Christianity 201

May 6, 2021

Team Jesus

1st John 2:1-6

by Clarke Dixon

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Good news! Our sins are forgiven!

But then, if we read ahead in John’s letter, we may feel like we encounter bad news, especially when we get to statements like these:

No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. . . . Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil;. . . Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

Selections from 1 John 3:6-9 (NRSV)

What if the good news is that our past sins are forgiven and only our past sins? What if we are given a fresh start, but we had better not ever sin after that? Maybe we will be relieved to know that God’s Spirit indwells us and will keep us from sin? Most of us, however, would still have great anxiety since we know from experience that we still sin. Or am I the only one? In fact our anxiety may grow if we think that perhaps we have chased God’s Holy Spirit away somehow.

As a way to think through this, let us think of ourselves as being hockey players, perhaps we can think of ourselves as playing for the Boston Bruins. Now let us think of God as having a hockey team, that our Lord is the owner, general manager, and coach. Of course we can think of the Toronto Maple Leafs as being that team!

Given this analogy, what would forgiveness from God look like? We may think that God comes to us and says that any goal we have ever scored, or helped our team to score against his team is forgiven. We might say “well thank you for letting bygones be bygones.” But then we keep playing for the Bruins, and keep trying to score on the Leafs. John is telling us in his letter that this is not how faith in Jesus works. It is not just about the forgiveness of sins.

The words of Jesus were really important to John, they should be to us too. So let us take a moment to look at the last words of Jesus recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Let us note here that it is not just forgiveness of sins that is to be proclaimed, but also repentance, meaning a change of mind, a change of path.

Now let us consider the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

Forgiveness of sins is not even mentioned here in Matthew! Following Jesus is, paying attention to the commandments of Jesus is.

Jesus would have said a lot of things once risen form the dead, so Luke and John are not recording the very last words of Jesus so much as emphasizing the elements of Jesus’ teaching they thought they should pass on to us. Where we might emphasize forgiveness, they both emphasize a new life in Jesus.

Now let us go back to John’s letter:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)

John is pushing us to think of a much bigger change in our lives than just experiencing forgivenesses. We are not just forgiven, we are set on a new path. To go back to the hockey analogy, God is not just offering forgiveness for the goals we have scored against his team, God is offering us a place on the team!

We don’t deserve it, we don’t play like the star players on his team. We might not even know how to skate yet. But we are invited to join the team!

Now just because we join the team, this does not mean we instantly become great players. Hockey players sometimes make mistakes. A bad pass can be intercepted and lead to the other team scoring. This does not lead to an instant expulsion from the team. This is a problem we often have as Christians. We assume that we should instantly become the Wayne Gretzky of Christians. But we still miss the mark. When we do,

. . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

We are not booted off the team. Everything that is necessary for us to be on the team has been accomplished.

What if, however, having moved from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs, during a playoff series against the Bruins, we continually pass the puck to the Bruins, and sometimes we even take a shot on our own net? The natural conclusion reached by the coach and fans alike, is that we have not really changed teams. We are still playing for the Bruins, we want the Bruins to win. This is what John is getting at in verses 3-6:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)

If we really are in Jesus, then it will be evident that we are on team Jesus. When John says later in 3:6-9, that we will not sin, that we cannot sin, it is like a coach saying to a hockey player, “you will not pass to a player on the opposing team, indeed you cannot.” Well the hockey player might have a bad pass that goes to a member on the other team, which might lead them to score a goal. But the player will not pass it with the hope, “oh boy, I hope the other team wins.” He will not do that, and given his desire to win the Stanley Cup, he cannot do that.

If hockey players never wore a jersey, you would still be able to know who is playing for what team. When John says we don’t sin as Christ followers, what he means is that it should be obvious that we are on team Jesus, that we don’t play for the opposing team. We might still be learning to skate, and we might be awful at handling the puck, which might lead the other team to score from time to time, nevertheless, it is evident we are are on team Jesus.

As we read through 1st John, and especially here in 1:3-6 and later 3:6-9, we might ask, am I in deep trouble if I commit even one sin after coming to faith in Jesus? That is not a question that would have come to John’s mind. The question John is asking is: does your life show that you are on team Jesus? That you are in Christ?

Yes, we are going to mess up, there are forgivenesses when we do. But if we are on team Jesus, it will be obvious that we are on team Jesus, jerseys and Jesus fish not required. Those who are on team Jesus are easy to spot, even if they are not spotless. We may may not be superstar players, at least not yet, but let us commit to being on team Jesus! And let us enjoy that honor.


The full sermon can also be seen as part of this longer “online worship expressionClarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and doesn’t get the usual 1-2 paragraph intro! He’s a pastor in Ontario, Canada; and a good friend to have. Clarke and his wife have three boys, but I don’t know if any of them share his love of motorcycles.

April 26, 2021

From Faith to Doubt to Faith Again

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Every pastor has a Bible character for whom they are able to tell his story in exceptional ways.  For Andy Stanley it’s Nehemiah. For the young preacher you’re about to meet it’s Thomas. Yesterday I listened to two full-length sermons by Tyler Staton. The first was sent to me in a link by a friend who wanted me to know that Tyler is replacing John Mark Comer as teaching pastor at Bridgetown. He’s moving cross-country from Brooklyn, New York to Portland, Oregon.

The second sermon I watched was focused on Thomas, so I was thrilled to discover that Thomas takes up a good one-third of Tyler’s book, Searching for Enough: The High Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith.

This devotional is adapted by the book and was first published by the Bible Gateway Blog, and appeared later at Devotions Daily. Click the title below to read at source, and click the link at the end to learn more about the book. Clicking the header below will also lead you to an audio reading of the book’s first chapter.

Stuck Between Two Unsatisfying Stories

Thomas is my favorite. He’s always been my favorite. I know Thomas. I am Thomas.

Thomas wasn’t a fiercely rational cynic. To think of him that way would be to minimize a whole life down to one single moment, which is always a mistake. This is a man who left everything behind to follow a self-proclaimed Nazarene rabbi. He risked everything for Jesus. He witnessed miracles that left him rubbing his eyes in wonder, but he also faced rejection, confusion, and public disgrace for associating so closely with one who was called a criminal.

The very week of Jesus’ crucifixion, Thomas steps forward in a critical moment to say he’s ready to die with Jesus. He was ready to die with his rabbi, but he wasn’t ready to live without him. And that’s exactly what Jesus asked Thomas to do when he wouldn’t say a word at his own defense hearing and took the death penalty like he was planning it all along.

Thomas isn’t a cynic or even a skeptic. It’s so much more personal than that. He’s disappointed. He’s hurt. Imagine pushing in all your chips, like he did on Jesus, and then the story ends in the kind of heartbreak so far outside of the realm of possibility that it blindsides you completely, leaving you in the kind of daze you never want to feel again. That’s the Thomas we meet in his famous declaration of doubt.

He’s hurting. He’s confused. He’s guarded. Life on his own terms wasn’t enough; that’s why he risked everything on Jesus in the first place, but how can he be the King of the everlasting kingdom from within a casket? Thomas isn’t a doubter; he’s a realist—calling it like he sees it.

“So the grave’s empty, huh? Well, that’s great, but I’m gonna need a lot more than that. If the rest of you are so desperate to believe, then go ahead, but I’m gonna piece together my actual life in the actual world. And if laughter, beer, and sex is as good as it gets . . . and if suffering is senseless and death is final and none of it amounts to anything more . . . then at least I had the courage to face it.”

Thomas’s resurrection reaction reads like God picked up a thirty-something from San Francisco or Berlin or Melbourne or Brooklyn and sat them down in first-century Jerusalem on that defining Sunday morning.

I’m not sure I understand the experience of seeing someone alive on Sunday who was definitely dead on Friday, but I certainly understand the skepticism of hearing other people spread a holy rumor like that one and categorizing it as religious well-wishing at best. I see myself in Thomas. I see my friends in Thomas. I see my city in Thomas. Stuck between two unsatisfying stories.

Now Thomas . . . was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24–25

In essence, Thomas is saying, “If God wants me, he can come get me. I’m not hiding.” Thomas was a realist—a strong-willed, fiercely logical realist—and that earned him a nickname: Doubting Thomas. That’s a modern invention though.

His given name was Didymus, but everyone who really knew him called him by his Aramaic name—Thomas, which translates to “twin.” The Twin—that’s what all the other disciples called him, and it suits him . . . because, in a way, he’s all of our twin.

Thomas is modern Western culture personified. A whole hemisphere is stuck between two unsatisfying stories. The citizens of the industrialized Western world enjoy more personal freedom, leisure time, career options, and entertaining distractions than anyone at any other time in human history, and yet the increase in personal autonomy and freedom hasn’t led to increased happiness and fulfillment. Diagnosed and medicated mental illness has grown almost exactly parallel to these factors. The world’s freest, wealthiest, most autonomous people are also the world’s most anxious and depressed people.

Is there anyone you can identify with more in the Gospels than Thomas? Regardless of how you’d categorize your particular brand of belief or unbelief at this particular moment, plenty of us could say right along with Thomas, “It’s not enough. The meaning I’ve tried to drum up for myself in this life is not enough to still my restlessness, but to be honest, I’m starting to think an empty tomb is not enough either.”

Two Stories Caught in a Single Frame

Early on a hot summer morning in the mid-1970s, Philippe Petit walked across a wire suspended between the iconic Twin Towers dotting the Lower Manhattan skyline. It was a spectacle.

Almost exactly 27 years later, two commercial flights were hijacked and steered directly into those same Twin Towers, bringing them to the ground with thousands of casualties. It was also a spectacle—of the very worst kind.

A photo was snapped during Petit’s jaunt across the wire that was meaningless for nearly three decades but then became iconic: a commercial plane caught behind the balancing man on the wire appears to be flying much too low, almost like it will hit the towers. Two moments that seem logically a lifetime apart are caught in a single frame. The stories overlap for just a moment.

That’s what happened to Thomas. The story of the world and the story of Jesus seemed incompatible on resurrection morning. It was wishful thinking for any true realist. Then, for just a moment, the stories overlapped in a small upper room hideaway in central Jerusalem. Thomas, disenchanted by an empty tomb, encountered the presence of the living God.

That’s the invitation for you.


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Zondervan Publishing. Used by permission.

April 25, 2021

He Formed Us and is Still Forming Us

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Psalm 139: 13, 14a

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 NIV

And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18b NLT

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13

Earlier today I had a sense that today’s devotional should center around the “fearfully and wonderfully made” phrase from Psalm 139. I knew that many are already familiar with the Psalm and was hoping to find some insight I had never considered before. I was very quickly and unexpectedly rewarded.

I met Syd Hielema once while he was chaplain of Redeemer University. He wrote the devotions which appear below for Today, a publication of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada and the United States. I don’t if he was thinking the same thing that I got from reading them, but these appeared on consecutive days, in the same order you see them below! (Click the headers below to read them at Today.)

Wonderfully Made—and Remade

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . . Search me, God. . . . See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. — Psalm 139:14, 23-24

These verses from Psalm 139 remind us that while each one of us is a beautiful creation of the Lord, there are also offensive ways inside us that need to be dealt with.

After the fall into sin (described in Genesis 3), we human beings continue to live as precious works of the Creator while also needing to be redeemed from sin and brokenness. So in his great and amazing love for us, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sin and to give us new life forever with him. And now the Spirit of God lives in us, guiding us to become like Jesus. He leads us “in the way everlasting.”

The apostle Paul describes it this way: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), giving us one of the clearest statements in the Bible about dying to live.

The fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made—and remade—leads to some of the most glorious announcements in Scripture, like this one: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Prayer

Thank you, Father, Son, and Spirit, for your gifts of creation and redemption. Continue to search us and to lead us in your way ever­lasting. Amen.

Refined Toward Wholeness

We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. — 1 John 3:2

The word lavish doesn’t occur very often in the Bible, so its use here in 1 John 3 is striking: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us . . . !” This is where our salvation begins: with the overwhelming, overflowing love of God.

John then continues by contrasting what is now (“we are children of God!”) with what will be: “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And this describes the finished project, the good work in us that God is bringing to completion (Philippians 1:6). Now we see “only a reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12), but when we see Christ as he is, we shall be like him.

“All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure,” says John. Hope in Jesus is the bridge, the link between the love lavished on us now and becoming like him when he appears. This is love that is determined to bring us home. This hope is not wishful thinking; this is active hope, purifying hope—that is, hope that surrenders to the purifying fire of the Spirit of God as he burns away every part of us that is not pure and good.

It’s a good habit to look back over each day, give it up to God, and pray some words like these:

Prayer

Lord, use your purifying fire to burn away the parts of me that hurt and dishonor you and others. Help me to die to those things so that I can really live, filled with the wholeness of Jesus. Thank you, Lord, for the good work you have begun in me. Keep purifying me each day. Amen.

April 19, 2021

Just Because You Profess Faith Doesn’t Mean You Possess Faith

Today, a really good message for us which, regardless of where you stand on the eternal security spectrum will cause you to dig in to some scripture and good thoughts.

Where the writer talks about Baptists below, substitute your own denomination’s name.

This is our first time at the blog at First Baptist Church of Scott City, Missouri where Jeremy Sells is the pastor. Click the title below to read this on its original source page.

The Horror of Dull Hearing

Scripture: Hebrews 6:1-12

Entering hell is horrific enough, but how much more horrifying would it be to do so after sitting many years on a cushioned Baptist pew? Here is the warning from our next section of Hebrews: those who are not truly converted and do not have the Spirit of God within them will eventually fall away. They may attend Sunday School, Church Worship Services, tithe, serve, pray, and read their Bible; but, Jesus will say to them one day: I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (Matt 7:23).

Last week we discussed the danger of dull hearing. The writer of Hebrews is addressing those who profess faith in Jesus and lamenting over their current spiritual condition that they have obtained over time. At first they received the word of God cheerfully and with humility but now they have become dull of hearing. Over a period of time, they have become numb and inattentive to the teaching of Christ and they now have a lack of interest or excitement about these things.

Because of this, the writer of Hebrews sounds an alarm: those who refuse to seek repentance for their dull hearing are in danger of falling away (apostasy). Apostasy can either be a renunciation of the essential doctrines of the faith and embracing false teachings that claim to be true or it can be a renunciation of the Christian faith in its entirety which results in a full abandonment of Jesus Christ.

I Can’t Fall Away…I’m Baptist!

But wait, we are Baptists! Baptists do not believe a person can lose their salvation, so why are we talking about falling away from the faith? While true faith cannot be lost, too many people who profess faith do not actually possess faith. They are not actually born again and they are in danger of falling away and being unable to be renewed (Heb 6:6). And they fill our churches. But first, let’s establish the clear teaching of Scripture that genuine faith cannot be lost.

We believe those who are truly born again will be preserved by God. Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us we are sealed by the Holy Spirit as a guarantee. Philippians 1:6 says God will bring His good work in us to completion. Jude 1:24 explicitly says, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy. Not to mention Paul’s great exposition of God’s great eternal love for His elect in Romans 8:26-39. Having established this truth, however, does not diminish the threat of apostasy.

Can I Fall Away?

Apostasy involves a person who believes they are saved but are not truly born again renouncing their previously held belief. Sadly, many Baptists have become apostates. The book of Hebrews has five warnings scattered throughout (see 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). These warnings are a means by which true believers are preserved. Genuine believers hear the warning and take heed. False believers hear the warning and ignore it or explain it away.

So, here is the moment of testing: what are you doing with these warnings? Do you hear them and examine yourself or excuse yourself? Do you hear them and ask God to expose areas of your life that need growth or do you seek to ignore the message and distract yourself with other things? If you are the former, be encouraged that God is preserving you. If you are the latter, be warned that God’s stripping you of your false profession in order to bring you to repentance. If you fail to heed His warnings, you will find yourself handed over to judgment and falling away.

Apostasy is the unforgivable sin (blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:8-12) and the sin leading to death (1 John 5:16) in which it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” It is not a one-time act, but a process of continually dulling your hearing. Eventually the line is crossed in which you are handed over by God to judgment.

How Do I Not Fall Away?

How do you not fall away? First, recognize that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works (Eph 2:8-9). It’s not a matter of doing more or trying harder. Our salvation comes down to a personal relationship with Jesus. How do you develop relationships? You love the person, trust the person, and seek what is best for them. This is true of Jesus. We are to love Him and trust Him. We want our relationship to grow and deepen. To do this we need to grow in maturity. We need to leave the elementary teaching about Christ.

This does not mean you abandon it as unnecessary, but to grasp it and use it to move forward towards greater knowledge. For example, if an elementary school teacher tells her class, “We shall leave the learning of the letters in order to focus on words”, this does not mean the letters are abandoned, but are now used to help the students press on to a greater understanding of the English language. How do you not fall away? Keep on towards maturity in the faith. Keep on seeking Jesus. We need solid food, not milk. We need our senses trained by practice to discern between good and evil. Press on to maturity.

Better Things!

In the discussion of the danger of falling away, the writer of Hebrews offers this encouragement to those who heed God’s gracious warnings: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation (Heb 6:9). The encouragement is that God does not overlook your work and the love that you showed for His sake in serving the saints (Heb 6:10). So, for those who love God, have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise (Heb 6:11-12).

 

April 16, 2021

Current Events Remind Us We Need Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Sin in this world is nearing critical mass
– from today’s article

Today another new writer to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle blogs at Musings from an Idle Mind. Because this just posted a few hours ago, I encourage you to click the header below and leave comments at his site.

Broken

O LORD, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.

For You have been a strength to the poor, A strength to the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm, A shade from the heat; For the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.

He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken. And it will be said in that day: “Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.””
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭25:1, 4, 8-9‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Broken

There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. The world we live in is irretrievably broken

I watched the last moments of the life of a thirteen year old boy, shot by a Chicago policeman. It was the tragic summing up of many evil moments, that came together to destroy a young life.

There was an older twenty-one year old who fired shots, who allegedly passed the weapon to the young boy so he himself wouldn’t be caught with the gun. Charges are less for juveniles, and it is common practice for criminals to use them.

There was a chase down an alley, with eternity bearing down. The boy tossed the weapon in an opening in a fence, raised his hands as he turned toward the officer. Eternity invaded as the adrenaline and the inertia of the moment, propelled finger against trigger and a life ended. It is going to be a long, painful, spring and summer.

We will hear the multitude of justifications and condemnations, along political lines, as pundits spout off on what happened. There will be riots, mostly peaceful protests, that seem to consume the nation. In the end all will be more broken, and still people will die.

In the midst of it all, there will be one all consuming truth: we need God more than ever.

Isaiah 25:1 entering my eyegate this morning as I prepared the meme for my church. It was a refreshing sight, as God invaded the sadness in my flesh and reminded me of His sovereignty. I felt compelled to worship. Our God is beyond the brokenness of this present world. Because I have been forgiven, I have a reality that is not fixed in the here an now, but eternally powered and my future is Heaven.

Sin in this world is nearing critical mass, as down is up and up is down. All people are being affected, as lost and saved alike entertain ideas that are evil. The sin that has broken our planet, is spreading like a virus, as people go about doing what they think is right in their own eyes.

There seems to be little consciousness of the evil that is being perpetuated, or any concern for the long term consequences. We have become a society of reactors, seemingly shocked when unintended consequences come.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭3:1-5‬ ‭NKJV

We are in those days.

We need Jesus!

All the brokenness that we are seeing should be prompting us to go forth and preach the Gospel. It is only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that change things. It is the transformation of each individual heart, of each individual mind, to help us to see as God sees.

Instead, we are drawn to political and march about finding no solutions.

The biggest problem that is infecting humanity, is our tendency to not see the human in front of us. We miss the creature just like us. We see only opposing forces, dehumanized. We have become a nation and world full of targets, and shooters, taking aim at each other as the evil one picks us all off.

For those of us who are in Jesus, we must stand apart from all the strife and be faithful to share the Good News of Jesus, who went to the cross, died for the sins of all mankind, was buried and rose again. We must endeavor to love across the battle lines.

It can easily seem as though the Gospel message will not be heard as our world is loudly careening to the abyss. There is so much noise!

People are consumed and distracted, just as the evil one intended. He knows his time is short, but we must be about the Father’s business. Souls are in the balance.

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭4:1-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In these dark times, I must keep looking up, focusing on Jesus. I cannot fix this world, but I know that Jesus will. He is coming again. There are so many things happening in our broken world.

“Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22:6-7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Come Lord Jesus!

https://www.allaboutgod.com/the-roman-road.htm

 

April 14, 2021

Thinking About “Heart”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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After a break of several years, we’re paying a return visit to the devotional blog Get Along With God. These are excerpts from two different authors, Martha and John, which appeared on consecutive days dealing with heart. Today you need to click the individual titles to read the articles in full.

Blessed are those who keep his statutes
    and seek him with all their heart (Ps. 119 2)

I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands. (10)

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I have set my heart on your laws. (30)

I have sought your face with all my heart;
    be gracious to me according to your promise. (58)

Your statutes are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart. (111)

What It Means to Keep Your Heart

Living from Your Heart

…I’m drinking Psalm 119 and marking every mention of heart with a red pen. How rich this psalmist’s interaction with God! Raw and wide are his requests. High and low, he ranges all heights and every depth. The love between the man and his God is flowing, and he is free to an amazing degree. Free to feel and need. Free to pray outlandishly. Willing to express all the stormy desperation of his heart and unashamed passion for God.

Verse 81: “My soul languishes for Your salvation.”

The whole Psalm is the testimony of a wide-open heart to the wide-open Lord of All, sovereign and beautiful! The writer’s honesty moves from agony to ecstasy, from complaint to decision, from reality to worship. His love is for the Person of God, so his passion for the will of God makes him a beggar.

“My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (verse 20).

Consequences of Denying Your Heart

I once sat with a friend in the hospital. He was there for heart problems. I said to him, “You refuse to live from your heart in naked honesty and so your heart is hurting (actually dying) from being denied and suppressed. Your heart was made to live, feel, soar and hurt. You won’t let your heart function as it was created. You will not start from that unmanageable heart. You choose to be religiously safe instead of spiritually abandoned. So your heart is damaged by your own rejection of your dangerous self. You are afraid of your own heart.”

(See my audio series, “The Heart of the Matter,” for more on living from the heart.)

If your heart belongs to God fully, in all its wild wandering, as John said in his post, then you are truly His. You only belong to God if you have given Him your entire heart – good, bad, shocking. To keep your heart doesn’t mean to suppress it, but to live in such heart transparency that you KNOW your real emotions, thoughts and beliefs. Then you can direct your heart to God and your choices turn the vast vessel of your inner man straight into the heart of God.

That’s David’s secret. He lived from his own crude heart. His writings prove it. He sought the heart of God because he was himself a man of heart. And despite his failings, this is how God proudly speaks of David, as the ‘man after God’s own heart.’ The man in pursuit of God’s heart – not blessings, prosperity, acclaim. Heart into heart.

This is the process of the Psalmist of 119. He is ‘keeping his heart with all diligence’ by coming fully under the Light that exposes him to himself, and such reality propels him to fierce and holy prayer! Because the writer is in stark honesty, and ‘speaks and thinks the truth in his heart,’ ‘he dwells [permanently] on Your holy hill’ (Psalm 15 AMP). He enjoys a true love affair with God, relishing God’s love and enjoying it. His cleanness of heart finds a genuine union with God.

I love the prayer at end of John’s post. It gives a practical help to what might seem to some just an emotional fit. I want to repeat it here:

“Father, I am filled with ______, and I offer it to You in worship. My ______ holds claim on my heart, now I give it to You as something I have treasured. ______ held captive my heart, and prevented my heart being wholly Yours. Now I give You my ______, and the trust it held in my heart that You may dwell in and fellowship with me there. My heart is Yours!”

Tough Living in this World with a Heart!

My Achilles Heel

…I was just talking about the heart the other day to a friend. We were talking about it as it related to AI (artificial intelligence). I was saying that if they created a robot that was indistinguishable from a human, I would have a difficult time not having my heart engaged. They brilliantly said, “This is why Satan so easily can dupe us.” Our blessing and curse is that we have the Achilles’ heel of a heart. It’s both our strength and our weakness. And I find it very difficult, actually impossible, to not have it pricked quite regularly. I hurt when people are ugly, I grieve when another is in pain, and I rage when people are awful. It’s tough to live in this world with a heart.

But here is the truth about that statement: as a Christian, I am not given the opportunity to do otherwise. Born-again believers have to live open-hearted, as my friend told me just today. And I wholeheartedly agree. We, His children, have to walk in the world He died for with our hearts open—hearts that bleed, hurt and feel just as He Himself did when He walked on this earth. Though His allegiance was the Will of the Father, His heart was touched by our humanity.

He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He Himself is subject to weakness.
Hebrews 5:2 NKJV

Carry With Me MY Heart

Yes, He asks us to share in His suffering as a part of fellowship with Him. Imagine, He yearns for me to share His burden for humanity. Not in human goodness, which there is none, but in true compassion that only comes from the Spirit of the Living God.

How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by His resurrection: now I long to share His sufferings, even to die as He died, so that I may perhaps attain as He did, the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10 Phillips

…My human compassion has only pity or some self-focused affinity with her pain, but Jesus knows her heart and is able to actually effect change in her life. Though I once had a high opinion of my compassion, I now see that our High Priest is the only one who can selflessly be touched by our infirmity.

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15 BRG

April 6, 2021

There’s Never Been a More Last-Minute Conversion Than This

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Again this year we return to the writing of Matt Tullos and an item he posted in March which seems very appropriate for the days following Easter. Encourage the ministry of authors we feature by clicking on the headers like the one which follows to read on the original source site. Follow Matt on Twitter @mtullos.

Today, You Will Be With ME

Listen to this meditation on the Scattered Feast Podcast!

The mystery of salvation is never more astounding than this moment.

A few feet away from Jesus another man languished under the brutal hand of the Romans.

Just another man whose life would seemingly melt into the thin pages of history…

This was his day to die and be forgotten. And then He spoke these words

“Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.”

One sentence… a declaration, a cry into the bleak chasm of unworthiness.

“Remember me…”

This convicted rebel could do nothing.

He couldn’t earn his way into right standing.

He couldn’t grow into righteousness and worthiness of grace

His time was up.

He had no hands for service.

No feet for walking

Few words left to say in this brief and consequential day

Remember me…

It was almost like a shot in the dark, a wing and a prayer, a last desperate plea to the mercy of a Messiah

Remember me.

Jesus replied to this unnamed vagabond.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There’s never been a more outrageous last minute, death’s door, Hail Mary conversion that this.

And today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise-  such perfect word.

It’s a reference to the Garden of Eden before the fall.

Before hiding, shame, war, and death…

Eden, when all was right with the world and Jesus said, today everything will be made right with you.

The same is truth for all of us. The second declaration on the cross reminds us that it’s not about our nice tidy lives and good living that will usher us into the second Eden when he makes all things new.

It has nothing to do with us.

It’s not about the perfection of the man. It’s about the man of perfection. It’s not about one’s glory. It’s about the glory of one. It not about the greatness of your labor. It’s about the labor of his greatness. The gospel isn’t about your story. His story is the gospel. And that’s why they call it GOOD news

And one we’ll see the one who got there first, the one who walked, arm in arm, with Jesus into grand opening of the Father’s house. Because of the words that brought the ugly edifice of self-attained righteousness and works based acceptance crumbing down.

Today you will be with Me in paradise.

March 30, 2021

Jonah’s First Converts and Easter Atonement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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In the very popular children’s resource, The Jesus Storybook Bible author Sally Lloyd-Jones illustrates that many of the best-known narratives from the Hebrew Bible are foreshadowing the coming of a Savior. Not surprisingly, the book is subtitled, “Every Story Whispers His Name.”

This is true even more so for the book of Jonah, as Jesus himself make a direct connection between the prophet’s three days in the air chamber of a great fish, and his own three days in the tomb before resurrection.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
– Matthew 12:40 (all scriptures NIV except as noted)

Who were Jonah’s first converts? We don’t know anything about their spiritual history from the text in Jonah chapter one, but we know that after Jonah is tossed overboard,

At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (v16)

In other words, Jonah’s first decisive act on the way to Nineveh (or technically, at this stage, on the way to avoid Nineveh) ends in the ship’s crew making an offering and prayers.  (Sidebar: As with much of the Old Testament, we see a collective spiritual response on behalf of the crew as a whole, there isn’t the emphasis on personal response that we have today, though it can certainly be inferred.)

To repeat, the first revival meeting Jonah sets in motion is in the hearts of the crew, a long time before reaching his originally requested destination.

A few other things are worth noting here.

First, the responsibility for the situation is placed on Jonah, just as the weight or burden of our sin is placed on Jesus.

The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (v11-12)

The Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:6 reads,

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Peter directly refers to this passage in 1 Peter 2:24,

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed

The men in Jonah’s story resist the prophet’s suggested solution to their dilemma. They don’t want to be responsible for taking a life. In the same way, Peter — yes, the same Peter who we just quoted — seeks an alternative solution.

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-22)

and again we read that at the moment of Jesus being arrested,

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (John 18:10)

Jonah’s nautical crew are filled with remorse at the necessary action they take:

Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”

In the Jesus narrative, Pilate sees the innocence of Jesus and wants no part in his death,

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24)

The Roman Centurion acknowledges who Jesus really is,

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NLT)

The Jonah narrative continues,

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.

The idea of throwing Jonah overboard was Jonah’s idea.

Similarly, the idea of Jesus giving his life was the plan all along.

And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” (Luke 24:46 NLT)

(Bible scholars tell us that the beginning of God’s redemptive plan can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3.)

Jesus offers up his life willingly, just as Jonah offered himself up as a sacrifice so the men on the ship could be saved.

There are probably many other parallels I missed. I didn’t consult commentaries for this one, but simply responded to the text as I was reading. Clearly God is preparing the hearts of the people living under the first covenant for what will occur in the new covenant…

…So who were Jonah’s next converts? You might say the next great spiritual awakening happens in the heart of Jonah himself, but for that, you’ll have to read chapter two.

 

 

 

March 25, 2021

What is the Greatest Threat Facing the Church in Our Day?

A Shrunk Sermon from John 15

by Clarke Dixon

What is the greatest threat to the Christian Church moving forward in our land in our day?

Is it the pandemic? Some churches have really struggled, but most have been doing okay, we at our church are guardedly hopeful and also thankful for faithfulness among our people.

Is it changing values in society? Values certainly are changing, but the early Christians thrived in a world where people had very different values. Should we be forcing our values on everyone else anyway? The early Christians did not, they lived their lives in honour of Christ, and invited others to do likewise. There was no thought of forcing non-Christians to behave like Christians.

Is it the Internet? Now that people have become used to attending church from home while wearing pyjamas and drinking coffee, will people want to gather? Besides, on the internet people can tune into the exact style of Christianity they want, with the exact style of preaching and teaching they enjoy. On the positive side, people do like to gather, and many will find that what is lost by not gathering is greater than the convenience of online-only worship.

Perhaps the greatest threat is none of the above. Perhaps we find it in the words of Jesus:

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

John 15:18-19 (NLT) 18

Is the greatest threat to the Church, to Christianity, hatred from those who hate God?

Let us keep in mind the context of these words. Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples here. Jesus goes on to tell them what to expect:

I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.

John 16:1-4 (NLT)

The religious leaders did indeed think they were serving God by opposing the disciples and their message that Jesus was risen from the dead. Saul, who came to be known as the apostle Paul was a prime example of that. The disciples really did face opposition, as described by Jesus, in a way that I have not faced in my lifetime.

Some Christians do face that same kind of persecution today. For them the hatred is real. Thankfully, so are the promises of God. People are dying for living for Jesus.

But we are not facing that level or kind of opposition today here in Canada. No one [where we live] wants us dead for being believers. There are those in Canada who would be happy to see Christianity stamped out, but they are probably an even smaller minority group than those who attend church regularly. Outright hatred of God, of Christianity, of Christians, doesn’t seem to be big problem here in Canada.

Perhaps there is a bigger problem facing churches in Canada than hatred, a problem Taylor Swift sings about in a song

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet
I forgot that you existed
It isn’t love, it isn’t hate
It’s just indifference

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Christianity was not likely on Taylor Swift’s mind when she wrote this song, but rather an ex. However, the song does point to a challenge facing the Church in Canada; indifference. People don’t hate us because we are Christians. They just don’t care that we are.

So is apathy toward God, expressed through indifference toward Christianity the biggest threat?

Over this past year I have heard many people say how they can’t imagine how people face these trying times without God in their lives. But some of the words of Taylor Swift’s song ring true for some people who may have been raised Christian but who have now rejected Christianity.

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet

I forgot that you existed

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Some people have ditched Christianity and reported having a sense of relief. They have experienced a kind of freedom. But have they experienced freedom from God, or freedom from a kind of religion that didn’t help them experience God?

That brings us to one other possibility.

Maybe the greatest challenge facing the church today isn’t hatred, or indifference, or maybe it isn’t what is happening to the Church from outside, maybe it is what has happened to the Church on the inside.

Let us go back to the words Jesus spoke on the night before he was crucified:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:1-5 (NLT)

Perhaps the greatest threat facing the Church in Canada is a group of people known as Christians. Perhaps we are the greatest threat when we don’t remain in the vine, when our faith is not centred on, and focused on, Jesus.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say
“If you double down on being religious, you will bear much fruit.” Doubling down on religion is what we sometimes do, especially when we feel threatened,

Doubling down on religion was the very thing the religious leaders were telling people to do in the days they were plotting the death of Jesus. Doubling down on religion was what the religious leaders thought they were doing when they were looking to kill the apostles. Needless to say, they were not bearing good fruit.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say “if you double down on your own understanding of the Scriptures, you will bear much fruit.” There were plenty of differing interpretations of the Scriptures in that day. Jesus did not say “if you double down on this particular interpretation, or that particular interpretation,” but rather “if you abide in me.”

The Scriptures are super important. They point us to Jesus. But they cannot replace Jesus.

I don’t talk often enough about our Baptist distinctives, and I’m pleased that our church family is made up of people from different backgrounds. Two are the distinctives are the “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority.” Jesus is Lord, and not the emperor, Queen, or Prime Minister. The Bible is the authority for understanding faith and how we live out the Christian life, not church tradition, nor church hierarchy.

Having my ear to the ground in Baptist circles it seems to me that sometimes we have replaced “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority” with “The Bible is Lord” and “Our tradition of how we understand the Bible is the authority,” or worse, “my interpretation of the Bible is the authority.” When we focus on our tradition, our interpretation of the Bible in all its details, we begin to divide. Not long after Jesus told the disciples to abide in him, he prayed for unity. Unity is found when we abide in the vine. Unity is threatened when we abide in our own understanding.

I love the Bible. In fact for years now I have been putting in the extra effort to read it in the original languages. But I don’t want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time in the Bible, though that is something I do. I want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time with Jesus.

The Bible can help us break through to beauty in our lives and in all our relationships, if we read it as people who are Christ-centered. But the Bible can also lead to ugliness if we are not Christ-centered.

Not long before Baptists, there were Anabaptists, a movement of Christians who in searching the Scriptures came to believe that baptism should be of believers, by immersion. They were persecuted by fellow Christians, who sometimes in a cruel joke would tie them to rocks and throw them off bridges into rivers, sending them to death by drowning, claiming that now they really had experienced baptism by immersion.

Now how is that kind of behaviour consistent with people who are abiding in Jesus? It is consistent with people who are abiding in religion, or abiding in a specific interpretation of the Scriptures that is divorced from Jesus.

When people who are not Christians hear about that kind of thing happening, they say “who would want to have anything to do with that?”

The biggest threat to the Church moving forward in Canada today is the same threat that the Church has faced in every time and place – we Christians who are not focused and centered on Christ.


You can watch a full video of the sermon on which this is based, or can see it in the full context of this “online worship expression

March 23, 2021

More Than Leadership Ability, Character Counts

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This our third time highlighting the work of Rev. Tonia Slimm who has been writing very faithfully at blog Growing with God since September, 2015.

Recently neighbors in a nearby country had to wrestle with the question, ‘Can we overlook some character flaws if the person is a great leader?’ Let’s see what today’s reading has to say about that. Click the header below to read at source.

The Character of a Leader Matters- Ecclesiastes 10:16-17

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 (NIV)
Woe to the land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning. Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 (MSG)
Unlucky the land whose king is a young pup, and whose princes party all night.
Lucky the land whose king is mature, where the princes behave themselves and don’t drink themselves silly.

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 (AMP)
“Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child and when your [incompetent] officials and princes feast in the morning. Blessed [prosperous and admired] are you, O land, when your king is a man of noble birth, and your princes and officials feast at the proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.” 

“According to Scripture, virtually everything that truly qualifies a person for leadership is directly related to character.” ~John MacArthur

We need good leaders, those men and women who know how to motivate and inspire others. Good leaders lead by example and know how to make a difference. The Teacher gives to us two very distinctive examples of leaders to consider.

“The happiness of a land depends on the character of its rulers.” ~Matthew Henry

 

[same verse – The Voice] “Woe to the land whose king is a child and whose princes start their feast in the morning. Blessed is the land whose king is of noble heritage and whose princes know when to feast, who discipline themselves with strength and avoid drunkenness.”

The Teacher gives us these two examples to compare:

The first is a land whose king is young and inexperienced. This king cares only for glory, honor and riches; and he party’s hearty with his with his young noblemen. He cares nothing for the people that he is supposed to be leading.

The second land is a land lead by a benevolent king of noble birth. This king not only works hard for his people, but has his noblemen work hard for them as well. You will notice, the needs of the people are put before their own.

Which leader would you wish to have leading your country?

[same verse TLB]Woe to the land whose king is a child and whose leaders are already drunk in the morning. Happy the land whose king is a nobleman and whose leaders work hard before they feast and drink, and then only to strengthen themselves for the tasks ahead!” 

“Foolish rulers, by their weakness, self-indulgence and sloth, bring decay upon the state: nobleness and temperance insure prosperity: yet the subject must not rebel in word or thought against his king.” ~Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

The idea the Teacher is trying to convey is that the young, inexperienced king is unprepared for his duties and is therefore irresponsible. We are told that the princes that work with the young king “eat in the morning”. This conveys the idea that they are given toe gluttony and overindulgence; a lack of self-control.

“He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.” ~Aristotle

It is bad for a land to be led by foolish and self-indulgent rulers. Let us look to the example of Rehoboam who was a young and inexperienced king. Instead of listening to the voice of experience, Rehoboam chose to listen to his young, untried friends; and it brought him a whole lot of trouble. Take note:

“Rehoboam traveled to Shechem where all Israel had gathered to inaugurate him as king. Jeroboam had been in Egypt, where he had taken asylum from King Solomon; when he got the report of Solomon’s death he had come back. Rehoboam assembled Jeroboam and all the people. They said to Rehoboam, “Your father made life hard for us—worked our fingers to the bone. Give us a break; lighten up on us and we’ll willingly serve you.” “Give me three days to think it over, then come back,” Rehoboam said. King Rehoboam talked it over with the elders who had advised his father when he was alive: “What’s your counsel? How do you suggest that I answer the people?” They said, “If you will be a servant to this people, be considerate of their needs and respond with compassion, work things out with them, they’ll end up doing anything for you.” But he rejected the counsel of the elders and asked the young men he’d grown up with who were now currying his favor, “What do you think? What should I say to these people who are saying, ‘Give us a break from your father’s harsh ways—lighten up on us’?” The young turks he’d grown up with said, “These people who complain, ‘Your father was too hard on us; lighten up’—well, tell them this: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. If you think life under my father was hard, you haven’t seen the half of it. My father thrashed you with whips; I’ll beat you bloody with chains!’” -1 Kings 12:1-11 (MSG)

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” ~John C. Maxwell

“Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.” -Proverbs 20:28 (MSG)

It would be better to have experienced rulers who are ready for the job. We need rulers who are self-controlled and balanced; men and women of good character.

Here are 10 characteristics of a good leader:

1.) A person of integrity.
2.) A person of wisdom.
3.) A person who seeks good counsel from others.
4.) A person who listens when others speak.
5.) A person who exhibits self-control.
6.) A person who is fair.
7.) A person who is not easily influenced by others.
8.) A person who is kind.
9.) A person who shows compassion.
10.) A person who thinks of others more highly than themselves.

Paul, writing to the Colossians wrote a passage that gives us many good pointers about the characteristics of a good leader. Take note:

“Since you have been chosen by God who has given you this new kind of life, and because of his deep love and concern for you, you should practice tenderhearted mercy and kindness to others. Don’t worry about making a good impression on them, but be ready to suffer quietly and patiently. Be gentle and ready to forgive; never hold grudges. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Most of all, let love guide your life, for then the whole church will stay together in perfect harmony. Let the peace of heart that comes from Christ be always present in your hearts and lives, for this is your responsibility and privilege as members of his body. And always be thankful. Remember what Christ taught, and let his words enrich your lives and make you wise; teach them to each other and sing them out in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing to the Lord with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, and come with him into the presence of God the Father to give him your thanks.” -Colossians 3:12-17 (TLB)

“Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” ~John Stott

My friend, if you are in a place of leadership you need to be practicing good leadership characteristics. God has set you in that place of leadership to be a light for Him. Whether you are leading a group of children or running a large business; whatever you are doing do it unto the Lord and lead with honesty and integrity.

“The true mark of a Christian leader is trying to build up other people. Raise up other leaders!” ~Charles Colson

My Prayer:
Heavenly Father, help me to be the person you have intended me to be. Let my life be a light for you in this World; especially when it comes to being a leader of others. Develop my character into what it needs to be, so that I will be a good leader. Give me wisdom, your godly wisdom. Help me to see the hurt and need of others; let my listening ears be in tune as well. Even more Lord, give me the heart of Christ, that I may not only lead others, but cares not only for their needs but their eternal destiny as well. Thank you, Lord.

March 18, 2021

Is Suffering Proof that God Has Cancelled Us, or that We Should Cancel God?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Has God cancelled us? Should we cancel God?

There is a lot of talk about cancel culture in our day. The idea is that when someone does something offensive, their influence is stripped away. They fall from everyone’s radar. Perhaps we feel like we have disappeared off God’s radar. Perhaps there are some who think God should disappear from theirs.

When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like God has cancelled us, that He has abandoned us.

Jesus encourages the disciples knowing they will soon feel abandoned. As related in John chapter 14, Jesus knows the disciples will be troubled when he tells them that he is going away, so he begins:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:1-3 (NRSV)

The disciples are going to feel at a loss, like Jesus has abandoned them. Jesus will go to the Father, but they will still be left behind in the same old dark world, where pain and suffering still happens. If anything, their suffering will increase as they begin to speak about Jesus to people who do not want their comfortable status quo disrupted. In some ways it may seem like nothing has changed at all.

But Jesus tells them to not be troubled, to trust in God, to trust in himself. He tells them that there are many rooms in the Father’s house. That particular verse has often been translated rather poorly. The ‘many rooms’ or ‘many mansions’ idea comes from the ancient practice of building extra ‘rooms’ onto a home to accommodate a growing family. When your son grew up and got married, he wouldn’t necessarily leave home, but rather he would get married and bring his wife home. ‘Rooms’ would be added onto the house to accommodate everyone. What Jesus is saying then, is that though you may feel I am abandoning you, we will be together again, in fact together with the Father. This is a growing family and there will be room for you and many others when you come home!

But that is not all:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

John 14:15-17 (NRSV)

Though Jesus is going away, the Spirit will be near, in fact very close, indwelling the disciples even, including we who become his disciples today. Taken together, God has prepared a home for us, and has made himself at home within us.

Now let us consider the promises of Jesus here. Jesus did not promise to protect the disciples from all difficulty or suffering. They were left in the dark world like everyone else, just as we live in a dark world today. In fact Jesus warns them that they will suffer more, because of being Christians:

As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Mark 13:9-11 (NRSV)

The early Christians were not bubble wrapped by God. Neither are we.

The laws of nature still impact Christians, like they do anyone else. When I dumped my motorcycle a few years back, I hit the ground as hard as the motorcycle and as hard as anyone who is not a Christian. If we, who are Christians, are not careful around a contagious virus, we will catch it like anyone else.

The promise of Jesus is not to shield us from all harm, though there are moments that does happen, but to walk with us through difficulty and suffering when it comes.

When we face trouble, it is not evidence that God has cancelled us or abandoned us, it is evidence that we are human beings living in a beautiful, but broken, world.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27 (NRSV)

Jesus told the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled because he knew that would be the very thing that would happen. The light of the world was leaving them in a dark world. It should be no surprise that there will be times our hearts may be troubled, for we too live in that beautiful, yet often dark and difficult world.

Let us be encouraged by the promises of Jesus. We will be at home with God someday. God is very much at home with us, even within us, on the journey home.

When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like cancelling God, like abandoning Christianity.

Can we cancel God? We can, and often do, take offence at the suffering in the world, and the seeming lack of answers to our prayers. The writers of the Psalms did not hold back a similar disgust in their prayers.

However, what we have already looked at is applicable here also. Jesus did not promise the perfect life, free from troubles. In fact, when we look at the testimony of Bible as a whole, we see that troubles happen for people from Genesis right through to Revelation. We should not be surprised when troubles happen for us now.

If we think that Jesus promised a trouble free life, then when a crisis hits we will either doubt ourselves, that we don’t have enough faith or enough holiness, or we will doubt God. We would be better to doubt our understanding of God’s promises, our theology of how things work.

God does not promise the perfect, trouble-free life, but his presence through a predictably troubled life.

God promises to be present to a people he should cancel! Far from cancelling us because of our sin, he embraces us in all our messiness, then he invites us to walk with him. We get to decide if we are going to walk with him. Or reject him.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (NRSV)

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, there can be no other way for reconciliation with God apart from God reconciling us to himself. We can never be holy enough on our own, we can never cover over our sins on our own. We need help. God gives that help. We can reject God, we can reject Jesus, we cannot cancel Him.

In our cancel culture, careers are trashed and friendships are ended as people are cancelled. We can think of all kinds of celebrities who are no longer getting big roles. We can try to cancel Jesus, but he is still Lord, he still has the greatest role. He is the way, the truth and the life. And he still offers to walk with us as a friend.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (NIV)


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor whose sermon blogs are republished here each Thursday. The full video of the sermon can also be seen as part of this online worship expression”.

March 16, 2021

Don’t Curse Your Job

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today we return to the writing of Joel Nevius from Bethany Bible Church, and an archived article which may hit some of you where you live, or more accurately where you work. Click the header below to read this at source.

Three Reasons Why Your Work Probably Isn’t a Curse

Recently, in our young adults ministry at Bethany Bible Church, we’ve been studying the intersection of faith and work, based on Every Good Endeavor by renowned pastor, author, and theologian Timothy Keller.

In his book, Keller explains Jesus Christ came into the world when the Hellenistic culture permeated the ancient near east, and Greek thought influenced and shaped how millions of people viewed work, which was to view work as a “necessary evil.”

I bet many of us can relate to this mentality for a variety of reasons: our boss is a jerk, our work is boring, our co-workers are mean, or we’re constantly stressed out from all of the demands. The weekends can’t come soon enough, because that’s when we really come alive. Keller argues this mentality has us view work as a barrier to a good or fulfilling life, not part of the good life.

Christianity is counter-cultural to this thinking, and instead elevates work to a place of importance and dignity. Let’s explore three reasons why God doesn’t want us to approach work as a necessary evil.

Reason 1: God himself works

In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we see God, as Creator, works! In six days, God creates galaxies, ecosystems, animals, and humans. On the seventh day, he rests.

From the New Testament gospels, we know Jesus worked. Apart from logging many travel miles, teaching people, and constant ministering, he lived most of his life as a carpenter.

In the Old and New Testaments, we see a God who doesn’t approach work as a necessary evil, but as an opportunity to infuse the world with goodness, truth, and beauty.

In Genesis 1:27, when humankind is described as being created in the image of God, it is in the context of the “creation narrative,” where God is working. So what that means is that if God is a God-Who-Works, and we’re created in his image, then part of what it means to be human is to work.

Reason 2: Work came before Adam and Eve sinned—it’s not a punishment.

If we think of work as a necessary evil, then we might think work is a curse or an effect of Adam and Eve’s sin of disobeying God. Actually, work was part of God’s good design for humans. In Genesis 2:15, God’s Word tells us, “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” Sin and evil came into the world later, as recorded in Genesis 3. So we can be assured work isn’t something we just have to do as eternal payback for Adam and Eve’s sin, but it’s something we are made to do. Therefore, Keller writes:

“Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. Without significant work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness.”

Far from a necessary evil, Christianity sees work as something we were made to do. It resonates with our soul as something good.

Reason 3: If we see it as a necessary evil, we will pursue work in unhealthy ways.

When we view work as a necessary evil, it negatively affects the way we approach and even carry out our work. Keller notes negative ways we will approach work.

We will pursue high paying or prestigious careers we aren’t suited for.

If we see work as a necessary evil, then we typically approach it only as a means to a material end. That is, we will see the most valuable and meaningful work as that which gives us the money to support our family and pursue our desires. We’ll be motivated to chase after jobs and careers that pay the most money and stay away from jobs that don’t pay.

The problem, Keller notes, “…is that many people take jobs that they are not suited for at all, choosing to aim for careers that do not fit their gifts but promise higher wages and prestige.”

Unfortunately, this often leads to disillusion, depression, or burn-out.

We will avoid work we think is beneath us.

The inverse of the previous approach is that we will avoid at all costs work that doesn’t give us lots of money or prestige. Furthermore, Keller notes that we will “…believe that lower-status or lower-paying work is an assault on our dignity.”

As a young adults pastor, I’ve noticed this affect some students who graduated with impressive degrees. After they graduate, they anticipate that they’re going to make big money and have their dream job immediately. When that doesn’t happen, they have a hard time getting a job that doesn’t seem up to their monetary expectations or match the value of their degree. This can also happen when someone loses or quits a high-paying, high-status job and doesn’t want to start over.

The awesome truth is that God sees all work (that is not inherently sinful), as valuable and upholding our dignity as his image-bearers. It levels the playing field, so to speak.

Keller writes, “…in Genesis we see God as a gardener, and in the New Testament we see him as a carpenter.”

If we think certain work is beneath us, then we are unconsciously elevating ourselves over God, who in Christ, humbled himself so much that he not only had calloused hands and saw dust in his hair, but he also embraced the foot odor of his disciples as he knelt and washed their feet. Status and money are not important to God, but working hard to serve others and reflect his character is.

How can we become counter-cultural, and look at “work” through God’s eyes?

First, pray and ask God to see our work as an opportunity to display God’s glory in different ways. Colossians 3 tells us “…whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Second, if you live for your days off, take a few moments and ask God to search your heart and reveal why you approach work as a necessary evil. Ask him to show you how to see it the way he does.

Third, thank God for your work. Even if it isn’t an ideal situation, praise him for giving you an opportunity to work. You were made to work, and with a thankful attitude, you just may see that work as a “necessary good.”

March 12, 2021

Having a Hope-Filled View of the Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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After a break of 18 months, we return to the ministry of Toronto area Bible teacher Gordon Rumford and his devotional website.  Gordon writes faithfully, and he writes well. I am privileged to have heard him teach in person many, many years ago. You can click the header which follows, but you’ll also see two other options for viewing today’s reading.

Hopeless

“…without hope and without God in the world.”
Ephesians 2:12 (NIV)

View in your web browser | View a PDF version

It was a wonderful, but short lived, relationship. The doctor loved and owned quarter horses. My father, as a farmer, knew draft horses quite well. They bantered each other during his last two weeks in hospital. I recall having a consult with the doctor after my dad slipped into a coma. He gently and with some emotion explained that the end was hours away.

Perhaps that was one of my most painful experiences in life as I loved my father dearly and respected and admired him greatly. But his passing was bittersweet. How so? Bitter because our every other day phone calls, and many visits would be no more. Sweet because my father had endured much pain as the cancer migrated through his tired old body. So that ended with his death. Also, I had the glorious hope of reunion when it would be my turn to leave this world for my heavenly Father’s home. Without that hope I would have been devastated!

As a pastor I have had a lot of experience trying to help people who have no hope. It is a heart wrenching time for me and after the funeral I just want to go home and retreat to my study, to be alone, to pray and sometimes weep.

Many brilliant minds have struggled with their hopeless view of the future. The late Bertrand Russell famously said, “that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Against the backdrop of Russell’s dark view of the future we have the teaching of Scripture on a joyful future for all the people of God. Revelation 21:3-4 (NIV) reads,

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people,
and he will dwell with them. They will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”

Then in Revelation 22:17 (NIV) we read,

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’
And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’
Let the one who is thirsty come;
and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

We are free to accept Russell’s view of the future or we may listen to the Spirit and receive the free gift of eternal life. I have long ago been led by the Spirit to the foot of the cross where my heart was opened to receive the message of the truth of the Gospel. Dear reader consider well the wonderful message of the lowly Jesus and seek Him while He can be found.

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is fill’d,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill’d.

–  John Newton


By the same author:

I love the set-up for this devotional:

He was an abrasive personality and I quickly learned to avoid him as much as possible. Early in our relationship I mentioned that I was looking forward to a Florida holiday. He quickly retorted that Satan takes no holidays. I wanted to comment that he seemed very familiar with the devil’s activities. Instead, I commented that Satan was not my role model, rather Jesus was. Today’s verse silenced the clever but mistaken critic…

…Check out Rest for the Weary.

March 9, 2021

The Masculine Soul

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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I realize that today’s title automatically alienates half of the population! But hear me out: Well over 75% of the Christian literature published these days targets a female readerships, and while I don’t know if that’s the exact number, working close to Christian publishing as I do, I suspect it’s fairly accurate.

Recently at Devotions Daily, there was an excerpt from the newly revised and expanded edition of Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. This is one of the few Christian authors who targets a male readership. To read it in full — we’re only officially allowed 800 words, so we made some cuts — click the header which follows.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Adventure, with all its requisite danger and wildness, is a deeply spiritual longing written into the soul of man. The masculine heart needs a place where nothing is prefabricated, modular, nonfat, zip lock, franchised, on-line, microwavable. Where there are no deadlines, cell phones, or committee meetings. Where there is room for the soul. Where, finally, the geography around us corresponds to the geography of our heart.

Look at the heroes of the biblical text: Moses does not encounter the living God at the mall. He finds him (or is found by him) somewhere out in the deserts of Sinai, a long way from the comforts of Egypt. The same is true of Jacob, who has his wrestling match with God not on the living room sofa but in a wadi somewhere east of the Jabbok, in Mesopotamia. Where did the great prophet Elijah go to recover his strength? To the wild. As did John the Baptist, and his cousin, Jesus, who is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

Whatever else those explorers were after, they were also searching for themselves. Deep in a man’s heart are some fundamental questions that simply cannot be answered at the kitchen table.

Who am I? What am I made of? What am I destined for?

It is fear that keeps a man at home where things are neat and orderly and under his control. But the answers to his deepest questions are not to be found on television or in the refrigerator. Out there on the burning desert sands, lost in a trackless waste, Moses received his life’s mission and purpose. He is called out, called up into something much bigger than he ever imagined, much more serious than CEO or “prince of Egypt.” Under foreign stars, in the dead of night, Jacob received a new name, his real name. No longer is he a shrewd business negotiator, but now he is one who wrestles with God. The wilderness trial of Christ is, at its core, a test of His identity. “If you are who you think you are…” If a man is ever to find out who he is and what he’s here for, he has got to take that journey for himself.

He has got to get his heart back…

…Society at large can’t make up its mind about men. Having spent the last thirty years redefining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable and, well, feminine, it now berates men for not being men. Boys will be boys, they sigh. As though if a man were to truly grow up he would forsake wilderness and wanderlust and settle down, be at home forever in Aunt Polly’s parlor. “Where are all the real men?” is regular fare for talk shows and new books. You asked them to be women, I want to say. The result is a gender confusion never experienced at such a wide level in the history of the world.

How can a man know he is one when his highest aim is minding his manners?

And then, alas, there is the church. Christianity, as it currently exists, has done damage to masculinity. When all is said and done, I think most men in the church believe that God put them on the earth to be a good boy. The problem with men, we are told, is that they don’t know how to keep their promises, be spiritual leaders, talk to their wives, or raise their children. But, if they will try real hard they can reach the lofty summit of becoming… a nice guy. That’s what we hold up as models of Christian maturity: Really Nice Guys. We don’t smoke, drink, or swear; that’s what makes us men.

..Walk into most churches in America, have a look around, and ask yourself this question: What is a Christian man? Don’t listen to what is said, look at what you find there. There is no doubt about it. You’d have to admit a Christian man is… bored. At a recent church retreat I was talking with a guy in his fifties, listening really, about his own journey as a man. “I’ve pretty much tried for the last twenty years to be a good man as the church defines it.” Intrigued, I asked him to say what he thought that was. He paused for a long moment. “Dutiful,” he said. “And separated from his heart.” A perfect description, I thought. Sadly right on the mark.

As Robert Bly laments in Iron John, “Some women want a passive man if they want a man at all; the church wants a tamed man — they are called priests; the university wants a domesticated man—they are called tenure-track people; the corporation wants a… sanitized, hairless, shallow man.” It all comes together as a sort of westward expansion against the masculine soul. And thus the heart of a man is driven into the high country, into remote places, like a wounded animal looking for cover. Women know this, and lament that they have no access to their man’s heart. Men know it, too, but are often unable to explain why their heart is missing. They know their heart is on the run, but they often do not know where to pick up the trail. The church wags its head and wonders why it can’t get more men to sign up for its programs. The answer is simply this: we have not invited a man to know and live from his deep heart.

An Invitation

But God made the masculine heart, set it within every man, and thereby offers him an invitation:

Come, and live out what I meant you to be.

Permit me to bypass the entire nature vs. nurture “is gender really built-in?” debate with one simple observation: men and women are made in the image of God as men or as women.

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them.Genesis 1:27

Male and female. Now, we know God doesn’t have a body, so the uniqueness can’t be physical. Gender simply must be at the level of the soul, in the deep and everlasting places within us. God doesn’t make generic people; He makes something very distinct — a man or a woman. In other words, there is a masculine heart and a feminine heart, which in their own ways reflect or portray to the world God’s heart.

God meant something when He meant man, and if we are to ever find ourselves we must find that. What has He set in the masculine heart? Instead of asking what you think you ought to do to become a better man (or woman, for my female readers), I want to ask, What makes you come alive? What stirs your heart? The journey we face now is into a land foreign to most of us. We must head into country that has no clear trail. This charter for exploration takes us into our own hearts, into our deepest desires.

There are three desires I find written so deeply into my heart I know now I can no longer disregard them without losing my soul. They are core to who and what I am and yearn to be. I gaze into boyhood, I search the pages of Scripture, of literature, I listen carefully to many, many men, and I am convinced these desires are universal, a clue into masculinity itself. They may be misplaced, forgotten, or misdirected, but in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.


► More information about the book is available at this link.

Taken from Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by John Eldredge Copyright © 2021 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

March 1, 2021

The Test of Faith Was Both Abraham’s and Isaac’s

Could a familiar Biblical narrative had played out differently? We often consider the faith it took Abraham to be obedient to a horrid request, a demand concerning the child of promise given to him and Sarah. But Isaac was old enough that he could have rewritten the ending…

If you’re unfamiliar with Abraham’s test of faith in Genesis 22, click this link to read it in the Common English Bible (CEB).

by Ruth Wilkinson

Why did it have to be at the top of a mountain on a hot day, carrying all that wood?
His father wasn’t young anymore (had he ever been?) so Isaac took the load of wood himself.
Abraham went ahead, finding the path, carrying the fire for the altar. This was a long, long way
to come to make a sacrifice.

Isaac had seen his father make sacrifices to his god before, and it was always the same.
He’d build an altar, stone on stone ‘till it was right,
lay it with wood – first the tinder, then the kindling, then the fuel.
He’d choose the very best lamb he could find,
sometimes that took hours, talking to the shepherds, looking at hooves and skin.
If he couldn’t find the one he wanted, he’d buy one from a neighbour. That could take a day or two.

Once he’d found the one he wanted, he’d tie its legs with rope, lay it on the altar.
He’d cut the lamb’s throat quickly so it wouldn’t suffer and light the fire.
A complete waste, except it wasn’t.
It was a gift, a symbol of how nothing was more important to Abraham than his god.

But this one was different, not only the journey, but especially the fact that there was no lamb.
Abraham was always so picky about choosing just the right one, surely he didn’t expect it to
just be waiting there for him at the top.
Isaac had asked about that, but Abraham didn’t really answer,
so he dropped it.

Abraham was unusually quiet.
Anytime they’d sat or eaten or traveled together Abraham was full of stories
the time he’d tried to trick Pharaoh and his God had ratted him out,
the time he’d gone to war to rescue Uncle Lot and his God had given him victory,
the time his god had wiped a couple of entire cities off the earth,

and over and over and over again, the story of the son, the only son, the son their God had
given them, the son they loved, their miracle son.
The first star in his father’s sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children.

Isaac had heard volumes about Abraham’s god. Sarah’s god.
But not today.

Today he was lugging a load of wood up a mountain, eyes on where he was putting his feet,
glancing at his father’s back.

Lots of time to think.
This god of his father’s was a strange one as gods went.
He didn’t seem to follow the same rules.
The other gods, the ones that ruled the lands around them, the ones that came into the family
compound with slaves from other places…
The other gods were tied to one particular nation or tribe or family. This one seemed to be
everywhere, involved with anybody he chose.
Isaac wasn’t sure whether he went ahead, or if he was following Abraham, but he had been
everywhere.

The other gods were distant and people did extravagant things to get their attention…
shouting, dancing, extreme sacrifices – even killing their own children to get their noticed.
His father’s god seemed to be waiting around every corner,
with something to say,
to ask,
something to offer
– kind of like Abraham was with Isaac.

But Isaac had never heard the voice his father heard.
Everything he knew, he’d learned from his parents’ lives and stories.
He’d lived his whole life from before he could remember by the words and ways
of his father’s god.

Abraham stopped walking. He looked around and said,
“We’re here.”
He told Isaac to sit down and have a drink while he built the altar.

Stone on stone ‘till it was right,

Then, he opened the bag of tinder,
untied the rope that held the bundle of wood,
arranged the altar, – tinder first, then kindling, then fuel.

He stood still, looking at it.

Isaac said, “Perfect! Now all we need is the lamb.”

There was a long silence. Abraham trembled, sat down beside his son, his only son,
the son his god had given him, the son he loved, his miracle son
the first star in his sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children and told him about the lamb.
What he said cut Isaac open like no knife ever could.

Isaac was to be the lamb.

No.
That can’t be right.
All his life he’d been told how special he was.
His life was a miracle, an answered prayer, a promise kept.
He couldn’t die now!
It was too soon!
That can’t be right.
No.

His father was old, confused. Isaac was stronger, he could take him, maybe tie him up with the rope from the wood and get him home somehow. (On the donkey. That would work.)

To Sarah. Sarah would know what to do.
Isaac snatched up the rope, jumped to his feet ready for anything and in that moment,
he heard it.

He heard the voice – whispering somewhere inside him, behind him.
Whispering his name
“Isaac”

The whisper took over his heart and his mind and whispered to him in that split second every story his father had ever told him.

Every step of his father’s journey,
every promise made and kept,
every tear,
every laugh,
every surprise,
every demand,
every moment of forgiveness and starting over again and redemption.
Every star in his father’s sky.

And in that moment, Isaac knew he had a choice to make. A line to cross.

He had lived his entire life from before he could remember by the words and ways of his father’s god and
now
now
now he had to decide whether this god was his own.
Isaac had to choose.


“All the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants, because you obeyed me” (God, v18)
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