Christianity 201

July 4, 2020

Why Job Was Singled Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Over the years we have frequently featured devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. You’re encouraged to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings. Or click the header which directly follows to read today’s devotional at source.

As Gold

Job 28-29

Acts 13:1-25

“But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…and refine them like gold and silver.” — Malachi 3:2-3

One of the things that God does—which some may argue is one of the best things God does—is bring us under pressure, because then, we begin to understand what our hearts are really like. For Job, when he was met with trial, although he worshipped, he also fell into a deep depression.

Job’s three friends tried to help him understand his calamity. Even though Job was a righteous man, his friends believed he must have done some secret sin that caused such tragedy to befall on him. Job’s friends kept urging him to confess his sins and ask God to restore him. Yet Job retorted,

“If I have sinned, what have I done to You, You who see everything we do? Why have You made me Your target? Have I become a burden to You? Why do You not pardon my offences and forgive my sins? For I shall soon lie down in the dust; You will search for me, but I shall be no more”  — Job 7:20-21

Job could not think of a secret sin that he committed.

Some of us may resonate with Job’s situation. We may feel that some hidden sin has caused the current predicaments in our life. We may have confessed our sins a million times and find that nothing has changed. The reality is not Job’s unrighteousness that was the reason why he was attacked by Satan; on the contrary, it was Job’s righteousness that was the very reason he was attacked. Like Job, our problem may not have been caused by us at all.

Yet, how did Job manage to survive all this?

Job 23:8-10 reveals Job’s attitude and understanding of God:

“But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Job points to all directions but does not find God. Job’s security, however, is the confidence that God knows where he is and the path he will take, no matter the circumstance. Job’s belief, when he was tested, was that he would “come forth as gold.” When we are placed in difficult situations that we do understand, may we remember that God is not breaking us, He is making us. Like Job, may we come forth from God’s testing as gold.

Prayer: Sovereign God, I pray, as I face difficult circumstances in my life and I do not understand why things are happening the way they are, may I remember that You are not breaking me but You are making me. Thank You, Lord.


Where most of our readers live, today is Independence Day, the annual 4th of July holiday in the United States. Here are some related articles just for you:

July 3, 2020

Communal Faith

NIV.Mark.2v1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Today I want to highlight and recommend a book that I just received in yesterday’s mail, and I’m already halfway through. Why Would Anyone Go To Church: A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020) is the story of Kevin and his wife Meg and a team of volunteers who planted Eucharist Church in the urban core of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It’s full of insight and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.


…When the word gets out that Jesus is back in town, the entire region comes to see him. Before long, the house he’s in is so packed that no one can even get on the property. People are poking their heads through windows and climbing on shoulders just to hear one of his stories. Those outside the home notice a small group in the distance, carrying something between them and moving quickly despite the heat. “You should have come earlier if you wanted a seat,” someone shouts to them as they get closer. “Unless you’re carrying a pile of gold on that mat, you ain’t gettin’ in!” But the truth is that they had started scrambling as soon as they’d heard Jesus was back in town–the four friends working to track one another down before heading to the fifth, who is always at the same place: the city gate.

The men are carrying their friend, who has been unable to walk for as long as they have known him. To be paralyzed in any culture is to face unique challenges, but in the ancient world, without social assistance or accessibility laws, it was difficult to even survive. Unless you had people who cared for you. Being resourceful fellows, they decide to bypass the front door entirely, instead boosting one another onto the roof of the clay house and carefully hoisting their friend up as well. Inside, the people try to ignore the sound of footsteps on the roof, but when dirt begins to fall onto their heads, it proves impossible. Looking up, they see cracks forming as chunks of clay begin to fall, and before they can even piece together what’s happening, a human hand has burst through. The ceiling is quickly being replaced by daylight which is then interrupted by a large shadow. Something is being carefully lowered down…

…Jesus looks up to the four friends whose heads are now peeking in from the corners of his new sunroof and, having witnessed their faith, he heals the paralyzed man.

But, wait, that can’ be right.

The author must have meant that when Jesus saw the paralyzed man’s faith, he healed him. But that’s not what the text says. It says that Jesus saw their faith. Plural. The faith of the paralyzed man’s friends made him well. The Gospel accounts are filled with stories of people helping one another experience Jesus’ healing. A Roman centurion has enough faith to heal–not himself but his servant. A woman has faith to heal her daughter. Faith is never an individual exercise. There’s a reason Jesus didn’t select one good student but instead called twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples. It’s the same reason the early Christians clustered together and formed the church. It’s why the Nicene Creed doesn’t begin with “I believe” but “We believe.” Why the Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father who is in heaven,” not “My Father who is in heaven.”

Faith is a communal endeavour…

…Once we rediscover this side of church, so much begins to fall into place. Many of us were taught that we needed to believe the right things to belong in the church, but maybe we don’t need to have all our intellectual opinions sorted out before we start to follow Jesus. If church is a community of people called by God to move toward Jesus, then it’s perfectly acceptable to walk with others in that direction, even if you don’t know what you personally believe.

Eucharist Church celebrates Communion every Sunday afternoon, and we are quick to remind people that this table does not belong to our church. It’s Jesus’ table, and he welcomes all who desire to come to him, whether they have a lot of faith or just a tiny mustard seed of belief. What’s important is that we come to Jesus’ table together and bring him what we have. Feelings and intellectual opinions will come and go; they aren’t a good foundation for a life of discipleship. But when we bind ourselves to a group of people who have committed to move toward Jesus together, we no longer have to be anxious about what we feel or think in any given moment. We can trust that those around us will help us get to Christ, and as we grow and mature, we’ll even be able to help others.

(excerpt from pages 61-64)

June 29, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part Two)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Yesterday our search for devotional sources to highlight took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his blog’s main purpose is “to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it didn’t fit our format. But as I tried and tried to excerpt from it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in two parts, yesterday and today. But if you didn’t yesterday, you’re encouraged to click the header below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

…Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing.

Jesus does not address the problem in this encounter with the Pharisees. Remarkably in the next episode in Mark’s gospel it is a Syrophoenician women—yes, a Gentile—that perceives that Jesus is the at the centre of a game changing solution to this conundrum.

Here we enter someone’s home, the details are left out by Mark. Presumably, this is a house where Jesus has been able to get peace and quiet previously—a safe house. But his effort to get some downtime has not worked. A Syrophoenician woman gate-crashes his rest. This is a bold and desperate move; Gentiles don’t barge into Jewish homes to address a Jewish Rabbi.

It is the hope that Jesus can work a miracle that has driven her to do the unthinkable. She begs Jesus to cast a demon out of her absent daughter, left suffering at home. So far so good, our sensibilities have not been ruffled even if those of polite Jewish society have.

And then we wake up because our Lord and Saviour, our role model for life, the sinless one, the man who has just preached that we are all judged by what comes from our mouths, makes what could be understood as a racial slur. Jesus implies the common label of Gentiles as dogs in what he says to his woman. So offensive is this episode that Luke misses it out of his gospel written to a Gentile audience.

In this tricky saying, Jesus explains that his ministry has been essentially to the Jews, and only in passing to the Gentiles. In this way, Jesus’ ministry is food for the children of Israel, and not food for Gentiles.

Are you feeling uncomfortable? Are we going to have to have take down any statues of Jesus and crosses that commemorate his death and resurrection, in a #SyrophoencianLivesMatter rampage? Is Jesus being racist?

We will of course never know Jesus’ tone, his demeanour, the possible twinkle in his eye when he said these words. What we do know is that despite alluding to the labelling of Gentiles as dogs, standard practice in his culture, his statement elicits the most remarkable response from this woman:

Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

In this brief exchange and based on the knowledge of Jesus that brought her to a strange Jewish house, she has understood what the Pharisees with all their hand-wringing and hand-washing have missed. She has seen that Jesus’ work starts with Jews but is the hope of all humanity. She is pleading that this might begin right here and right now with her daughter. Her faith and courage are rewarded:

Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

This remarkable new understanding of Jesus’ work is the start of Mark’s Gospel revealing that he in his deeds and his person he will address the bigger problem of the heart. Both Jew and Gentile will have the possibility of a circumcised heart as Leviticus puts it.

June 28, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part One)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.1. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

Today our searching for devotional sources to highlight here took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it was a little long for our format. But as I tried and tried to edit it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in full in two parts, today and tomorrow. But you’re encouraged to click the title below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

As human beings we have an annoying trait of complicating what God instructs us to do. This is where Mark 7 begins, but not where it ends. At the start of the chapter it is the Pharisees who are complicating God’s instruction. In fact, Jesus will go on to explain they are doing something even worse.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus faces hostility from the religious leaders. It was not just Jesus that the leaders had it in for, Israel had a long tradition of prophets who criticised the status quo and thereby the leaders. In Jesus’ time it was still the case. Many people would announce a new teaching, usually centred on the need for political change. Then they set out to bring truth to power. Some, like Jesus, gave everything in the attempt.

Here, the Pharisees have taken some of God’s instruction (torah) and made an extra burden of tradition to go on top. The Law (torah) required priests to ritually clean their hands. This was an act of grace as it reminded them that when dealing with the Holy God of Israel a clean heart is essential.

Please note that this is not about hand hygiene—though this is the centre of our daily lives at present. As an aside, we might want to have a word with Jesus and his disciples on this count.

The accusation that the disciples have not washed their hands, is a claim that they have not obeyed the extra rules made by the Elders. These rules had been added as a burden on everyone. When you are travelling doing itinerant ministry, is not feasible to carry the necessary dedicated washing cups, pots, and bronze kettles. And Mark’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus liked his disciples to travel light.

Jesus, as a rabbi, is responsible for his disciple’s actions. At this level, the Pharisees are justified in bringing the matter to Jesus. The problem with their case is, however, twofold. Firstly, their motives are dubious. This, however, is not the point that Jesus takes up with them. The second issue is the key one. By focusing on man-made traditions these become a distraction from God himself.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

We must not get self-righteous at this point by spotting what we do without thinking. In my own Baptist tradition, the trinity of words: tradition, doctrine, and ritual are often unspoken and these matters judged as peripheral. We might read what Jesus says about human traditions and then go further than Jesus does.

In quoting from Isaiah, God-sanctioned tradition, Jesus is primarily pointing out that God desires true worship. He wants hearts that are set on him. At the same time, he affirms that doctrine and ritual still have a place. In the New Testament, the disciples and Jesus’ brother, James, affirm both doctrine and ritual. In the case of ritual, we still have cleansing effected baptism, we have Christ’s sacrifice proclaimed in bread and wine, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit through anointing with oil. All these are mandated by Jesus and/or the testimony of the New Testament.

Our Christian tradition makes it easier to see some things than others. Let us not abandon other commandments of God. And Let us remember that working these out requires a framework of tradition, doctrine and ritual.

Things get worse for the Pharisees as Jesus spells out why he has quoted Isaiah. He suggests that their specific traditions get in the way of God’s commands. He mentions the idea of ‘corban‘ in which something could be set apart for God. The specific issues seem to be that some where giving land and wealth, made ‘corban‘, to the religious leaders. In doing so, some then deprived their parents of the support that was their due in old age, according to the Law.

Then Jesus gets to the revolutionary bit. Jesus’s comments about the human heart, our insides, our outsides, and purity is both great teaching, spells out a bigger problem—a problem for everyone.

With reference to our basic bodily functions, Jesus explains that what we eat cannot make us unclean. This even transforms some of the commandments of the Law. This is a trajectory that enables God’s people to eat screech owl and even pig should they wish to. The repercussions of this took years to work out after Jesus death hence the editorial note in verse 19.

The counterpoint to this is that we know a person’s heart by their fruit. There is that horrible list: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. Jesus and the Pharisees are on common ground with this list. They can also agree on its root cause.

Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing…

 

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 22, 2020

Prayers that Bring Healing of Another Kind

Today another new author for you! We’re highlighting Penny Gadd who writes at Seeking the Light. She is currently working her way through the Gospel of Luke. As always, click the header below to read this at her site.

Jesus heals a man with leprosy

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.

Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

The NIV translation that I use has a footnote to this passage that says: “The Greek word traditionally translated ‘leprosy’ was used for various diseases affecting the skin”. I see no reason to doubt that statement. As the NIV continues to use the description leprosy I shall follow their example.

Leviticus 13 describes the symptoms, and the actions that had to be taken when a case was discovered. If you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to live alone outside a centre of population (Leviticus 13: 45 – 46), and you were ritually unclean.

It was a horrible diagnosis to receive because you could no longer participate in community life, and above all you couldn’t take part in worship. Nevertheless, the Law of Moses recognized that some people did recover, and Leviticus 14 explains what they needed to do to be accepted back into the community.

When the leper of this story in St Luke’s gospel met Jesus, he threw himself full length with his face to the ground, and begged to be healed. There was no doubting his faith that Jesus could heal him, but he obviously felt unworthy. Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. He may have felt that he had sinned badly to have deserved the punishment of leprosy; that would have been a common point of view at that time.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’

Jesus healed the leper. Not merely did he cleanse him, but he reminded him of what he still needed to do to be accepted back into the worshipping community of Israel: … go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them. Jesus had dealt with the physical cleansing, but, because the now-healed leper still lived under the Law of Moses he had to take the correct actions to be made ritually clean.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith.

I find myself wondering whether that’s the whole story. Many times, I and my friends have prayed earnestly for the healing of people we know. We have faith that Jesus can and does heal, and yet it is only rarely that we see physical healing. What about all those occasions when people are not healed?

I suggest, tentatively, that there is always some form of healing, often spiritual and at a level that we can’t easily see. On those rare occasions when there is a miraculous healing, it seems usually to be when it will build faith in Jesus. In other words, it’s a sign like the healings carried out by Jesus. If we are to understand when God heals physically and when he doesn’t, we need to understand his will better, and listen to how he wants us to pray for individuals.

Perhaps that’s a message we could take from the last verse of today’s study.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Even Jesus, whose ability to hear the Father’s voice was unrivaled, finds that he can only pray properly by withdrawing to solitude. He needs to avoid the crowds. What do we need to avoid? Do we need to go to a lonely place, or just a quiet place? I don’t think it matters very much provided we make the opportunity to listen.

And, if we listen carefully to God, perhaps we will be better able to know how to pray effectively.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
Please help my heart to be still and silent when I pray so that I can hear your voice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen

June 19, 2020

A Father to the Fatherless

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm 68:5 (NIV)

Related scriptures from BibleHub.com

But You have regarded trouble and grief; You consider it to take in hand. The victim entrusts himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless.
 – Psalm 10:14

The LORD protects the sojourners; He sustains the fatherless and the widow, but the ways of the wicked He frustrates.
 – Psalm 146:9

He executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and He loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.
 – Deuteronomy 10:18

Often I will add a video to the end of a devotional, but today, with Father’s Day fast approaching, I discovered that a powerful song which I have known for years and even taught in churches, has never been posted here. So today we worked backwards from Graham Kendrick’s song, Father Me (O Father of the Fatherless.)

Barbara Curtis wrote that, “Like many American kids, I never really had anyone to buy a card for.”  She continues,

…The truth is that fatherlessness hurts. I grew up feeling different and “less than”-all those uncomfortable feelings we try to spare fatherless kids today. Still, I would never endorse the current “cure” of teaching children that dads are optional. It was knowing that a mother/father/children family was best that eventually led me to have the commitment to work together with my husband to build one of our own…

…Just as we need an earthly father, we need our Heavenly one-in a strong and personal way. I will never forget the first time I heard that I really did have a Father. I was 38 years old and just beginning to pull the raggedy pieces of my life together. After years of mistakes and regrets, of looking for love and affirmation in all the wrong places, of trying to fill the hole in my heart, I was someone’s little girl. I could feel His love. I could trust in His forgiveness and mercy. I was His forever.

Is it not a miracle that someone who missed an earthly father’s love can be healed to receive the love of the Heavenly Father? But isn’t He Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals? Doesn’t the Bible say He came to bind the brokenhearted, set the captives free, and release prisoners from darkness? Didn’t He say we could come to Him as children? And isn’t it the greatest privilege of all to call him “Abba, Father”-just as children call their fathers “Daddy”? …

At the website, Got Questions? we read:

…Of all the ways the Lord God Almighty could have chosen to relate to humanity, He chose the language of family. He could have described Himself as a benevolent dictator, kind boss, or patient landlord. But instead, He chose the word father.

He presents Himself as a Father because we all know what a father is and does. Even if we did not have earthly fathers who treated us well, we have an intrinsic understanding of what a good father should be. God planted that understanding in our hearts. We all have a need to be loved, cherished, protected, and valued. Ideally, an earthly father will meet those needs. But even if he doesn’t, God will…

Charles Stanley shared this last year at InTouch Ministries:

…From the very beginning, God has shown Himself to be a loving parent, but it is only through Christ that we’ve inherited the privilege to call the Him “our Father” (Gal. 4:4-7*). The New Testament gives witness to Christ’s revelation of the wonderful relationship we can have with our heavenly Father: The name appears 245 times—over 100 times in John’s gospel alone. Paul opens each of his letters acknowledging God as our Father. The fact that man could know God as the perfect parent was a radical new idea in Jesus’ time, and it continues to be a life-impacting truth today

Leigh Powers writes,

…As children of the Father, we are called to reflect our Father’s heart. We are still called to care for the vulnerable and dispossessed–making room for those who society has rejected around the banquet table. Orphans, refugees, widows, the homeless, prisoners, the terminally ill–the list goes on. But when we extend hospitality, lift our voices for justice, and reach out in compassion, we demonstrate God’s faithful love. There is room in God’s family for all who will come. Will you invite others to find the welcome of our father’s love?

A Prayer (Max Lucado):

Dear God; today remind me today that you protect me. Be my father and defender. Defend those who’re weak and afraid and feel forgotten. Show up in their lives today. Thank you for giving me a spiritual family that can never be taken away. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Graham Kendrick:

Father Me – A Father’s Day Worship Song


* NLT.Gal.4.4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

June 18, 2020

One Credible Voice

by Clarke Dixon

With so many voices claiming to sound out the truth about spiritual and religious matters, how do we ever know to whom we should listen? This has always been a good question, but is especially important in the internet age. Anyone can speak up on the internet, even me!

To make matters worse all kinds of people say all kinds of different things, even when speaking about the same things! So how do we cut through all the noise? How do we find those voices worth listening to?

Jesus said something which helps us cut through the noise:

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.

Matthew 7:15-16 (NLT)

Beware of false prophets, you will know them by their fruit.

Perhaps anytime a prophet is mentioned, we automatically think of people who predict the future. Sometimes they do, however prophets are not primarily people who predict the future, rather they are people who speak on behalf of God.

If we loosely apply “prophet” to anyone claiming to teach on spiritual truths today, do the people claiming to speak spiritual truths into our lives have any credibility? Do I have any credibility as a teacher of spiritual matters? Do I show good fruit?

What do we mean by fruit in the first place? We might be tempted to think that a religious leader has good fruit if they have a big church, or many followers. In these times pastors can be judged by how many followers they have on Twitter. I don’t have many, but then it does not help that my descriptor says something like, “you may follow me on Twitter, but I never really go far.”

Sometimes, we who speak on spiritual matters can have great leadership skills, we can help build great organizations, and have many followers. However, we can be lacking in what Jesus is referring to here as good fruit.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the fruit Jesus mentions is a godly character. If you are asking about my character, don’t ask those who primarily see me preach, teach or visit the sick. If you want to know about my character, don’t ask my fans, ask my family.

How much do we really know about the character of the people we let speak into our hearts and minds? This is one advantage the local church has over television and internet ministries. Not only do I as a pastor get to know the people of my church, importantly, they get to know me. They know my wife and children. They know my character.

Do you know the character of those who speak into your life, especially those who would claim to speak on behalf of God?

Jesus is teaching a much more important lesson here that is easily missed when we make it all about evaluating a spiritual teacher’s credibility.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of someone who was there while Jesus was teaching what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. We heard him say “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words there is something flawed about their righteousness. We heard Jesus say several times “You have heard it said, [by the scribes and Pharisees], but I say,” then go on to teach about good character. We have heard Jesus teach on how we should love like God loves, which means loving even our enemies. We have heard Jesus say “in all things do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We will soon hear Jesus teach about the importance of listening to him, that by doing so we are like builders building a house upon a rock.

One day we hear that the Romans have crucified Jesus at the instigation of the religious leaders. We remember that time Jesus said “beware of the false prophets, by their fruit you will know them.”

We look at the fruit of the religious leaders. They had an innocent man killed. All kinds of sins are evident through their actions; pride, arrogance, jealousy, and hatred. They strut around like shepherds, they look like sheep, they have been helpful to many people, but in the end we can see their true colours. They are vicious wolves.

Now we look at the fruit of Jesus. His life and teaching has already brought life to many. Now his death and resurrection will bring eternal life to so many more. The evidence is clear.

With so many voices speaking up on religious and spiritual matters today, how do we know to whom we should listen? There is one voice that cuts through, a voice we can trust, the voice of Someone with good fruit. It is the voice of Jesus. Are we listening?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is now a confirmed YouTuber, but still can’t get the thumbnail images he seeks! His wife and family (and dogs and cats) are currently riding out the pandemic in a small town east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. (Warning: May contain organ music. Briefly.) Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 14, 2020

Racism: When You Lose Your Privilege

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Years ago a popular Christian magazine, The Wittenburg Door (deliberately misspelled with a ‘u’ instead of an ‘e’) decided to conduct an experiment involving the magazine itself.

The entire issue was reproduced from hastily photocopied draft copies. As readers opened their mail, they saw a note saying they could have printed more ‘good’ copies from the completed magazine, but the full print run they had done had already been sent out to other subscribers.

Of course, there were no ‘good’ copies. Everyone received the same issue with the same note, and people were irate. A 1986 article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel explains:

An avalanche of outraged mail followed that issue, [Mike] Yaconelli chortles. “They took the bait. A lot of them ranted about how they didn’t want second best. They found out what it means to be discriminated against.”

Oh yes, I forgot to mention: It was a special themed issue on racism.

We can say that we’re wanting to see a world with a level playing field, but where inequities exist, we are often comfortable with that, provided we’re the ones on the upper tier.

This 6-minute video from The Bible Project shows how humans care so much about equality and justice:

This is part of the crisis in the Book of Jonah. The prophet is fairly certain his message will be rejected, since the Ninevites are described mostly in terms of their depravity. When fishy circumstances result in him having to deliver his prophetic word, he realizes his worst case when they actually accept.

In terms of Justice, their deliverance from destruction puts them and himself on a level playing field, but he’s not happy with that outcome because he doesn’t view them as worthy, or as equal, and would have been happier with their destruction.

It’s interesting to see the description of the Ninevites:

NIV.Jonah.4v11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…

That’s quite a description. Most translations follow that pattern. But we also see:

  • innocent children (GNT)
  • people in spiritual darkness (LB/NLT)
  • childlike (Message)
  • do not know right from wrong (NET/Message)

Given that description, the texts from The Bible Project video tell us to:

NIV.Prov 31v8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

NIV.Jer.22v3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

NIV.Ps.146v7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

We do this out of our response to what God has done for us. The video notes that

God’s response to humanity’s legacy of injustice is to give us a gift, the life of Jesus. He did righteousness and justice and yet he died on behalf of the guilty. But then God declared Jesus to be the righteous one when he rose from the dead. And so now Jesus offer his life to the guilty so they too can be declared righteous before God, not because of anything they’ve done but because of what Jesus did for them.




For more on the subject of racism as it applies to the U.S. in particular, you might want to check out this 17-minute video history lesson by Phil Vischer which is introduced at this link.

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

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

And I am in favor of all five of those.

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

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

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

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

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

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

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

June 2, 2020

The Disciples in Lockdown

Today we’re also featuring a new (to us) writer. A.K. Francis has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles as well. During the time of pandemic, that writing moved into a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude which began in the Old Testament and has worked its way to the New. Click the links in this paragraph to read more, or click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

The disciples behind closed doors

As we edge our way out of lockdown, it seems an appropriate time for a probably last blog post on faith in isolation. For today’s edition I have chosen two stories that are very similar in their structure and story from Acts and the end of the Gospels respectively.

The first story (from the gospels) is that of Jesus first appearing to his disciples after His resurrection. The disciples are together in a room with the doors locked, out of fear of the Jewish non-believers around them. Earlier that morning, some of their women had been to the tomb and found the place empty – it is unclear whether they believed in the resurrection from this or not. Jesus is suddenly in the room with them. He speaks to the disciples and encourages them. Then he is gone. Later he appears again and seeks out Thomas, who had been absent previously and had said that he would not believe the resurrection story until he saw the walking talking, and scarred evidence in the body of the risen saviour.

The second story is near the beginning of the book of Acts. The disciples are again in an upper room, with the doors closed. This time the room is suddenly filled with flames and wind as the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised, swept through the room and entered each disciple. They begin speaking in other languages as that spirit enabled them, and then leave the room to spread the word about Jesus to those in the city. As it is the festival of weeks, the city is full of Jews from across the then known world – making their languages essential to their message being understood. At first, their audience take them for drunks – but then are persuaded – and over 1,000 converted to belief in Jesus.

What are these stories telling us about isolation…and its end?

1. Wait, prayerfully and in hope.

In both these stories individuals are alone and waiting for something. At Pentecost (the second story) it is highly likely that the disciples were meeting in prayer at time when the Spirit came upon them. In the first story there may have been prayer, but there was certainly fear – enough to find the key for the door. In both of these stories God comes and meets with the disciples in their time of need – and builds them up for the next step in His plan. At both points they are in a place of loss – of Jesus on the cross in the resurrection story, and of Jesus to heaven in the Pentecost story – and in both places they have been given the promise of God’s presence – Jesus spoke of His resurrection prior to his death, and spoke of the Holy Spirit as a helper who would come after he had ascended. Both of these events show the joy of the disciples as they celebrate the fulfilment of these promises. Jesus also made a promise ‘to be with you always, to the very end of the age’ to the disciples and all His followers, when he ascended.

I do not think it is pure coincidence that the period of lockdown has fallen over the season in the year where churches focus on these events and celebrate them. Here is a message of waiting on the Lord, calling out to Him in hope that he is working his purpose – and then seeing the promise of His presence among them fulfilled – in resurrection and in the Holy Spirit. That spirit is still available to us today, the promise ‘to be with you always’ remains open to us. In our isolation we can lean on these fulfilled promises, and call on our saviour to face the fears of the world outside.

2. God meets us in the place of lockdown fear

In both of these stories, God walks among His disciples and strengthens them in their hour of fear and isolation. As I have mentioned throughout this series, there seems to be a big message in the Bible that it is often in our times of fear, loneliness and imprisonment that God walks among His people to strengthen them for His work in their lives and the lives of others. Here it is no different. Jesus steps into a room full of his mourning and terrified friends – at the point when they are most confused, doubtful and afraid – and turns their lives around. At Pentecost, the disciples are changed so much that they go outside and tell of Jesus’ resurrection – risking their lives as they have not yet done. This is the real starting moment of the church – it comes out of God strengthening His people in isolation and sending them out into the world.

In our time of isolation, it has perhaps been a challenge to be away from church, but perhaps this has allowed us as churches and individuals to spend more time away from the bustle of the world with the God who loves us, learning from Him about how we can be advancing His kingdom. As we face the fear of having to leave what may well have become the safe space of our home, I think it is good to stop, reflect and take time to let God walk into our lives, revealing how we should be working for His glory to come out of this time of fear and suffering.

3.Be built up, question, be sent out.

These two passages create a great image of what discipleship in isolation could look like. Here the groups of disciples have met in isolation and alone, here Thomas feels safe to question the judgement of others about the resurrection of Jesus, and to gain an answer from Jesus himself. Here the disciples experience the Holy Spirit as a gift for the first time as they turn to God in prayer and expectation. And out of these two events, one after the other, and the lessons that come from Jesus in them, comes the knowledge of God and the strength of the Spirit to go out into the world in confidence to share the message they have been given with those around them. To face death potentially, for what they now believe is the truth.

Thomas, as he recognizes Jesus, and proclaims him as his Lord and God, is told:

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed.”

John 20 v 29

This is a wonderful reassurance for Christians living today, who have not seen Jesus in the flesh but who believe in Jesus as their saviour. In our times of isolation, we have had an opportunity to explore faith online and in our greater times of quiet and solitude, and numbers of those viewing church services online would suggest that people are looking to explore faith. Today, we should take these stories as pointers to ensuring we are being built up and sent out to His glory. The world outside the comfort of our Christian homes, and the privacy of our internet browser, is scary, and we, and those exploring faith, will need the strengthening of the Spirit and human encouragement in the challenging months to come. But I pray that these months have been, and will continue to be, the start of something of a renewal of faith in our world.

April 25, 2020

The Profit from Persistence

Over the years a consistent source of material for us here has been Jim Thornber, who we originally discovered because his website is called Thinking Out Loud. This story of the woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer is included in scripture to increase our faith. Jesus gives her a rather odd answer at first, and she is quick with a response. If you don’t know this story, click here to read Matthew 15: 21-28. Otherwise, I again encourage you to send some direct traffic to our contributing writers by clicking the headers like the one which appears next.

The Crumbs of Faith and Hope

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.’ But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’”­ Matthew 15:24-25

As I write this, the world is in turmoil because of coronavirus, or COVID-19. In response to this pandemic, prayers all over the world are ascending to God’s throne, and many pastors, like myself, are searching for ways to comfort and guide our people. Is God judging the world? Is He trying to remind us there is only one race on earth, the human race, and we need to work together as companions instead of apart as competitors?

I’ll let better minds than my own try to figure out what God is doing on a global scale, for I’ve got my hands full praying for and touching (not literally!) the lives I come in contact with (not literally!) every day. What I do know is God is not the silent type, and even when He is, He is leading us into a life of faith and hope.

All of this has me thinking about the very persistent mother in Matthew 15:21-28. The story finds Jesus leaving Galilee and going north into Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile territory. A Canaanite (enemies of the Jews) woman who lived there came to Him and pleaded for Jesus to heal her daughter, who was being tormented by a demon. As a response to this request, Jesus remained silent.

Today, silence is a most hated concept. With smartphones, the internet, radio and television blaring everywhere we go, we’ve learned to distrust the sound of silence. Silence is wrong. Silence means something is broke. Silence from our political leaders means they are not working on our behalf. Silence from our religious leaders means they don’t have the comforting answers we seek. Silence makes us nervous. Silence makes us wonder if we’re still alive if all we hear is the sound of our own breathing.

Add to that silence of Jesus the complete lack of compassion from the Disciples. Sure, they want Jesus to heal her, but only because “she is bothering us with all her begging” (15:23). In other words, if healing her daughter will get her to shut up, then DO IT! So, couple the silence of Jesus with the fact the people hanging out with Jesus urge Him to send her away, in most instances you’d have an emotional breakdown in the making. This woman is facing rejection on all sides and she knows it, but she still doesn’t go away. She just stands there and waits for the Son of David to answer her request, and when Jesus does speak, it is not as the meek and mild Jesus we sing about in church.

“I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel,” He replies. Great. Not only is Jesus treating her with silence, now He says he wasn’t sent for her. Apparently, there are people whose needs are greater or better or more deserving than a mother whose child is possessed by a demon.

At this point in the story, I’d be ready to tell the Son of David what He can do with His Messiah complex. I mean, if God is going to be so callused as to tell me that others are more deserving of His mercy and grace, then it’s time to find another god.

But, what this woman does next just astounds me. Verse 25 says, “she came and worshiped him.” Is that what I would do? Would I worship God after He has been silent? Would I worship God after His church board has suggested He heal me just so I wouldn’t upset their precious fellowship? Would I worship this God after He tells me He’s not here for me?  Honestly, I’d be more tempted to whine about how life is all against me than to worship a God who intends to ignore me.

However, this persistent mom challenges me again, for in her humility she acknowledges that everything Jesus said was true. She was not an Israelite, Jesus was not here for her first, and she shouldn’t get the meat from the table. All true. It’s only the proud people like me who think Jesus’ arrival on earth was all about meeting my personal needs according to my personal comfort and timing. When will I learn that even the scraps from God’s table are richer fare than any five-star meal the world has to offer? Isn’t it better to be a dog in God’s kingdom than a king in the realm of Satan? This woman has seen how demons treat people like her daughter, and she knows there is more compassion in the crumbs of God than in the lies of the loftiest fallen angel.

Now, let’s look at this passage from another angle. Yes, Jesus was silent, but He was there. He was in her presence and He didn’t leave. In fact, He came to her Gentile town; she didn’t travel to find Him in Israel. There is always hope when God is present, and God is always present. While most of the world lacks the awareness of His presence, this racially, geographically and theologically distanced enemy of Jesus was more aware of His mercy and compassion than were His Disciples.

Next, we see that silence isn’t a refusal. He was silent but He didn’t say no. He was silent but He didn’t leave. In silence there also is hope. Don’t let the silence of God or the quick answers of the critics send you away from what you need most.

When Jesus replied He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel (and I can’t help but think He said that with a twinkle in His eye, just to test her faith), He was indicating there is still hope. If there wasn’t hope, what was Jesus doing in Gentile territory? Sometimes we think God is only going to help the good people who are worthy. But this scene reminds us that God came to save the world, because the entire world is as unworthy as this Gentile woman. God is increasing her faith, and we could all use a bit more faith.

Therefore, the next time God is silent regarding our requests, we need to remember His silence doesn’t mean “No.” We need to remember that Jesus came to us before we came to Jesus, for that reminds us how important we are to Him. We, I, need to remember that the critics who want me to disappear have forgotten that Jesus chose to be with me, and I’ll stand in His presence as long as He’ll have me.

Finally, when God tells me the truth about who I am, I need to remember that even a mutt like me has a place at the banquet table of God. Sure, life may not always go as I’d like it, but Jesus has entered the room and where He is, there is hope.

So, during this time of quarantine, shut-ins, social distancing, job loss and financial uncertainty, we all have a choice—we can worship or we can whine. Granted, my first response has not always been as persistent as the mommy in the story. However, I’m learning wherever I am and in whatever circumstances I find myself, there is always room for more worship, for more conversation with God and for more faith, for “through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

 

 

 

 

 

April 18, 2020

Finding Hope in Spring Rebirth

The Cove is a multi-site church in Mooresville, NC (Greater Charlotte) which posts weekday devotions on their website. The ones for this week were by Jenna Worsham. This was the Monday devotional in a series on the subject of new birth. I’ve also added an image below.

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”’ Revelation 21:5 (NIV)

I’ve seen a number of pictures like this, where new life springs out of old. This one was in my files. These pictures are usually accompanied by verses such as Isaiah 43:19;
“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
or Revelation 21:5a
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

The Bible contains many prophesies. The ones about Jesus’ life as a Man on earth were fulfilled in the details of His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. We know God keeps His promises and the prophesies are fulfilled because we can see it in His Word.

The Israelites and Jesus’ disciples lived in specific cultures and times. Because of their perspective, they may not have been able to understand all the ways prophesy was coming true during their lives. However, they were able to see some things. Jesus was born in the line of David, in Bethlehem. He fulfilled all of the prophesy in the Old Testament, and the disciples would have seen and understood some of those fulfillments.

Earlier in history, God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt, fed them manna, taken them through the desert, and eventually gave them the Promised Land. Limited perspective didn’t leave either the disciples or the Israelites without hope. We read that they saw God’s character and how He had been faithful before. They chose to remember and trust His promises. They chose to live with hope and belief that what God promised would one day come to pass.

We haven’t yet seen all of the prophesy in the Bible come true. At the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation shows us some things that will happen. Sometimes we shy away from the Revelation because we don’t understand it all, or we don’t want to misinterpret it. Yet, God’s promises are for our good. They give us hope. Even if we don’t understand every detail, we know Him and how He has moved on behalf of His people in the past. We can trust that prophesy will come true and it will be for us, not against us. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5, NIV).

We live in a culture and time where this prophesy hasn’t come to pass yet, not entirely, but things are definitely changing. The Man seated on the throne is in charge of the new heaven and new earth. He is making it new in that moment! There is no more death, pain, crying, or mourning anymore! We know that Jesus’ body rose from the dead and was made brand new.

Every spring, we see dead things come back to life. This is that season. We are seeing those flowers, buds, and births now! In seasons of pain, suffering, isolation, and fear, we are not without hope. We have promises. This prophesy will be complete in the future. In a way, it has already started coming true. God is already in the business of making things new. He shows us how birth, coming alive, renewing, reviving, awakening, and remaking are His specialties.

God’s actions in my life, the rebirth I’ve seen in my friends and family, the new life in nature–all point to the truth. Our God is “making everything new.” His words are always “trustworthy and true.” We have hope now because God is in the redemption business. We have hope for the day when this verse in Revelation is absolutely, completely fulfilled.

Read: Revelation 21:1-5;  Exodus 6:7, 12:51;  Luke 4:16-21


…Later on in the week (on Thursday), Jenna posted something I want to share a brief excerpt from:

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:21-22, ESV).

The earth is like a pregnant woman. She is capable of so much more than she can accomplish right now. Her limitations are temporary. The life she carries brings much joy now and will bring more joy soon. Nearer to the time when Jesus returns, the earth will suffer; it will be like labor for her and all who live on her. It will be hard. It will seem like it may never end. But when labor is over, Jesus will make everything new.

April 16, 2020

When Everything Changed (Easter Reflection)

by Clarke Dixon

We have all experienced incredible change recently, to our routines, our plans, our lives. Our hearts go out to those who have experienced change in the worst ways.

I am reminded of a time I was the instigator of change. My first pastorate was a two-point charge, each of which had regular Bible studies. In the one church we met over lunch and tea was served in some very fancy teacups. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do fancy. And while my fingers are not large, they are still larger than the pathetic little handles in your average fancy teacup. By the time we left that church five years later, I had them drinking tea out of mugs!

That was pretty much the only change I made in that church. People resist change, especially people who are devout, people who are committed. Very often in smaller churches, people are both devout and committed. Thankfully so!

In New Testament times we see many devout, committed people making very big changes in a very short space of time. They made changes in their expression of faith. For example, they moved away from a focus on the temple, away from the practice of animal sacrifice, and away from a focus on Saturday, the Sabbath, as the highlight of the week, focusing on Sunday instead. They also moved away from an insistence on keeping a distance from anyone who was not Jewish.

How did these big changes come about among people like Paul, who were very devout and very committed to an old and enduring way of expressing faith in God? What made them want to change in matters of great importance? Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

Paul met the risen Jesus, and that changed everything.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people began to change their religious practices. For example, people began meeting on Sunday to worship in order to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, which happened on a Sunday. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday! They stopped the sacrifice of animals, realizing that Jesus is the best, and truly only, sacrifice for sin. They stopped having a strong focus on the temple, realizing that God was not to be found there, but rather indwells all His people.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people realized that how they related to God had changed. We relate to God through a new covenant, not by our being good enough to “make the cut,” but in Jesus being good to us, taking the consequence of our sin on himself. Our relationship with God is based on his love and grace, his offer of reconciliation.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people changed how they related to one another. They related, not so much by law and custom, religious or national, but by a new way of love which touched all relationships. There was a new way of valuing one another, breaking down class divisions, another big change.

Jesus was raised from the dead and that changed everything. Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. It can change everything, for you and for me.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our future. Many are living in fear that COVID-19 will control our future, and rightfully so, it certainly has had, and will continue to have, an impact. However, some day it shall be a matter of history. It will be in the past. Jesus is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

Jesus was raised from the dead in the past. He lives with us now in our present. He will be there for us in our future. Resurrection to eternal life will be a life-changing, life-giving part of our future.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our lives now. We can walk with Jesus now, in faith, hope, and love. Walking with the risen Jesus changes everything. It changes our relationships, as we walk with others in the way of love. It changes our outlook on life and society. It changes us. The word “repentance” literally means “a change of mind.” We change our minds about ourselves, and about God. Among other things, in repentance we change from thinking that God does not matter, to realizing that God does matter, because we matter to God. Easter is the evidence that we matter to God, a lot!

Jesus is risen, and that changes everything. Are you ready for change?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

April 11, 2020

Approaching Easter Sunday: What the Lord Has Done for Us

by Richard Schmelzle*

As we approach Easter Sunday, we must each examine our life in light of what our Saviour has done for us.  Does my relationship with Him and with others reflect the mindset of our Lord as He approached the cross? 

Paul writing to the believers in Philippi said:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  (Phil. 2:5-8  NKJV)

Christ’s entire life was marked by obedience and surrender to the will of the Father.  As followers of Christ, are we not called to do the same?  We talk about the surrendered life, we read books and have Bible studies on the subject.  I cannot sing the chorus “I Surrender All” without tears streaming down my face.  The question remains, have I surrendered all?

Oswald J. Smith gives us some clues as to why this is so difficult.  He often said, “When we are saved, we are delivered from the penalty of sin;  As we are sanctified, we are delivered from the power of sin, however, only when we are glorified are we delivered from the presence of sin. 

His friend, Dr. J. Edwin Orr, the Irish Revivalist, was a frequent guest at The Peoples Church, Toronto. In the opening page of his book, Full Surrender, he suggests one of the reasons why we find this so difficult.

“Why is it that hundreds of well-meaning Christians attend conventions and conferences for the deepening of the spiritual life, enjoy the ministry there given, return to life’s vocations with a feeling of improvement, yet speedily lapse into their former ways of backsliding and defeat?  There are many reasons, but one of the least noted is the matter of incomplete consecration, the sin of broken vows.  Too many Christians make a bargain with God and fail to pay their part of the price.  This is sin.” 

The Apostle Paul gave us these words of encouragement and direction:

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18 NKJV).

C.S. Lewis addresses the subject in his classic work, “Mere Christianity”. 

“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time, and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself, My own will shall become yours.

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes, and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way – centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And this is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. 

As our will becomes God’s will, we become like God. That’s the whole point of Christianity. Yet the whole notion of surrendering our autonomy and will to anyone or anything is abhorrent by today’s standards. Any religion that suggests we do so is coloured in the most extreme shades of radicalism by contemporary thinkers. Yet this is precisely what Jesus Christ taught we must do.”

“And He said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24 NKJV)

Surrendering our will to God is the polar opposite of entrusting ourselves to ‘the crowd’.  On the one hand we are loved “with an everlasting love” and on the other we are just another nameless face. The great challenge for us is finding the confidence within to entrust our will to Him.

To be sure, my Brother, my Sister, the Christian life is totally antithetical to the world view of our culture and counter intuitive to our embedded `natural man`.  Scripture tells us further:

“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

The writer to the Hebrews gives the final word on how to overcome our dilemma:

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”. (Hebrews 3:1, 13 NKJV) 

Let us proclaim together, Christ is Risen….He is Risen Indeed!


* Dr. Richard Schmelzle heads the Toronto Chapter of the C. S. Lewis Institute which meets regularly in Richmond Hill. For general information about the organization, go to cslewisinstitute.org .  Used by permission.

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