constant progress toward Christlike-ness.

Unsanctified desire will stop the growth of any Christian life. Wrong desire perverts the moral judgment so that we are unable to appraise the desired object at its real value.

As Christians our only safety lies in complete honesty. We must surrender our hearts to God so that we have no unholy desires, then let the Scriptures pronounce their judgment on a contemplated course. If the Scriptures condemn an object, we must accept that judgment and conform to it, no matter how we may for the moment feel about it.

God is always glorified when He wins a moral victory over us, and we are always benefited, immeasurably and gloriously benefited. The glory of God and the everlasting welfare of His people are always bound up together. The blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse not only actual sins which have been committed, but the very inward desires so that we will not want to sin. Purified desires will tend toward righteousness by a kind of gently moral gravitation. Then it can be said that we are “spiritually minded.” A blessed state indeed, and blessed are they that reach it.

 


Other Tozer readings here at Christianity 201:

June 17, 2021

When We Live in a Loveless World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Thinking Through 1st John 4:7-21

by Clarke Dixon

Does it ever seem like love is just a luxury? It would be nice to have, but . . . not happening. In buying a new car, you could have the heated and cooled leather seats, plus a high end sound system for just a few thousand dollars more. That would be nice, but . . . not happening. You are buying used anyway, so you settle for vinyl seats and am radio with 8-track. Yes, I’m old enough to remember those.

We settle for a loveless world.

Some settle for a loveless marriage, whether love is thought of as romance, commitment, or friendship. Some settle for a marriage where there is none of the above. Some settle for loveless family relationships, or work environments. Some settle for a loveless life.

Love can seem to be a luxury, nice to have, but . . . not happening. And we settle for a life without love. We settle for a loveless world.

When we follow Jesus, we don’t settle. We can’t settle. Here are a few things we do instead as found in 1st John 4:7-22.

First, we experience love from the original source of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 4:7-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

With God, love comes standard, meaning God’s love for us. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us be aware of God’s love, let us be be loved by God. We will discover that this is not a loveless world after all.

Second, we love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:7,8, 11,12,19-21 (NRSV)

With God, love comes standard, meaning our growing love for others. We think we live in a loveless world, but it won’t be loveless for long if we take the intuitive to love. If we find ourselves in a loveless marriage, a loveless family, or a loveless work environment, let’s bring the love. This cannot be a loveless world because, well, we are in it, and we are learning to love others as God loves us.

Third, we trade in our insecurities about being loved for confidence.

It is a human thing to be insecure, to think “nobody loves me.” In fact we can convince ourselves of that even when it is not true. We might think no one loves us when the truth is, we have no love for ourselves.

We have good reason to trade in our insecurities:

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (NRSV)

We have good reason to have confidence that God loves us. We are not really living the Christian life if we are constantly wondering if we will go to hell if we do this, that, or the other thing, or fail to do this, that, or the other thing. The Christian life is not a life of fear, but a life of confident living in Christ and serving in the world.

For many people, fear comes standard with religion. For the Christian, love comes standard with God. Let love be the standard, not fear.

We can be bold and fearless because God took the first step of love toward us:

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:10,19 (NRSV)

I remember well the fear I felt when I asked my wife out on our first date. I took the first step and was not sure it would go well, but she was (and is) super cute and there was no way I was not going to ask. I’m glad I did!

With God, we never take the first step. We are not the ones going to God looking for a relationship. God approached us first, we know his intentions and desire for a relationship. At the cross we see the lengths God is willing to go to for that relationship. We don’t go to God wondering, will God say yes? God has already asked you out, go ahead and give God your number already!

With God, love comes standard. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us open our eyes enough to see and experience the love God has for us. Let us trade in our insecurity and fear for confidence.

Conclusion

According to John, love is not an option in our relationship with God. Neither should we think of it as an option in our relationship with others, or ourselves.

In a world that seems so unloving, where love seems like a luxury we can’t ever have, let us love and be loved! With God, love comes standard.

(Video is available for the full sermon or it can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

June 13, 2021

Sins? What Sins?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

NLT.Col.2.14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

Ever tried to complete a spiritual scorecard for yourself, just to see how you’re doing? It might surprise you to know that God himself doesn’t do that.

Today we’re introducing a new writer. Esau Moraes is a Brazilian currently serving at a YWAM base in England. He writes in Portuguese and then produces an English translation of each devotional. Click the headers for each of these to read there, and if you have Spanish-speaking friends, tell them about his website.

[This devotional in Portuguese: Click here.]

My List of Sins

The other day, I thought I’d list the wrong attitudes I was still committing to remind myself that I needed to correct myself.

Immediately, that thought was countered by another: “You know who doesn’t keep a list of my sins? God!”. On the contrary, the Bible states in Hebrews 8:11,12 that:

“No one else will teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”.”

Once we acknowledge and confess our sins before God, he does not keep them in a heavenly file. He’s not waiting to throw our past failures in our face as soon as we make a slip. That, in fact, is the role of our Accuser, the Devil.

For “if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

In Christ, our sin debt was cancelled and removed by being nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). And the proof of payment no longer brings the list of faults committed, but declares that we are forgiven of all our transgressions.

And we do not need a piece of paper to tell us this, for the Spirit of God who now dwells in us testifies that we are washed and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He testifies that we are children of God and no longer slaves to sin.

Therefore, we no longer need to cling to the list of our sins, being constantly accused in our memory. Rather, let all our thoughts be led captive to the obedience of Christ. He – who forgives our sins – must be the center of our attention and not our past.

“As you therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith, as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.”(Colossians 2:6-7)


When frustration comes

[This devotional in Portuguese: Click here.]

“Sing for joy to the Lord, you who are righteous; it is good for those who are upright to praise him.” (Psalm 33:1 NIV)

After two years living in the missionary field, the time had come to return to Brazil and, in my heart, I was more than ready for it. However, hearing the news that my flight had been canceled and there was no new date available filled me with frustration.

Weeks before, I had been meditating on Psalm 33. But on that day, the first verses of this passage struck my heart in a totally different and much more genuine way.

What would my response be in the face of frustration? Would I still choose to sing and praise the Lord?

The psalmist declares that this is the attitude that fits the righteous and upright of heart. He does not give us a list of circumstances that tell us when it is fitting for us to give praise to God. Praising the Lord is simply part of our new identity as righteous in Christ.

Our emotions vary according to circumstances and they will never be truer than the truth of God’s Word.

I remember that night, before I went to sleep, I put on some worship songs and I started singing. I knew that wasn’t what I felt like doing, given the situation. But that was my choice, knowing that the Word of God remained the same: “Sing for joy to the Lord, you who are righteous; it is good for those who are upright to praise him” (Psalm 33:1).

“For the word of the Lord is true; he is faithful in all that he does.” (Psalm 33:4)

What I was feeling at that time or perhaps I am still feeling now does not alter the veracity of God’s Word. He has not changed and neither has His Word.

On the other hand, our feelings are constantly changing. Our emotions vary according to circumstances and they will never be truer than the truth of God’s Word. But we sing and give praise to our “Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

So I would like to leave a challenge here for you and me. Regardless of the circumstance or what you are feeling, decide to sing and give praise to the Lord. For it is fitting for the upright of heart to praise him!

June 11, 2021

Nicodemus First Saw, Then Listened

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today we’re featuring a writer who is new to us. Pastor Dick Woodward’s writing appears at the blog The Four Spiritual Secrets. He passed away in 2013, however new material is posted regularly excerpted from a variety of sources of his teaching. Click the header below to read this at his page.

Sharing the Gospel

“I want to remind you of the gospel…which you received and on which you have taken your stand… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.” (I Corinthians 15:1-4)

It is imperative we understand how to articulate the Gospel. A first step in that direction is realizing the Holy Spirit is the Evangelist and we are merely conduits through whom the Holy Spirit works…

When Jesus stayed up late with Nicodemus, the first words of Nicodemus were: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do the works that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

Jesus earned His hearing with Nicodemus by what he had seen Him do. Likewise, we must also earn our hearing with people. This begins with our understanding that what we do demonstrates what we believe. All the rest is just religious talk.

People are not interested in our religious talk unless they are impressed by what they see us do. Nicodemus was impressed with what he saw Jesus do, so he went to hear Jesus talk. We deceive ourselves if we think it’s not that way today.

What I call religious talk is our lengthy theological explanations of what we believe. Many secular people don’t understand the simplest theological terms. They will not be interested if they are not impressed with who and what we are and the things we do.

When we earn our hearing by the grace of God, the Gospel is simply two facts about Jesus Christ: He died for our sins and He rose again from the dead, just as the Old Testament Scriptures said He would and the New Testament Scriptures tell us He did.

There is something to believe and Someone to receive.


Because his articles are shorter, we have a bonus item from the same author:

God’s Stewards

“Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful… And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4: 2, 7)

The biblical word “steward” is not fully understood or appreciated. It is actually one of the most important words in the New Testament. A synonym for this word is “manager.” Many people believe this word primarily relates to a person’s money, but that application falls far short of the essential meaning of this word.

When Paul asks the probing question: “And what do you have that you did not receive?” he is telling us that our stewardship applies to everything we receive from God. This means our time, energy, gifts and talents, our health, and all the things that make up the essence of our very life including all of our money and possessions.

At the age of 65 one of my friends had what he refers to as a “halftime” experience when he came to fully appreciate the word “steward.” His regular custom was to draw a line down the middle of a legal pad page. On the left side he wrote “My business” while on the right side he wrote “God’s business.” When he fully appreciated the word “steward” he erased that line because, as a very successful wealthy businessman, he realized it was all God’s business.

Remember, the important thing about a steward is that we are found to be faithful. Do you realize there is nothing in your life you did not receive from God? Do you know that you are to faithfully manage everything you have received from God? Are you willing to have a halftime experience and erase the line between what is yours and what is God’s?


Now that you’ve read two of Dick Woodward’s articles, you might be asking, ‘What are the four spiritual secrets?’ His answer only takes 63 words, but you’ll need to click here to read them!

June 8, 2021

The Weight of Joy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

NIV.Romans.6  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin… 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

So what does today’s title mean? Stay tuned!

Today we are highlighting a writer who is new to us, Victoria Moll. Her blog is titled, Notes About Glory. Before we get into today’s devotional, here’s a little introduction to her writing. In both cases, you’re encouraged to click the headers to read each piece at her site.

In Jesus Christ, For His Glory

In Jesus Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

The phrase “in Jesus Christ” simply means to be a believer in Christ, having accepted him as your Lord and Savior.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for human sin by his blood, granting us forgiveness. Jesus is the reason that we are declared righteous when we stand before God, and are justified in His sight. Eternal life is not earned, but freely given to everybody who declares the name of Jesus because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Anyone who is a believer is “in Christ”.

For His Glory.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

We serve a God who is truly worthy of our praise! Giving praise to the Lord is more than singing songs during a praise and worship service. Worship is a lifestyle of obedience and working for the glory of God through our spiritual disciplines and missional mindset. Giving glory to God looks like thanking Him and recognizing Him as the source of everything good. The practice of giving glory to God is rewarding in that the more you practice a life of worship, the more you will see how worthy He is! This joy in realizing the fullness of God brings about celebration and adoration.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Joy is Weighty

I have been thinking a lot about joy lately, and I’ve noticed that in order for there to be joy, there must always be a sacrifice.

As believers, we experience joy as a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as a product of the continual transformation brought on by the Holy Spirit. This joy is free and accessible to us, but it came at the price of Christ’s death on the cross for our sake.

Because of the weight of sin in our fallen world and the perpetual death that comes with it, in order for us to feel the joy of the Lord, it comes at a cost. Yet God was so merciful that He paid it for is, giving us access to that joy.

What does all this mean?

That there is baggage in joy. Not necessarily the kind that we wallow in or the kind that keeps us from rejoicing, but the kind that convicts our hearts and draws us near to the Father in thankfulness and praise.

I believe that the glory of the Father can be found in our joy, as a product of what the spirit produces in us, because of the Son.

Joy is a lovely state of being, yet a necessary reminder that without Christ, there once was not.

I think about the year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee, which came every 50th year, was a time commanded by God for the releasing  of people from their debts, releasing all slaves, and returning property to those who originally owned it (Leviticus 25:1-13). The year of Jubilee was precisely its namesake: a season of celebration. There was so much joy that came from the lifting of the yoke of slavery and the shame that came with debt. Jubilee was joyous for those who could not find freedom by their own means- but the catch is that this joy is not so easily recognized until there is first the taint of slavery. For those who did not experience loss or debt, they had a much harder time rejoicing, because they had nothing to be returned to them.

In the same way, Paul says in Romans that although we should not continue sinning, the memory of sin should bring us joy in our salvation, and compel us to offer ourselves to the Father as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6).

This is the Christian joy: to not live as though we were still dead in our sins, but to rejoice in the freedom we have found in Christ, using our knowledge of salvation and thankfulness to compel us to glorify the Father.

Yes friends, this is a weighty joy.


Keep going: Get to know Victoria better in this recent, heartfelt article about what Jesus means to her. Check out Why Jesus.

June 7, 2021

Jesus Reconfigured Law and Sin

As a child, I was taught that thunder and lightning happened when hot air met cold air. It was a simple explanation, but after spending ten minutes just now reading more detailed answers, it doesn’t describe what’s really happening.

Similarly, we can speak of what happens when the good news of Jesus, showing us the grace of God, meets a culture steeped in religious law. That produced the equivalent of thunder and lightning — the guardians of the law were livid — but also doesn’t give us the technical detail to describe what was taking place.

As arbiters of the law, the Pharisees meted out constant judgment to their people, so while Jesus appeared to be drawing a red line through parts of it and writing in other parts he was totally disrupting their reason for getting up in the morning. But there’s more, the words of Jesus were cutting through to their hearts, putting a lump in their throats, and leaving them wondering how much he really knew about their innermost thoughts.

Jesus simplified the law

When asked which of the (Exodus) commandments is the greatest, Jesus responded with an overarching summary as found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

CEB.Matt.22.37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

In a 2017 post here, I talked about the difference between principles and rules and mentioned Donald DeGraaf’s definition. “A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles.” (Having said that, I think there are foundational principles in the Exodus commandments.) Paul reaffirms the second overarching principle in Galatians 5:2, “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  (NLT)

From my perspective, one ought to look for the principle behind the rule. Ask yourself why God is making certain requirements of his people. One time when I read Leviticus through consecutively, I asked God to do just that; help me see the why behind the what. Jesus tries to get his followers to do the same.

Here’s the catch: Once you’ve reduced the law to its core principles, those principles can reverberate down the line of history in ways the early church could never have imagined. Should a Christian smoke cigarettes? Own a $200K car? Spend three hours a day playing video games? If you interpret these situations as having core principles at stake, then Jesus has added to the law, not subtracted from it. He is setting a standard of holiness that is more stringent:

ESV.Matt.5.17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus extended the law

In his teaching, Jesus goes beyond the simple actions of a person to the motivations behind them, and further again, to the things we think about doing if we thought we would not get thought. So the male who looks at a female lustfully is as guilty as though he had done the deed.

(Tangent: This is usually understood with the presupposition that men are particularly visually driven in the area of sexual sin. Men are about sight, women are about touch. So goes the stereotype. But increasingly we’re hearing that women are equally visually driven. So the patriarchal language of the words of Jesus here does not exempt women from the principle.)

NIV.Matt.5.27-28 “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

This is foreshadowed in Proverbs:

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

As we said in a 2019 post here, not only does motivation matter but can bring consequences. James

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

The 613 laws thereby multiply into a potential infinity, or at the very least, after Jesus appears, the possibilities for grieving the heart of God with our acts of commission or omission jumps from 613 to 6132.

Jesus calls out pretense

This is a big one. It’s not a question of performance; a wish that you were either hot nor cold. Love for God certainly matters. Turning in a lackluster performance, or settling for spiritual mediocrity isn’t good, but there’s a kind of performance which is clearly worse: Pretending, or to use another word hypocrisy.

Three words: Jesus hates it!

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” — Matthew 15: 7-9 ESV

Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. — 2 Timothy 3:5

They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. — Titus 1:6

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. — Galatians 6:3 –NIV

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’— Matthew 7: 21-23 ESV

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. — Luke 12:2 NIV

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. — Matthew 23:27 ESV

So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. — James 2:24 NLT

If you think the best acting anywhere is on Broadway in New York, forget it. Some of the best acting takes place in the church lobby after the Sunday morning service. People pretending to me more spiritually than they are.

Knowing the heart of a rich, young law-keeper, he says,

Matt.19.21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

He doesn’t require this of everyone, but in this case, the young man’s heart isn’t into it; he’s not all-in.

Thankfully, our relationship to God is not about trying to measure up.

It’s expressed in joyful devotion to him, his presence, and his word.

 

June 6, 2021

Speaking Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

We were on a road trip with the kids and saw a record store and thought we’d pick up a new CD to listen to as we drove. I found an album which contained a song we’d grown to love on YouTube, but it turned out what we’d heard online was a remix, and when the track came up, it was quite different. Still, I always enjoyed the band, but then lost track of them somewhat.

Earlier this week the YouTube algorithm thought I might enjoy a song by them, and as much as I liked the music, I also appreciated that they were using their music industry platform to champion a cause that was important to them.

As I considered this earlier today, I thought of Queen Esther. At a key juncture in the history of her people, she finds herself with a unique platform, and wrestles with risking all to speak out. Mordecai tells her, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

The phrase “for such a time as this” is so strongly identified with this story that I hesitated to even quote it, and almost all translators are reluctant to change it, but here’s how some other translations render Esther 4:14:

  • who knows whether you have attained royalty for such a time as this [and for this very purpose]? (Amplified Bible)
  • Maybe it was for a moment like this (CEB)
  • Perhaps it was for a circumstance such as this (Segund 21 via Google translate)
  • Perhaps you have become queen precisely to help us in this situation! (Dios Habla Hoy via Google translate)

Esther’s unique placement in the king’s household meant that there was no plan B; no visible alternative that might effect the deliverance of her people.

The same is true of Nathan. He is another whose story is remembered for a very short phrase, “Thou art the man.” Okay, that’s a bit King Jamesey for some of you, but even with our modern translations, that’s how I remember it. The NIV has it as “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!'” 2 Samuel 12:7.

I’m sure that in this situation, Nathan was the stereotypical reluctant prophet, though presenting his challenge/accusation to David through a parable certainly softened the impact. Initially, at least. Nathan uses his platform as prophet to arrest David in his tracks. Only then does he launch into more typical prophet-language and in the five verses which follow, spells out to David his transgression with Bathsheba, and we should add, his transgression with Uriah, her husband.

Has God placed you in a unique place in someone’s story or given you a unique platform?

Earlier this week someone tweeted this:

If God calls you to be a Nathan, and you don’t respond, then you need a Nathan.

Think about it.

Clarke Dixon wrote these words here in 2018 referencing Esther:

…Mordecai and Esther are not perfect Jews. Both have names reflecting pagan deities. You have likely heard the expression “Dare to be a Daniel”. We preachers love that story as we encourage people to have the courage to stand up and stick out for their faith. Esther does not dare to be a Daniel until it is nearly too late, preferring, on the advice of Mordecai, to keep her faith a secret, even from her husband! Where Daniel kept to a kosher diet, we see no such efforts from Esther. The Book of Esther is not a story of God rewarding a good Jew for her piety. It is a story of God keeping His covenant promises despite the imperfections of His people…

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is another example of God choosing to use someone uniquely situated in location and time. While she had no platform before the conception miracle, she breaks out into a powerful prophetic voice after being told of her place in God’s larger narrative, revealing the inner-life she had with God. It is only in hindsight we see her willingness to be used by God:

Galatians 4:4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.

and also Christ’s uniquely placement in location and time:

Romans 5:6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (both NIV; italics added)

Sometimes we ourselves need to recognize or even enhance the “no plan B” circumstance. Writer Sharon Jaynes comments on the anointing of Elisha to replace Elijah:

…Elisha was just minding his own business and doing his job when Elijah walked up and threw his cloak over him. I’m sure it seemed very “out of the blue” to this young man. But I’ve learned that oftentimes what seems “out of the blue”, is right “out of God’s playbook.” God had had this in the works for quite some time.

We don’t know much about Elisha. He was just a working man. Every day, he got up out of bed, hooked up the oxen, and looked at their backsides. Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary. Just a working man.

But God had a plan; God chose a man.

Now, here’s what grabbed my heart. After Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha, which was a sign that he was passing his prophetic anointing to the younger man, Elisha went back to tell his family goodbye. He also had a giant barbeque celebration and sacrificed his oxen. He didn’t keep a few just in case this prophet gig didn’t work out. He even burned the plow.

He burned the symbol of his former life.

He burned the source of his former livelihood.

There was no turning back.

There was no plan B…

Who are those uniquely situated in your personal sphere of influence?


For some of you, the mention of Elisha burning the plow (or for our UK readers, plough) reminded you of the popular CCM song, Burn the Ships by King and Country. In 2018 we ran a devotional based on the original story.

 

 

June 1, 2021

God’s Wrath in the Penitential Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A year ago, in a debut that ran for two days, we introduced you to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting whose “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.” When we returned for a visit, Mark had wrapped up a series of different features of the Psalms in alphabetical order, hence the name of today’s article, below.

As he points out, the wrath of God has become the object of more debate recently whenever salvation or atonement is discussed. Did God pour out his wrath on Jesus or did he pour out his wrath on sin? Or is He a loving God who would never do anything wrathful to anyone? Perhaps you’ve found yourself in one of those discussions. In character with the rest of his writing, Mark looks at the Old Testament and in particular what the Psalms say about the wrath of God.

W is for Wrath

The subject of God’s wrath is a challenging one at a number of levels. It connects with how we understand the atonement and the relationship between the two testaments to name just two. A starting point for any theological reflection and understanding of God’s wrath recognises that the Bible—in both testaments—speaks of God’s wrath, or anger, towards sin.

Two of the areas of the Bible where this theme is to the fore are Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Book of Psalms. It is likely that whoever created the grouping of Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143 as the penitential psalms was very aware of this. The evidence of this is that these seven psalms each mention God’s wrath and/or feature in Paul’s discussion of the problem of sin in Romans, see Nasuti (1999).

Before we get to Psalm 51, we will present the explicit mentions of wrath in the other six penitential psalms. Psalm 6 and Psalm 38 both open in the same way, with this very concern:

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Psalm 6:1, NRSV

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Psalm 38:1, NRSV

Psalm 102 speaks of God’s anger too:

For I eat ashes like bread,
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
Psalm 102:9–10, NRSV

Other verses in the penitential psalms speak of God’s action against the psalmist which we might read as a consequence of anger:

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up[a] as by the heat of summer
Selah
Psalm 32:4, NRSV

Psalm 51 makes no direct mention of God’s anger or wrath, although if we read this psalm with a penitential lens, we can understand this lying behind the judgement that the psalmist seeks to avoid. Whether we read it with this lens, or in isolation, we see an expectation, a hope, even a celebration, that God’s mercy will eclipse God’s judgment. Psalm 51 challenges any argument that suggests a bipolar distinction between a wrathful God of the Old Testament and a Loving God of the New. Psalm 51 breaks any such simplistic notions. It points to the need of an understanding of God that resists such false dichotomies. This is not the time or place to explore the atonement or the relationship between the testaments in depth. We can, however, be grateful that both testaments testify to the truth of Psalm 51:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17, NRSV

 

Reference
Harry P. Nasuti, Defining the Sacred Songs: Genre, Tradition, and the Post-Critical Interpretation of the Psalms, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, p.33.


While not directly related to today’s devotional, while looking for something else I found this song, which was new to me. It takes 5½ minutes and the lyrics are on-screen. Sit back and enjoy.

 

Next Page »