Christianity 201

April 17, 2022

The Tomb is Empty!

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.  – John 20:1-10

Our Easter Sunday devotional today highlights the writing of Keith Lyndaker Schlabach appearing here for the first time. This is a portion of a sermon transcript for a message shared at Millersburg Mennonite Church in Ohio. The blog is called iX-Rays which he explains consists of “‘Iota’ for Iesous (Ιησους, Jesus in Greek) and ‘X’ or Chi for Christos (Χριστος, Christ in Greek)” terms that “have been used since the early days of Christianity.”

To enjoy the full message on audio click here, or click the header below to read the transcript in full, which is recommended.

Empty – An Easter Sunday Sermon

…It is easy for me to get overwhelmed sometimes with the problems of the world, the challenges of relational ministry, the anxieties of what may or may not be coming down the pike for the conference and our denomination. I look around and I wonder; What happened to the joy of my salvation?

I get so filled up that there is no room for the empty tomb.

Maybe you like me feel overwhelmed by death. Perhaps it is fitting for Holy Week, but the beginning of this week was pretty hard for me. Some days my body just seems to ache a little more and my mortality weighs heavy on me. For me, it’s not just my mortality and the struggle with how best to spend the remainder of my days, how ever many there may be, but it is the seemingly endless tales of suffering and death on the 24/7 news cycle.

So let’s join Mary of Magdala for a little walk in the garden. We see the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

Let’s let our obsession with, our avoidance of, our downright fear of, death go. One thing you can say about life – None of us are getting out of it alive. But that’s okay. Death isn’t the end.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me feel so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of life that this abundant living thing feels like a mirage. Some days it is all I can do just to put one foot in front of the other.

Let’s join that other disciple as he runs to the crypt. We look in the tomb and we see the strips of cloth. The tomb is empty. Why look for the living among the dead?

So let’s leave behind the dead weight of life lived in a hurry, a life that robs us of the abundant life Jesus gives us. Let’s strip away the trappings of our frantic pace that keep us from being more deeply connected to God and to each other. Stop filling up your life with more doing. Abundant life awaits.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me feel so overwhelmed by doubt and disbelief that you don’t even know if this resurrection thing is even possible, though as NT Wright says, at a time when women were not considered credible witnesses, why would the Gospel writers have women be the first witnesses to the Resurrection if what they witnessed did not occur?

So let’s join Peter as he runs to catch up to that other disciple. Let’s not hesitate at the gaping wound of the grave but let’s go right on in. Let’s ponder the discarded wrappings of death. Let’s say, Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

The tomb is empty.

Maybe you like me have been holding on to an image of Jesus that you grew up with or have witnessed, a Jesus of intolerance and confusion, a Lord of rules and should and should nots, a Christ who doesn’t really feel alive anymore, Jesus says to us like He did to Mary, “Do not hold on to me.” Wait, soon you will receive a fresh revelation of the Spirit, a new indwelling of the Risen Lord…

…We gain and grow so much when we learn about God together. It is spaces such as these where we may get emptied of preconceived notions and misconceptions and then can get filled up with the Word of God, the love of Christ, and the wisdom that comes from deeply listening to those on the journey with us.

It is one place among many the Spirit provides where we can learn what occupies our hearts. Because our hearts are occupied.

So the question is, what have we allowed to take up residence within us?

Are there things in your life that are crowding God out? Is there room in your heart for Jesus? Has the resurrected Jesus taken up residence there?

If you have not opened your heart to Jesus, then I urge you to do so. Life is hard, but grace abounds, and life is so much better with Jesus by your side and the family of God to love on you.

Do you feel empty inside? There is plenty of stuff in life that we can fill our lives up with, but not all of it satisfies, no matter how much we accumulate. I suspect most of us could be a little more empty. If we’re honest we probably ought to say no to some things.

When I taught at an alternative school in Washington DC, I told the students that I wish I had a speaker box on my shoulder that would automatically be blaring the word “No!”, because invariably as I walked the halls I would be inundated with requests, most of which were frivolous. Hey Mr. Keith Can I…? No! Mr. Keith can we …? No! Yo, Mr Keith I was wondering …? No!

So what things in your life do you need to be saying “no” to in order to be able to say “yes” to God?

The tomb is empty. So why do we try to keep filling it back up with things that do not give life?

The tomb is empty!

Up at the cemetery this morning it was frigid and cold, but inside our hearts were warm, because the tomb is empty!

Up at the cemetery this morning, it felt like winter, but I’m here to tell you that spring is on the way.

The tomb is empty!

And walking through that cemetery this morning you would find all sorts of names on the gravestones, but there is one name you wouldn’t find and that is the name of Jesus because the tomb is empty!

And that matters ….

Because you see if we like Mary Magdalene have been emptied of that which has possessed us, and we have allowed the God of the Universe to fill us with the Love of Christ and the power of the Resurrection, then we have been gloriously released by Jesus out into the world and in our daily lives, to share with everyone we meet the things Jesus has told us, where we can’t help but shout with bright joy like Mary, “I have seen the Lord!”

Let us pray:

The tomb is empty, Lord. Thank you! You are alive! Thank you! Death, suffering, pain, the principalities and powers; all have been defeated because your tomb is empty. Thank you! Empty us of anything that blocks your Spirit’s work in us. Fill us up with your Resurrection Power. For you are the King of Glory, Jesus, the Bright Morning Star. Hallelujah! Amen


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

April 12, 2022

Bearing the Marks of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In some Roman Catholic communities, it believed to be possible for someone today to bear the “Stigmata” which Wikipedia defines as, “the appearance of bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.”

So a person reading the title of today’s devotional might be forgiven for thinking that’s what we’re looking at today; or that Stigmata was what the Apostle Paul had in mind in today’s key verse. To complicate things, some translations have Paul saying that he bears “branding marks,” and removing the context from his remarks, and taking the passage too literally could result in creating a church ritual which makes foot-washing seem rather tame.

Rather, he’s talking about the physical scars resulting from hardship, imprisonment and beatings for the sake of the gospel…

…Today we’re introducing a new author, who posts weekly at Grace of the King. You can continue here, but you’re encouraged to click the header which follows and read this at its source.

Do We Bear the Marks of Christ?

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
Galatians 6:17 ESV

This verse struck my cords deep with in me. I have read it over and over again pondering my life, while looking at the life of Paul. Now I am no means the Apostle Paul, none of us are or ever will be. As in scripture when we study it, we are to look at it in different perspectives. Who and when is God speaking to in this passage, then what does it mean to us today.

Paul at this time was in prison. He had years of traveling and evangelism. He also had years of beatings, stoning, hardships that you and I could not imagine. The good thing and by the grace of God we don’t have to. Saints before us have paved the way, they were hung on crosses and burned as candles so we can live the life we have. We are blessed beyond reasoning, but yet so we bear the marks of Christ?

I look at this and I am undone. I am nowhere deserving of the marks of Christ as Paul had. I am not sure I could take the lashings, or the beatings as Paul did. My faith I believe lacks in that department. God knows though I will die for him, I will not fail in this race.

I look at Paul who preached the Gospel everywhere he went, and was hunted down. Paul was hated by the gentiles and the Jews. The cross is offensive to the world, and Paul knew the cost he would bear. He knew chains awaited him in Jerusalem but yet he still went. This to me is a mark many of us here in the West will soon bear. As the church’s voice gets louder and more pure in its boldness persecution will come. Will we be sought out by authorities?

Paul was known to be argumentative at times. He pressed into the worldly views and man made religious laws. But he did it with love and grace. Paul started in the synagogue then worked his was to the streets. His life was marked by the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the name he preached that made Paul the enemy. Christ crucified was it, and the cross that Paul bore everyday.

The marks of Christ in our lives, should be seen by all. When we have scars those scars have stories. And we tell those stories with passion and vigor. But yet we hold back on the cross and the redemption he has done in our lives. Oh how beautiful is the healing of those scars. How glorious is the hearts made whole, the marriages renewed, the shattered minds pieced back together. These are the marks of Christ. This is the mark of Jesus in out lives that people see.

Let us bear the marks of Christ proudly and boldly. For the Apostle Paul said it best,

“far be it for me to boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ”. (Galatians 6:14)


BibleHub.com cross-references for today’s key verse:

Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. – 2 Cor. 11:23 NLT

always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. – 2 Cor. 4:10 NET

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, – Phil. 3:10 NIV


Second Helping: By the same author, Are We Living Two Lives.


We want to remind you again about a YouTube playlist which is very appropriate for this week leading to Good Friday and Easter. There are 29 songs. This time, we’ve embedded the playlist here as part of today’s devotional. It will continue playing as long as you keep the email open (subscribers) or keep this page on screen (website visitors).

April 8, 2022

The Future Role of the Holy Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NIV.Rev.22.3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

Today we have a most interesting topic for your consideration, and a new writer to introduce. Nick Cady is part of the Calvary Chapel movement, is the lead pastor of a Colorado church, is the host of the Theology for the People Podcast, is the author of The God I Won’t Believe In, and had things gone differently, would have been involved in ministry in Ukraine this past month. He blogs at Theology for the People. We selected this article from his backlist blog posts, and encourage you to read it where we found it by clicking the header below, and then take some time to look around at other resources.

What is the Role of the Holy Spirit in Eternity?

Recently someone submitted this question:

Both God the Father and the Son have distinct and obvious eternal roles that we see played out in the Bible, with Jesus being more obvious, but as I was thinking through the role of the Holy Spirit in eternity, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete.
Could you give a brief overview of the roles of the triune persons of God as it pertains to eternity? I’m mostly interested in the Holy Spirit, but would love a pastor’s perspective on the other two also.

The “Ontological Trinity” and the “Economic Trinity”

There are two fields of discussion when it comes to the Trinity. The “ontological” and the “economic.” “Ontological” refers to who God is, i.e. that which pertains to being, whereas “economic” refers to what God does.

Specifically applied to the Trinity, study of the “ontological Trinity” is focused on those parts of the Bible which communicate that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet these three, while distinct persons, are one God. Study of the “economic Trinity” is focused on the passages in the Bible which tell us what each of these three persons does as their role in “the Godhead.”

So, ontologically, it is important to point out that eternality is part of God’s nature. God is eternal, and each person of the godhead is eternal. So, the role of God in eternity is merely a continuation of who God has been until now, and who God will forever be.

However, the question above is about the economics of the Triune God after this present age is over, and we have transitioned into what the Bible calls “the new heavens and new Earth.” What will the functions of the three persons of the Triune God be in “the age to come”?

The Role of the Son in the Age to Come

The Son, we are told, is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, and for eternity he will reign and rule as king over all of redeemed creation. (See Revelation 22:3)

Currently, Jesus is making intercession for believers, advocating for us, and is seated on a throne, but for eternity, all we really know is that he will be an eternal sovereign, ruling over a kingdom of righteousness and peace which will never end.

The Role of the Father in the Age to Come

Along with ruling over the redeemed creation from a heavenly throne, revelation tells us that God (not necessarily just the Father) will be a source of light, which will preclude the need for the sun to illuminate, since God himself will be our light.

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Age to Come

The one thing that sticks out about the Holy Spirit’s role in eternity, is that, whereas the Father and the Son have a throne in the New Heavens and New Earth, the Holy Spirit does not (Revelation 22:3).

Beyond this, I can’t think of any verses which speak specifically about a role of the Holy Spirit in the age to come – but that is not surprising, and here’s why:

What we read regarding the economic Trinity mostly has to do with the work of God to redeem human beings. Remember, the Bible is a book about Jesus: who he is, and how he saves us.

Since the Bible is focused on the story of the salvation and redemption of humankind, it does not tell us very much about what God did before creating the world, nor does it tell us much about what God will do after the redemption of the world is complete.

“The Great Story Which No One on Earth has Read”

This reminds me of the final paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ The Final Battle, which is the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, which is full of allegories about biblical passages and teachings.

C.S. Lewis poetically describes “the age to come” in this way:

“…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about what the three persons of the Trinity will do in eternity, because that is not the story which the Bible exists to tell.

God Will Do What God Did Before

Prior to the creation of the world, it is important to remember that God existed from eternity past. Without human beings to rescue, sanctify, and redeem, what did God do?

What we can be sure of, is that God was neither bored nor lonely.

From eternity past, the one God, who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed as a mutually edifying and glorifying community unto himself. Creation, was God inviting us to join in the “perichoresis,” the eternal relationship which exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as “the dance of God.”

In other words, in eternity, we can expect that God will do what God did before: delighting in himself, with each person fueling this mutually edifying and glorifying relationship.


Second Helping: By the same author, check out, Will We Really See Our Loved Ones In Heaven?


NIV.Rev.21.3 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.

 

April 7, 2022

When Bad Character Meets Bad Thinking

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through John 12:1-11

by Clarke Dixon

Who do you think is the better Christian; Judas, or Mary?

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.”

John 12:1-5 (NLT)

Let’s be honest, does not the use of perfume worth about a year’s wages in one single moment seem like a bad idea, a terrible use of resources? Judas was concerned for the poor. We might even say that he was more “Christlike” than Mary. Yet Judas was not commended:

Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

John 12:6-8 (NLT)

Judas does not have a good character. He is deceitful, greedy, a thief, and will go on to betray Jesus for money.

Is there anything to learn here? Yes,

Spending time with good people does not automatically fix bad character.

Being one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose to draw close, Judas spent a lot of time with Jesus. Yet despite all the teaching he heard, likely repeatedly as Jesus would have taught similar things in different towns, and despite all the miracles he witnessed, Judas was unchanged. Judas could not have found a better mentor than Jesus. Yet he was unchanged.

Are we spending time with good people yet we are unchanged? Are we spending time with God yet are unchanged? We can invest time in reading the Bible or in prayer yet not experience any kind of discernible change in character. We may not be any more loving than we were ten years ago, or joyful, peaceful, patient, or kind.

Devotion to good religion does not automatically fix bad character.

Judas was a Jew, and his concern for the poor was baked right into the Jewish faith. Yet not stealing was also baked right in! Judas perhaps gave the impression that he was a good Bible believing Jew with his suggestion regarding relief for the poor. Yet he was not a good Jew, his character was unchanged. His religion did not change him.

Are we devoted to Christianity, yet we are not changed? Perhaps we say a lot of good Christian sounding things, yet we are not more generous than we were ten years ago, or more faithful, gentle, or self-controlled.

Before we go on to talk about the solution, let’s recognize that things get worse as we read further:

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

John 12:9-11 (NLT)

The leading priests were supposed to be the cream of the crop, the ones who set the best example of what it looks like to be faithful to God. Yet from them we learn that not only does devotion to good religion not automatically fix bad character,

Devotion to good religion does not automatically fix bad thinking.

John Stonestreet often says, “bad ideas have bad consequences.” We see that played out here. The priests have the wrong idea about how to express their faith, and they have the wrong idea about who Jesus is. From these bad ideas spring their desire to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

You might have expected the chief priests to treat the raising of Lazarus as a wake up call, to start rethinking their view of Jesus, to start listening to the teaching of Jesus. Their thinking went unchanged.

We can become destructive when we stick with bad thinking. That can be true when we are new to Christianity, failing to rethink areas of our lives that Christ shines a new light on. It can also be true for those of us who have been Christians for a long time. Our devotion to Christianity does not automatically fix our bad thinking.

Are we like Judas and the chief priests, or like Mary?

Mary’s generous character as demonstrated with the “waste” of perfume stands in contrast to the greed of Judas. Mary’s right thinking about Jesus, knowing that Jesus is worthy of an extreme act of devotion, stands in contrast with leading priests who want him dead.

So what’s the fix?

If devotion to Christianity does not automatically fix bad character or bad thinking, what will?

Jesus tells us:

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.

Matthew 7:24-29 (NLT)

Our character and ideas mature as we build upon Jesus.

It begins with being intentional. Builders choose to build. They also choose where to build. We can be intentional in our desire to build our lives on the teaching and example of Jesus.

This is different than saying we choose to build on our particular expression of the Christian faith. While most Christian traditions attempt to get the thinking right, there is no guarantee that they do. We want to keep going back to Jesus. We don’t want to let someone else dictate all the ideas to us. That happens in cults. Controlling people’s behaviour and thinking does not guarantee good character or good thinking. Helping people walk with Jesus and focus on Jesus ensures that we will at least be growing in both.

The builders choose to build, but at some point they need to grab the needed tools and get to work. The intention to build is not enough, there also needs to be action. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise.”

My wife and I decided sometime ago that we wanted to live a more healthy kind of lifestyle. Gluttony is the one sin we pastors can get away with. Good intentions for a healthier lifestyle needed to become actions, like walking past the snack cupboard, and lacing up the running shoes. Nike’s tagline of “Just Do It” is a brilliant tagline for a running shoe. It is also good advice to us as Christians, to get actively involved in our relationship with God.


Good intentions are not enough!

Though exercise has always been something I’ve dreaded, by just getting to it I have gone from “I have to get some exercise” to “I get to workout this morning.” We can go from saying “I have got to become a person of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” to saying “I get to become a person growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (See Galatians 5:22-23). We can go from saying “I’ve got to read my Bible more, and pray more,” to saying “I get to have my mind renewed and challenged by thinking through Scripture, I get to live life in the presence of God.”

Jesus himself models good intention and follow through by his intention to express love in the face of hatred. That good intention became action in his deliberate journey to the cross. When Mary poured out the perfume on Jesus, she unwittingly pointed out where that journey Jesus had chosen led; to his death, the full expression of God’s love. “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.”

If Judas had listened to Jesus, rethinking life and putting his words into practice, then the kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane would have been one of true friendship and not betrayal. If the chief priests had listened to Jesus, rethinking life and putting his words into practice, then they would have welcomed him into Jerusalem as king and friend, and not as a fraud and enemy.

The cross is a reminder of what happens when bad character meets bad ideas. God came to us in Jesus and we killed him. When the bad character of Judas met up with the bad thinking of the leading priests, the execution of Jesus became a real possibility.

The cross is also a reminder of what happens when good character meets good ideas. Though God came to us in Jesus and we killed him, God loved us anyway. As we pick up our cross and follow in that way of love we will be changed, both in our character, and in our thinking.


April 4, 2022

The Time God’s People Stopped Trusting

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Some of you, who know the Bible’s first testament well are reading the title and saying, “You mean there was just one time?” And they are right, it wasn’t a single occurrence…

Today we’re back with Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. Clicking the header below gets you the opportunity to read this at her site.

If you’re not familiar with the story of “The Twelve Spies” click here to read the account in Deuteronomy 1.

Assuming the Worst

“The Lord must hate us. That’s why he has brought us here from Egypt—to hand us over to the Amorites to be slaughtered.”
Deuteronomy 1:27

The twelve leaders had returned from scouting the promise land. Two of them raved about the beautiful land, saying it was indeed everything God had been promising, and they encouraged the community to press forward and claim the land that had been promised to them!

But the other ten didn’t see that. All they saw were obstacles and enemies. They incited fear and rebellion, causing the nation to cry out, “The Lord must hate us! That’s why he has brought us here from Egypt — to hand us over to the Amorites to be slaughtered.”

Do you see what’s going on here? Instead of hearing the good news that the land ahead of them was everything God had been promising them, they believed the worst.

As I’ve said before, I’m on a journey of reading through the Bible in chronological order, with the help of The Bible Recap as a resource and a guide. I’ve now read Genesis, Job, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. And through these books I’ve gotten to see a lot of God’s character. And this is specifically why the verse I’m talking about today struck a chord with me. Because of all I’ve seen in these five books so far, God isn’t out to get us. He doesn’t play with us like toys. He doesn’t create these complex evil schemes to destroy us.

So to see the Israelites claim “The Lord must hate us!”…it simply stopped me in my tracks.

God didn’t hate them. In fact, he felt the very opposite and had done nothing but act in that manor. Yet all they could see was their own fear. And all they could do was act out of that fear.

Had they learned nothing since Egypt?

…Have I?

This is where the rubber meets the road. Because as soon as I was surprised by their reaction, I was convicted of my own reactions to the way God works.

God doesn’t hand a good life to us in a pretty basket. And what he was asking of the Israelites wasn’t pretty or easy either. He told them, in a matter of words, Before you is the land I have set aside for you. But you must go in and drive out those who live there now. You must go to war with them and destroy themeven though they are more numerous and stronger than you.

But he also said, in a manner of words, I will go with you and I will give you victory.

But they didn’t believe his promise of victory. Even though they had witnessed miracle after miracle after miracle, they still doubted his power. They still doubted that he cared for them.

I don’t think we need to see more miracles. I think we need to trust him. Clearly, miracles alone won’t keep us close to God. And I think the reason may be that we beg God for a miracle in times of desperation and agony, but as soon as we are satisfied we no longer need him.

It’s time to take a leap of faith and trust God. Time to cultivate a relationship with him that continues through the good and the bad. One that never ceases to acknowledge him and ask him for daily wisdom and guidance. For confidence and courage!

If we live one desperate moment to the next, we’ll only see the trials. We will assume that God has evil planned for us. But if we live in reverence we’ll see that he actually has a master plan at work that has a long term vision that reaches far past today.

He is worthy of our trust. He is trustworthy.

I dare you, as I’m daring myself, to assume the best. God is for you, not against you. Submit to his ways, his timing, his plans. And when he say go, go! When he says stay, stay. And when he sends you out against a foe that is bigger and stronger than you, march in confidence.

God doesn’t need to prove himself to us. But we need to prove to him that we can take orders and trust his word. And if we can do that, we will look back and see provision after provision, miracle after miracle, and a depth of relationship that will last into eternity.

 

March 27, 2022

Looking Evil in the Eye

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In always looking for authors to highlight here, we have a special treat for you today. Ben Foley is the International President of Serve Now. (Their logo reads, “Serve Now, Procrastinate Later.”) He is the author of several editions of their “The Basics” series (discipleship guides), and has been posting at Ben Foley: Whispers of God, Echoes of Eternity (aka BenFoley.com) since 2012.

Click the header which follows to read today’s devotional at its source.

The Problem of Evil

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.  – Isaiah 53:4-5

As we approach the Easter season, my thoughts are directed towards the problem of evil in a new way. The issue of evil is humanity’s age-old problem, and even the greatest saints in Scripture and throughout history have wrestled over it.

The dilemma is this: If God is God, then he is all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful. How then do those three realities reconcile with the reality of evil? What do we do with the horrors we see unfolding in Ukraine, for example, this year? I just wrote an entirely new chapter on “The Problem of Evil” that I hadn’t planned to write for my third book due at the end of 2022 with the working title as: Navigating Disappointment: Finding Healing in a Broken World.

But it’s not just Ukraine. As I am writing more fully about in this new chapter to my new book, my work around the world with ServeNow sees and faces evil head-on in many countries.

When the war started in Ukraine, I was in Nigeria meeting with former Muslim women who were divorced and threatened to be killed by their husbands due to coming to faith in Christ. When the war in Ukraine escalated to an actual nightmare reality, I was in Ethiopia discussing plans to serve those affected by the conflict, drought, and famine there.

And then what about the refugees we serve in Uganda from the Sudanese conflict, many of whom have lost family members, friends, colleagues, and homes in brutal ways there? How about immigrants at the US/Mexico border forced to flee due to crime, violence, corruption, and gangs threatening to kill them and their children if they don’t leave? They face a harrowing journey to the border only to endure an outdated immigration process. In many cases, they are often discriminated against and accused of things they are fleeing from themselves. Or what about the Yazidi people in Iraq whom ISIS terrorized and traumatized for years, only to now feel forgotten and forsaken by the world?

Friends, evil is real, and it affects us all. Yes, some more brutally than others. But it is at work even in more so-called civilized, advanced, progressive, prosperous, democratic, educated, and wealthy nations. We may read about terrible things happening around the world or in history. We may see images and videos on the news of evil causing suffering in other countries worldwide. But at least in much of the so-called civilized or Western world, it remains as something we see perhaps “out there” but not touching us as brutally personal as it does for many worldwide.

I am not trying to put fear in anyone’s hearts or lives in writing this, but evil takes many forms, some more subtle and insidious than others. And we are not nearly as sheltered as we might imagine ourselves to be. Evil is at work underneath the surface and appearance of civility of even the most advanced, prosperous, and educated nations.

Think of abortions performed privately inside modern health clinics. Think of dangerous disinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news propagated throughout media outlets leading to broken relationships, division, and even violence. Or how about dangerous lies taught throughout various places of education leading young people astray into philosophies contrary to God’s truth and word? Then there are politicians stoking our most primitive fears and tribalistic identities for profit and promotion. There are those whose minds become so twisted that they go on shooting sprees in any context, from malls to schools, to churches.

I believe there are four things we must do when it comes to evil. Those four things are we must acknowledge the reality of evil, face the reality of evil head-on, process and pray through evil, and enter the suffering of others with silent presence. Allow me to elaborate further.

First, we cannot afford to ignore the reality that evil is ever-present, whether lurking in the shadows waiting to strike or out in the open in brutal and barbaric ways. We must acknowledge it is real. It is an infectious disease with no country, place, or person immune to its horrible ravages. Trying to ignore, downplay, dismiss, or deny the reality of pure evil is folly that goes against all human history and even modern reality. To confront evil, we must first acknowledge the existence of evil.

Second, we must face evil head-on. I am not talking about seeking out evil. Evil will find and touch us all in some way, shape, or form. This is where I find great comfort in the cross and Christ himself. Jesus did not shy away from evil. Jesus faced evil head-on.

Not only did Jesus face evil head-on, but prophecy stated he would crush the head of the serpent behind all evil. We find a Savior who faced evil head-on verse distancing himself from it at the cross. Though innocent of evil, he felt the full force of evil at his crucifixion. At the cross, evil pounded away at Jesus. From the flogging he endured before the cross, to the nails piercing his flesh, to the taunts and cruel hatred of sinful men, to the injustice and abuse he suffered, to the total weight of sin upon his shoulders, Jesus did not back down or away from evil. He faced evil’s whole brunt force trauma, and he gave his life doing so.

I identify with this kind of Savior. I don’t know about you, but there is no single true hero I can think of, nor a person I respect, who hasn’t endured or stared down evil face to face. The most gripping stories, powerful movies, or inspiring people are those who face evil verse hiding from it. And if we are going to make any difference in this world, we can’t hide from it either.

I love this time of the year as we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. The cross, burial, and resurrection are the crux of our faith as followers of Jesus. They are also the only true balm of healing and salvation. The events of Easter are where love, mercy, grace, judgment, evil, suffering, sin, shame, victory, redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation are seen most clearly. But all these great truths and problems require first acknowledging the reality of evil in the world and facing it head-on in our own lives and around the world.

Third, we must process and pray through evil. Acknowledging the reality of evil is one thing. Facing the existence of evil another. But processing and praying through evil is yet another level. I suppose we could stoically acknowledge and face evil straight on. And sometimes, that stoic stubbornness may be necessary to survive actual encounters with evil in the moment. But there also comes a time when the evil we see, experience, and endure must be processed and prayed through to find healing in this broken world.

Here again, I find great comfort in Scripture along these lines of processing and praying through the reality of evil. In Jesus, I see a Savior who is real and relatable. In Scripture, I find prayers and laments that are honest and raw. Take a moment and read Psalm 10 and Psalm 58.

These types of prayers have a fancy theological term for them. Scholars refer to these prayers as “Imprecatory prayers.” They are prayers invoking the Name of God to put an end to evil rulers, thus stopping the suffering of his people. They are found throughout Scripture, and I believe should be found on the lips of God’s people when they see evil at work in the world today. Yes, we need to guard our hearts against hatred, revenge, and unforgiveness. But I also believe if we care about others, we need to pray with passion and conviction for God to break the power of those who have become vessels of evil and wickedness on the earth.

Fourth, we must enter the suffering of others with a silent presence. What does this mean? When this war in Ukraine broke out, I felt at a total loss of words to share any meaning or comfort to our friends in Ukraine. What could one say that would ease their suffering? Every truth and promise of Scripture seemed insufficient, possibly even cruel if misheard or spoken at the wrong time. Remember Job’s friends? We give them a hard time for adding to Job’s suffering with their attempt to form the perfect theological reason for Job’s calamity. But at first, they do what perhaps they should have just kept doing a bit longer. They enter Job’s suffering and sit silently with him in his grief for seven days.

I have a theory. The most comforting thing you can do for someone suffering is sit with them in their suffering and be silent. Often, in a sincere desire to ease others’ suffering, we feel compelled to say something spiritual or scriptural. But what if the most spiritual and scriptural thing we can do is say nothing but enter sharing in the grief of others suffering? What if people need our presence and not our preaching or reminders of God’s promises, at least for a time?

In my book Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World, I noted that we need to not mistake God’s silence for God’s absence. I genuinely believe God seems silent sometimes in suffering, not because he doesn’t care, but because he cares so much that he knows silence is what we most need in those moments. It’s not words that are always required. It’s presence. And God’s silence is not evidence of his absence. God’s silence may indeed be the very proof of his presence with us.

I know it takes every ounce of energy to be silent and sit with someone in their suffering. It’s easier to say or try to do something. But perhaps the deepest form of engagement for those in the depths of suffering from the reality of evil is to restrain ourselves from speaking or doing something to ease our own or others discomfort. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give others is to be with and walk with those bearing the brunt of the evil that is at work and reality in this fallen world. The problem of evil touches us all. However, the presence of God is also available to all as we face evil head-on.

As we approach this Easter Season, let’s acknowledge the reality of evil. Let’s face the reality of evil head-on. Let’s process and pray through the existence of evil. Let’s faithfully and silently walk with others touched by evil. But most of all, let’s remember we worship and serve a Savior who has done these four things perfectly and fully for all of us. He did not ignore evil. He faced it head-on. He processed and prayed through evil. And he faithfully, often silently, walks with us through even the valley of the shadow of evil.


If you would like to give towards ServeNow’s efforts in alleviating the suffering of others due to evil worldwide, including war relief efforts in Ukraine, click here: ServeNow.

March 25, 2022

Chasing Achieving the Wrong Things

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.7.21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

CSB.Mark.6.36 For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life?

Today we have a new author’s writing to highlight. Rachel doesn’t have an “about” page so far, but her blog, In Rachel’s Words is very well-written. In this devotional she talks about the secondary doctrines that often block our focus from the things that matter.

Clicking the header which follows will take you to read this directly where we found it, and then check out some of her other writing.

Does It Matter?

Does “X” Matter?

I had a conversation with a friend, and I said, “X doesn’t really matter. It’s not a requirement for salvation.” I don’t know if offended her when I said that, and at the same time, I wasn’t sure I should have made that statement. “X” is something that really matters to a lot of people. It’s something that matters to me.

What “X” represents in the statement above is not critical for this dialogue. In fact, you can insert whatever it is that you value most in this life as the substitute for “X.” The only substitute you cannot use is God (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ) because that would be heresy.

So, “X” could be not being poor, never getting sick with a life-altering disease, starting your own business, having a good education, buying a house, having a family, or traveling to as many countries as possible.

Do these things matter? Certainly. Arguably, we might say some of these things matter more than the others. But, what if none of these is greater than the other? What if none of these things matters the most?

I am not confident that it ultimately matters that we are able to achieve or receive what we most value in life, whether it be not to be poor, to be self-sufficient, or have the most epic family. I think what matters is what we did with the life that we were given.

For example, you have a life in which you were born into poverty, and for whatever reason(s), you were unable to escape poverty, your socioeconomic status is not held against you when you stand before the Judgement Seat. What really matters is what you did with the life you had.

Will the Lord say He knows you (Matthew 7:21–23)? That’s what matters.

The answer to that question depends on what you did with the life He selected for you. You can’t pick the family you are born into, nor do you have authority over a lot of other things that do or do not happen to you. But, you can control how you respond to and navigate the life that you have.

How did you treat the other people the Lord placed in your life? How did you treat your spouse and your kids? How did you treat your siblings and your parents? Were you a witness in your spheres of influence? Did you stand for what was true and right when no one else did? Did you suffer for Christ? Did you lay down your life and follow Him (John 13:8)? Was your life a testimony?

Did you say, “Not my will, but your will be done?” (Luke 22:42).

Or, did you go out into the world, dissatisfied with the life you have and manipulate people and finagle situations to get what you want? Did your lack of “X,” even if it severely impacts your quality of life, such as having a terrible cancer, transform you into someone bitter and ungrateful and hateful? I think that attitude of dissatisfaction, disgust and hate for what Lord intended, and/or intentional manipulation of life to get what you want matter far more than “X.”

How did you spend the life you have? How did you use what the Lord has given you—even if it’s difficult or not what you want—for His glory?

What is the point of achieving “X” if, in some cases, you gain the world and lose your soul (Mark 8:36)? One day, both the world and you and “X” will disappear, and only one thing will matter.

Did He know you?


Second Helping: By the same author, here’s a piece where although she didn’t actually use the word, “Deconstruction,” it’s a word making the rounds currently in many of our church discussions, and the first thing I thought of while reading. Check out Demolition or Renovation?.

March 20, 2022

Putting God Back Into Everything Church-Related

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
– Colossians 4:5-6 NIV

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
– Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT

 

I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here.  No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way.  Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting is a good example of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities?  What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mailout and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if the church bulletin had teaching or devotional value, not just announcements, to the point where people wanted to hang on to them beyond a single week?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.

Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse.    At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to break in, but I couldn’t find an opening.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today.  ‘I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program.’

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us.  But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen.  And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things  outside of church.   We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives.  Nah. That’s way too radical.

Years ago (13 to be exact) our friend Kathy put this on her blog:

I’m reminded of a little church my sister and I visited in the UK, in 2007. St. Leonard’s in Speeton, Yorkshire dates back at least the the 12th century, maybe even further.  It’s the tiniest church I’ve ever seen — surely couldn’t hold more than 50 people — set on the outskirts of the village. It was lovely to sit in its pews and meditate for a while; so quiet and peaceful.

But what struck me the most was the sign on the door:

Don’t you think this sign should be on every church door?

Those routine church events — from cleanup days to business meeting — have a holy, supernatural potential; and we should participate with the expectation of seeing amazing things take place.

 

March 18, 2022

When You’re in the Middle of the Mess

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Last year at this time we introduced you to Melissa Neeb who lives in Minnesota in the U.S. and has written for a variety of publications and has also done wildlife photography. Her blog is Faith in the Mess. You’re encouraged to read more of her writing by clicking the header below to read this one, and then looking around when you’re done.

Who Am I in the Mess?

When things get messy, as they so very often do, who am I?

What are my defense mechanisms?

What do I tend to do?

Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly.

Do I yell or swear? Cry? Run? Avoid? Shut down? Lash out? Dive into a bad habit such as drinking more or over-eating? Spend money recklessly? Sleep all day?

Do I take it out on those around me?

Recognizing these tendencies is the path to growth. The path to change. The path to healing.

My response to stress, confrontation, or pain is flight. I will try to get away from it as fast as I can. I will avoid and hide.

Knowing this about myself doesn’t make it easier to make a different choice in those difficult life situations. It is hard, brutally so, to swim against my natural current and face the situation head on.

It is a weakness of mine.

It doesn’t matter what your defense mechanism is–what negative response you have.

We have a God who says that His power is made perfect in our weakness.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthian 9-10

So who are you in the mess?

When a loved one dies.

When you’re in a decades-long argument with your spouse.

When your child needs a mental health diagnosis.

When a pet gets sick.

When you are waiting for test results.

When you lose a job.

When you’re flat broke and don’t know where the next mortgage payment is going to come from.

When your best friend moves away.

When someone lies about you to others.

When a pandemic hits.

When you are having a panic attack.

When the dishwasher breaks.

When your car won’t start.

When your heart is broken.

When you are in severe emotional or physical pain.

Who are you?

We all have things–moments, heartache, crises–that bring us to our knees. To be human is to suffer. We cannot escape it, no matter how hard we try. But we have a way through.

God’s powerful, life-changing comfort is waiting. His arms are wide open.

He says that His power is made perfect in our weakness.

He turns us around. He changes our hearts and moves mountains in our minds.

Our weakness doesn’t limit God. It proves His might and His perfect timing!

God is doing a thing in you. Let Him work.

Let Him soften your anger and flood you with His forgiveness, so that you can be a vessel of those things for someone else.

In the middle of the mess, little or big, we need to go to Him.

His grace is sufficient for me.

And it is deep and long and wide enough to cover you, too.

March 15, 2022

Thoughts for 3:16 Day

Wednesday is “3:16 Day.” I could have waited to post this, but as we post in the afternoon, I thought I’d release this the day before. The reference is to one of the Bible’s most quoted verses. The day’s revival this year is because a publishing company saw a tie-in with the re-release of the book of the same name by Max Lucado.

That usually makes me skeptical, but apparently an earlier iteration of the day also had its roots in a marketing program. The press release from Faith Gateway states,

The origin of the celebration is unknown, but some media outlets trace it as far back to 2011 when a K-LOVE radio station listener suggested that the day, March 16, should be “John 3:16 Day,” in honor of the biblical verse that affirms the hope we have because of Jesus.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that their motivation was to draw attention to the verse in a cultural moment where Christianity and the Bible have to fight harder to be heard.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (NIV)

So join us on a tour of past John 3:16 references here at C201.

Clarke Dixon writes,

If God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for it, then it is reasonable that He will make sure the record of that loving act is trustworthy. If God has gone to such extraordinary lengths for us through Jesus, we should expect him to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure we have a valid record of what He has done, and what it means.

This echoed something Clarke wrote a year earlier,

Because God so loved the world that he would come to it in Jesus, it is reasonable to expect that he also so loves the world that he is not going to let the record of his love be false or lost.

Quoting GotQuestions.org, a year ago, we noted,

The Bible is clear that God pardons sin by His grace based on Christ’s work on the cross alone, not on man’s actions. Our right standing before Him is established on one thing only—the finished work of Christ,

Quoting an unnamed author at Theist Thug Life (that’s the title) we’re reminded,

While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel.

Ron Harris is, like Clarke Dixon, someone who lives locally to me in Canada. In a book excerpt he expands this further, writing,

I would like to amplify the word “world” to include; “every living person ever been born or even aborted; every weak, suffering, sickly soul, every Down’s Syndrome person, every child with cleft lip, every person regardless of age that is abandoned, abused, beaten, sexually or verbally assaulted and every soul ravaged by sin or tormented by Satan. Despite all of this, God still sees something in us because we were created in His image.

Morgan Murphy said something similar in 2015, emphasizing,

I believe that our God is global. John 3:16 says that God so loved this world. It does not say that God so loved the United States of America. We tend to be really ethnocentric, but the love Jesus has for all of us transcends any and all borders. It reminds me of the children’s Bible song that says red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…it really is true. I am aware that there are people in America that need help. There are people in our own backyards that need Jesus, and we should treat these people no different than Haitians or Ugandans or Indians or whoever. We can’t get so caught up in the ethnicity or geographical location that we neglect the status of the heart or knowledge of the Gospel.

Back in 2015, Clarke Dixon restated this in the light of the Bible’s concluding book, Revelation. He wrote,

…There is the entire trajectory of the New Testament, where Jesus dies not just for the Jew; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); where the Holy Spirit is given to people from any background; where looking forward “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) One cannot read the entire Bible without getting the impression that God’s love stretches far and wide.

Before you dismiss inclusion as self-evident, or feel it’s being over-emphasized today, consider these words from the NIV Application Commentary which notes:

Judaism rarely (or never) spoke of God’s loving the world outside of Israel. God desires to reach this world through Israel, his child. It is a uniquely Christian idea to say that God’s love extends beyond the limits of race and nation.

In 2018, Clarke reminded us that as wide-reaching as this salvation offer is, not everyone opts in. He says,

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The same year, an excerpt from Billy Graham fills in the context of the Bible’s famous verse, which was a late-night conversation I sometimes label “Nick at Night.” Graham wrote,

This was a lot for Nicodemus to take in. Imagine what must have been going through his mind when he heard Jesus say,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

The Bible does not record what happened after their meeting; and if the Book of John ended there, we might not know what became of Nicodemus. But John 7 tells of a debate that later arose among the Jewish leaders about Jesus, for He had told them also that He was going away, and “where I am you cannot come” (John 7:33-34). Jesus knew the chief priests were planning to seize Him, but He spoke of returning to His heavenly home. Then the Pharisees asked one another if any of them believed Jesus, and Scripture says that Nicodemus spoke up for Him (John 7:47-51). Jesus’ words had illuminated Nicodemus’ darkened heart.

Dennis from Luke252 made the application very personal, stating,

John 3:16 teaches us that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for me! When I live a lukewarm lifestyle, it hurts Him when I only want part of what He sent His Son to die for.

Indeed what does it truly mean to believe? Russell Young, who wrote for us here for several years dug into this in 2016, explaining,

Since “belief” is the means of gaining everlasting life one should be sure of its meaning.  “Believe” is translated from the Greek pisteuo which is defined as “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by implication, to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well-being to Christ): -believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #4100)

Belief in the context of salvation goes beyond understanding that something is true; it means that one has sufficient faith in Christ or is sufficiently persuaded concerning the being and mission of Christ that he is willing to entrust his well-being to the Lord.  One’s conception of “belief” should not be limited to the understanding that his well-being can be assured by absenting himself of all responsibility for it by allowing Christ to do all that is necessary.  He cannot abrogate his obligations unless the Lord has allowed him to do so, and He hasn’t.  The writer of Hebrews has recorded that eternal salvation comes through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) “Belief” means accepting the Lord’s teachings in the gospel with the commitment to honouring them with his total being…all his mind, soul, and heart. (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)

As early as 2015, Steven and Brooksyne Weber were discussing the “red-letter” status of the verse, which is an ongoing discussion today regarding the need for Bibles with this feature. They said,

The understandable grandeur of John 3:16 may tend to diminish the rich, instructive material that follows. Bible students differ as to whether John 3:16-21 are the words of Jesus following His discourse with Nicodemus or whether these are the interpretive words of John when he wrote his gospel late in the 1st century. Either way they are God’s inspired Word!

It’s also important to state that despite all the common ground we have with this passage, our churches do vary in their expression of its truth. As early as 2013 I was writing,

Despite the familiarity of John 3:16 and the partial familiarity of successive verses, the concepts are not as easily processed as might first seem. Great doctrinal distinctions and differences exist from denomination to denomination over God’s over-arching love for us versus God’s justice and judgment. Ultimately, you can’t get close to this truth from the text or commentaries; you have to pause, think these things through and work them out in your own heart and mind. That’s why we’re told to meditate on scripture; I personally like the idea that we need to chew on it. Getting to know and understand the ways of God can take a lifetime.

Finally, here’s The Message rendering of the passage:

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16,17, MSG).

Enjoy 3:16 Day and share it with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 10, 2022

Your Greatest Temptation?

Thinking Through Luke 4:1-13

What is your greatest temptation? Perhaps you are thinking of things like speeding, shopping, snacking, or something to do with sex, but I imagine no one has thought of turning a stone into a loaf of bread, or one of the other two temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. While the temptations Jesus faced may seem far removed from the temptations we face, when we dig in we discover that there is really one temptation here, one very subtle and dangerous temptation, one that we all face yet never think about. The fact that we never think of it makes it all the more dangerous.

So what is that one temptation that Jesus faced? What do the temptations of turning stones into bread, gaining all the kingdoms of the world, and expecting rescue from harm have in common? Each of these would take Jesus off the path of suffering, away from his calling. If Satan had said just one thing it would be “If you are the Son of God, then you don’t need to suffer.”

This is the same temptation Jesus faced later:

Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.
Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Mark 8:31-33 (NLT)

Jesus called Peter “Satan,” for he was saying the same thing Satan had said earlier. You don’t need to suffer, Jesus.

Jesus faced this same temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane on the morning of his execution:

He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Mark 14:35-36 (NLT)

Everything was possible, including the avoidance of suffering and death. Jesus could have called ten thousand angels in a rescue operation and so avoid execution. He could have turned that stone into bread, he could have become the king of all the world by brute force, he could have avoided all harm. Jesus was tempted to exploit the fact he was God the Son, God with us. He did the exact opposite:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV emphasis added)

The greatest temptation Jesus faced was to not offer forgiveness, to not take the way of the cross, to not take the path of suffering for the sake of love. It all comes back to the temptation to not love.

Love is often at the root of other temptations.

We can think of Adam and Eve when they were tempted to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Did they fall because the fruit was so tempting, or because the promise of knowledge was so tempting, or was it because their love relationship with God was not that great? They were tempted by Satan, not just to eat fruit, but to stop loving God.

We can think of Cain and Abel when Cain succumbed to the temptation to kill his brother. Did Cain kill his brother because that was oh so tempting, or because there was a failure in their love relationship? Cain didn’t just kill his brother. Cain failed to love his brother.

Though the ten commandments had not yet been given, Cain ought not to have committed violence against his brother because Abel was created in the image of God. Just as important, Cain ought not to have committed violence against his brother because Cain was created in the image of God. Cain’s failure was not the breaking of a rule so much as it was a failure to live up to what it means to be created in the image of God. Being created in the image of God means many things, like being creative for example. But since God is love, it also means being created with the capacity, and the impulse to love. Cain fell short of living up to that image.

Humanity sunk to its worst failure in living up to the image of God when God came to us, in Jesus, and we killed him. Our failure was not just in breaking the commandment, “thou shalt not murder.” We failed to love God, miserably so. God loved us anyway and offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and relationship. God is love indeed!

We see a failure of love being played in our day. Shouldn’t “love your neighbour” also apply to nations? Where is Russia’s love for Ukraine? Where is Vladimir’s Putin’s love even for his own troops, his own people? How many Russians are losing their lives? How many Russians are losing their loved ones? Given the worldwide repercussions, how many people are now being impacted negatively by the failure of a few, to love? Before there was a temptation to pick up the sword against the Ukrainians, there was the temptation to not pick up the cross and follow Jesus.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Mark 8:34 (NRSV)

The greatest temptation we face is to not love, to not pick up the cross and follow Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of love.

Temptations often begin with the temptation to not love. The temptation to drink too much or eat too much can begin with a lack of self-love. Adultery begins, not with attraction, but with a failure of love. Gossip begins, not with words, but with a failure to love. Murder begins, not with the pulling of a trigger or the picking up of a sword, but with a failure to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus in the way of love.

One definition of sin is “missing the mark.” If we were to have a confessional and I were to ask how you missed the mark this week, you might give me a list of rules you have broken. Yet we miss the mark most when we miss reflecting the image of God. We miss reflecting the image of God most when we fail to love. You can keep all the rules really well yet completely miss the mark, miss reflecting the image of God. The religious leaders did this when, though being such sticklers for the rules, they missed the mark and engineered the execution of Jesus.

Jesus did not miss the mark. Jesus chose the cross when the temptation was to pick up a sword instead. We are loved. We are helped in growing into the image of God. The first fruit listed in the fruit of the Spirit is love. That is no accident!

You will be tempted this week, to not love someone, to stop loving someone. Let us seek God’s help in loving others, especially if the person we are to love has treated us like dirt. God is an expert on how to do that! Jesus is an expert in picking up the cross. Jesus is an expert in not succumbing to the greatest temptation we could ever face, the temptation to not love.


They’re still a “shrunken” version of weekly sermons, but Clarke Dixon’s blog — articles from which appear here most Thursdays — is now called Thinking Through Scripture.

March 8, 2022

The Debt Christians Owe to Atheists and Skeptical Critics

Today’s another one of those, “How did we not discover this writer earlier?” moments. Barton Jahn was at one time a competitive surfer in Southern California and knew almost nothing about Jesus. Today he’s the author of seven books on Christianity and 18 books about construction, and his blog is an interesting mix of construction and faith-focused posts. Some of his more recent posts are longer than what we run here, but this one, from two years ago, caught my eye when he approached apologetics from a different perspective. His blog is titled, The Cross in the Christian Life, and clicking the header which follows will take to this article from March, 2020.

Thoughts on Apologetics and Journeys of Faith 1

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentile, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”                                             (Jas. 3:17)

In the contemporary Christian apologetics debate…about the reasonableness of faith and the existence of God…the questions raised and the answers given in response…are both equally brilliant and well-articulated.  They represent the highest and the best of human thinking, knowledge, research, reasoning, and argumentation.

But the program of Christian apologetics…as brilliantly persuasive as it is…is partially the product of responses to criticisms and objections originating out of philosophical atheism over the past four to five-hundred years…coming up to current issues in today’s modern times…as we should expect.

The formulation of the systematic Christian apologetics argument has been partially reactive…ably constructed piece-by-piece in response to criticisms about the existence of God and the truthfulness of the Bible…criticisms originating naturally and historically from the atheist viewpoint out of the Scientific Revolution, the Doctrine of Progress stemming from the two Industrial Revolutions, and the enormous,  thought-provoking, beneficially progressive advances that have been made in the political, economic, social, and cultural structures of modern societies.

Modern Christians actually owe a debt of gratitude to atheists and skeptical critics of the Bible…in a counter-intuitive sort of way…like Joseph might owe a debt of gratitude in the big-picture graciousness of hindsight…toward his half-brothers selling him to slave-traders bound for Egypt…adverse starting circumstances which God then used to turn around the story originally meant for evil…into a brilliant new story shaped and channeled over time by God…into the life of Joseph the ruling governor of Egypt…for the highest good (Gen. 45:3-8).

Atheists and skeptical critics have raised the issues that have forced Christian theologians, Christian scholars, and Christian experts in other fields like science, philosophy, and history…over the past recent centuries…to focus and think hard about the credibility, reliability, and authority of the Bible and its message.

But the subtle problem here is that in the reactive mode…in the defensive position of responding to criticisms and objections raised by atheists and skeptics…the starting point of many of the issues debated within this context…land within what I call in this book the realm of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…confined within the large zone of normal human experience, inquiry, and investigative research…thereby limited by definition to the normalcy of worldly conventional thinking.

When placed on a vertical, graduated graph-line of goodness and light…these limited topics of inquiry and analysis coming from the zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…position themselves lower in elevation on the vertical graph-line of goodness and light…compared to the goodness and light entailed within the biblical narrative stories of faith.

The biblical narrative stories of faith actualize from God’s perspective the whole point of true religion: a personal, joint-venture relationship with Him…by definition a supernaturally composed and initiated relationshipby divine intention and rational necessity positioned higher-up on the graph-line continuum of goodness and light…above commonplace, everyday experiences of conventionally normal life.  

The biblical narrative stories of faith define the real truth about God.

The biblical narrative stories of faith distinguish and separate themselves from the human invented fertility faiths of ancient religious practices and rituals…named after the “gods” of the forces of nature that ancient people aimed to appease and to placate…in their precarious struggle for survival…in an attempt to understand and to control these mysterious and unpredictable natural forces that affected their material and economic destinies.

This is a fundamental area where the biblical narrative stories of faith differentiate themselves as having a divine origin from God-ward to humans…rather than man-invented from us-ward to God.

Because the biblical narrative stories of faith do not incorporate the materialistic goals and aspirations of the American Dream…ancient or modern…they distance themselves at the outset by the worldly unconventional concept of highly specific and detailed life-scripts that displace our ways with God’s higher ways and thoughts…transcending above the everyday concerns of survival and reproduction (Mt. 6:31-33).

This is the diametric opposite of petitioning and appealing to the deities of wind, rain, storms, and mountains for protection, stability, and fertility in farming, raising herds of cattle and sheep, and producing large families of sons and daughters.

The idea that the Canaanite goddess of fertility Astarte…known to the ancient Jews as Ashtoreth (1 Ki. 11:5), or Baal (Nu. 22:41)…chief of the fertility gods in ancient Canaan, or Marduk…chief god of the ancient Babylonian religion, or Diana of Ephesus (Acts 19:35) in the New Testament first-century…would live perfect moral lives to qualify themselves to be the atoning, substitutional sacrifice for the sins of mankind…and enter into a human body to accomplish this…is outside of human contemplation.

The biblical narrative stories of faith hit the center of the bulls-eye target of purpose and meaning in life…precisely because they radically cut-across-the-grain of the basic human motivation to appease the gods of nature for self-survival…through the control of the natural environment…storms, floods, agricultural crops, marauding beasts, birds, and insects, and invading armies of enemy peoples.

This is a timeless, universal motivation that fuels the attempt to appeal to and to appease the gods of the forces of nature…for our success and well-being.

That this same motivational drive permeates the modern Christian church should come as no great surprise.

Many people attend Christian churches today with the express purpose of petitioning the God of the Bible for His help in the very similar and common pursuit of the ancient religionists…to control their environment and secure stability in their lives.

This is evidenced in the modern phenomenon of the “prosperity gospel” of “name-it and claim-it” regarding materialistic covetousness…that has invaded Christendom in recent years…being a corruption of the commendable Protestant ethic of the virtue of hard-work in our chosen profession (1 Th. 4:11-12).

What this all tells me is that there is an unbridgeable gulf between human-invented fertility religions from us-ward toward God…aimed at securing our goals and aspirations according to self-sovereignty…crafted through ignorance and guesswork…in contrast to the biblical narrative stories of faith…clearly exhibiting the directional origin from God-ward to us…having the inconceivably unconventional trajectory of innovative life-scripts that displace our ways with the transcendent, higher ways and thoughts of God (Isa. 55:8-9).


As you may have guessed from the title, there’s more to this article.

March 6, 2022

Seasons in the Life of Christ, and in My Life

CSB.Gal.3.1. You irrational Galatians! Who put a spell on you? Jesus Christ was put on display as crucified before your eyes! I just want to know this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the Law or by believing what you heard? Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort? Did you experience so much for nothing? I wonder if it really was for nothing. So does the one providing you with the Spirit and working miracles among you do this by you doing the works of the Law or by you believing what you heard?

 

While reading some of the notes in the NIV Study Bible, I came across a section — nested in the middle of Matthew 25 — which classifies the ministry years of Jesus into three one year phases or periods.

  1. Year of Inauguration
  2. Year of Popularity
  3. Year of Opposition

In our culture, we might describe it differently

  1. Breakout Year — Jesus is a new star on the horizon, up and coming; he’s trending on all media fronts; Pharisees start tracking him immediately though, with some concern.
  2. Jesus Goes Viral — Everywhere you go, someone is talking about him; popularity is at an all time high; if you have Bible software, just do a keyword search for “crowds.”
  3. Approval Rating Decline — Even close followers leave; the lighthearted teachings become ‘hard sayings’ and his sermon content talks about his death as though it’s something impending, and how we all need to ‘take up our cross.’

The section in the study Bible includes many key events, though it’s not a full harmony of events in Christ’s life; that follows later after John.

But as I read it, I couldn’t help think that for those of us who are Christ-followers, we follow him even in these phases. Our Christian lives begin full of the experience of grace, of sins forgiven;  full of zeal to tell others; and full of God’s purpose and plan in our lives finally crystalizing. We meet new people, learn new songs, and divest ourselves of a way of life that was heading to destruction.

But then as we settle in, we discover that following Christ is both easy — “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” — and challenging — Jesus talks about leaving possessions and family — at the same time.

Stuart Briscoe summed this up a little differently once in a little booklet, This is Exciting. It’s since been re-written as The Impossible Christian Life. His stages were:

  1. This is Exciting
  2. This is Difficult
  3. This is Impossible

But then he experiences a rejuvenation and enters a 4th stage,

       4.  This is Exciting

I would take this one step further and suggest that we experience ministry stages like this even on the micro level. For example, my sons both work in the summer at the Christian camp where my wife and I met. It’s a nine week commitment, that I would suggest divides into three week sections:

  1. Early weeks: Everyone is full of energy and spiritually charged up from staff training week.  Huge learning curve for first time staffers.
  2. Middle weeks: Work assignments become routine and nights of missed sleep start to add up. This is optimal ministry time, but the drive of the early weeks is sometimes missing, and it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and miss the Holy Spirit’s direction. (Smart directors will insert a staff training ‘booster shot’ in here at some point.)
  3. Final weeks: A few don’t make it this far; those that do continue to serve but are starting to think about returning to school in the fall; some interpersonal relationships start to break down; people show their true colors during these final three weeks. If the summer at camp is a marathon, these are the final miles.

It’s also easy for God to seem distant in those final weeks, or in the final season of whatever ministry task or vocational position you’re currently serving. This is where what Paul talked about as “running with endurance” kicks in.

It’s also important not to miss that before Jesus experienced years of what we called “breakout success” and “going viral,” he had another season of ministry, the time in the desert. This connects with yesterday’s discussion of Jeremiah 29:11; a verse where we so often miss the 70 years of testing that precede the times of prosperity.

What ministry are you involved in right now, and at what phase or season are you in ministry life?

What about your personal spiritual life? Are you new in faith or a seasoned veteran of following Christ? How does where you are affect the energy you have or the challenges you seem to face?


Here’s a link to another devotional which was based on the same booklet by Stuart Briscoe and gives you more of the flavor of his presentation. Click here.


Apology to regular readers: Unwittingly, about a third of the content (the reference to Stuart Briscoe’s booklet) in today’s devotional also was used in another devotional about six weeks ago. So no, you’re not having a déjà vu, you really did read that recently. Maybe God is trying to tell us all something.

March 5, 2022

Carrying and Sharing the Light

After a break of several years, today we’re back with Canadian Presbyterian pastor Jeff Loach who writes at Passionately His, whose writing first appeared here in 2011. Clicking the header which follows will take you to that site, where you’ll also find video of sermons Jeff has recently preached.

Throwing and Flooding

I met with my spiritual director earlier this week, and she read this familiar verse from The Message, which always manages to take the familiar and make one think about it:

Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” – John 8.12

It was a really good reminder for me that though we live in a time of darkness, with the pandemic and all the divisions that have been created and underlined by it, Jesus still provides plenty of light to live in.

It can be easy to point fingers and take pot shots (especially on social media, where we can’t see the other).  This verse reminded me of the importance not of pointing out the deficiencies of one, but of flooding all we know with the light of Jesus.

Since getting interested in the world of everyday carry (EDC), I’ve learned more about things like flashlights than I ever thought I would need to, or care to learn.  Some flashlights are made to throw light a long distance.  These lights have a fairly narrow beam, but you can see a long distance with them.  Other flashlights are made to flood a smaller area: you can see a lot around you, but not for very far.

Let me encourage you, in this politically and socially challenging time, to flood the world with the light of Jesus.  Not everybody lives in his light; some do stumble around in the darkness.  But we can flood the world around us with the light of Jesus, prayerfully hoping that some will see that light and turn to him and live in that light.

We all long for a peaceful world, free of division and strife.  Jesus is the way to fulfill that longing, and he invites us to spread that light.  By flooding the world around us with his light, we will have a greater impact as we seek to share the One who is our peace.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us (Ephesians 2.14, NLT).


Because Jeff’s articles are shorter, here’s a bonus item for today.


The Alternative to Prayer in School

In a previous Encouragement From the Word, I recounted part of the story of Cassie Bernall, the student at Columbine High School who was killed for being a Christian, relating that to the reality of suffering and persecution among believers.  This elicited a heart-tugging response from a subscriber who was part of a tragic school shooting at one time.

This person told me how important a role prayer played in the aftermath, noting that “Amongst the sirens and the ambulances and the police, we gathered in small groups, holding hands and praying.  God was there giving comfort to us in our time of greatest need”, and that when the school reopened, a few days later, a prayer was offered over the PA system to bring comfort to the injured and the families of the victims.

Most schools today, at least where I live, don’t offer the option of public prayer.  And while I would welcome a call to restore school prayers, I fear that horse has left the barn, as the saying goes, and that nothing short of national revival is going to bring it back, especially in the political culture in which we find ourselves these days.

So what is the alternative?

Prayer at home.  (Now there’s a concept.)

Those students who gathered to pray amid the chaos in my interlocutor’s story must have had some foundation of prayer, both at home and in the church, to lead them to pray together.  It served them well to provide comfort in an unimaginable moment.

Too often, in our consumer culture, we depend on institutions to do work that more rightly belongs to the family.

We should not rely on the school system – even a Christian parochial school system, if that’s where our kids go – to teach them such foundational faith basics.

I dare say we should not even rely on the church to do this.  (Gasps come from the crowd.)

I think this is the responsibility of parents.  In fact, this is not my idea; it’s deeply rooted in the history of God’s people.  Consider that sharing the basics of faith has been considered a family mandate from as far back as the time of Moses:

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up (Deuteronomy 6.4-7, NLT).

Of course, parents themselves have to learn this, if they weren’t taught it by their own parents.  And that’s where the church comes in.  The church’s job is to equip parents to be used by God to shape their children as followers of Jesus.

Someone has said, tongue-in-cheek, that as long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in school.  But in an age of increasing persecution for followers of Jesus, all the more do children and young people need to be spiritually formed at home – including knowing how to communicate with God in a loving relationship – so that they can be strong in their faith, no matter what they face, in school or elsewhere.

It may not be bullets that they face (and so we earnestly pray!), but it may be words, which injure in different ways, or something else that comes with persecution.  As the church equips the parents to form the children, we will see great spiritual renewal among the people of God, which we need for the world in which we live today.

March 4, 2022

Don’t Opt for Power When You Can Choose Wisdom

This is our second time at the devotional page of Magnificent Life Ministries, a non-profit ministry in California, USA. Again, we’re presenting both parts of two related readings. Clicking the titles below will take you where these appeared earlier this week, and with the first part, there is an audio reading of the content from YouTube.

Power is Deceptive; Wisdom Brings Salvation!

Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and to insight, “You are my relative.” That they may keep you from the adulteress, from the stranger with seductive words.”` Proverbs 7:5

In life, power is often seen as a desirable thing. It can make people appear strong, important, and in control. However, this is a false sense of power. True power comes from wisdom, which brings salvation. Wisdom allows people to see the world for what it truly is and makes them understand the consequences of their actions. With wisdom, people can make decisions that will benefit themselves and others. Remember, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding comes with long life.” Job 12:12

From today’s Bible verse, the Holy Spirit led the author of this chapter to give us advice, especially to the young men who might be at risk of being enticed by the allure of a promiscuous woman amid moral decay. However, when the heart is filled with the love of God, the word of God, and what is good, it will be armed against the seductions of evil pleasure or whatever may entice the soul away from God. That’s why wisdom is represented as the word of God and should therefore be considered with great delight in one’s heart.

Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

Nothing has a greater tendency to keep us from all sins, from all fleshy lists, from the sin of uncleanness, and unnecessary errors of this age than Christ and his gospel. So an intimate acquaintance with them and retention of them will surely deliver you from all trouble. Therefore, not only are we to keep them or listen to them, but we are also to live by them as a code of conduct. That’s why Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Therefore, true power comes from wisdom, and applying that wisdom allows people to make wise decisions. It is only through Wisdom in Christ that people can find salvation. We must all work to obtain wisdom to become powerful people who can make a real difference in this world. Therefore, I encourage you, don’t be tempted and be carried away by the pleasures of this world. It is natural for people to be drawn to the things that will bring them little fun and forget the eternal damnation. However, there is Wisdom in Christ that can prevent us from making such mistakes in Jesus’ name. Amen. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Prayer
1. Holy Spirit, please help me not succumb to sinful temptations before realizing the consequences.
2. Dear Jesus, please saturate my heart with your love and wisdom.
3. Proverbs 3:13: Remain blessed as you find wisdom and understanding in Christ Jesus. Amen

Power is Deceptive; Wisdom Brings Salvation! Part 2

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10

Power is deceptive. It can make you think you’re invincible when in reality, it’s just a tool. Likewise, it can make people do things they would never consider doing otherwise. In the hands of the wrong person, it can be deadly. But wisdom brings salvation. With wisdom, people can use their power for good instead of evil. Wisdom allows them to see the real consequences of their actions and make the right decisions. That’s why Proverbs 14:8 says, “The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools deceives them.”

It is the wisdom of God that allows us to overcome the power of sin and death. The wisdom of God is greater than the wisdom of humankind. In the beginning, God created man and woman. He created them in His image (Genesis 1:26). However, when He realized that man and woman He created can abuse each other, God gave us the Ten Commandments. They are his way of protecting us from ourselves. In them, he forbids us to worship false gods, lie and steal, commit adultery and murder because He wants us to be peaceful with each other and not violent.

Romans 11:33 says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

That’s why God loves those who ask for wisdom instead of Power because God loves wisdom above power. He knows wisdom brings salvation, while power alone can lead to destruction. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” When we don’t have a wise heart, the devil can take advantage of us. Therefore, ask God to give you more wisdom instead of power. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6

The application of God’s wisdom help reduce evil. We can find peace and joy through God’s wisdom in our lives. It is a great blessing when we apply the wisdom of God in our lives instead of applying forces. Remember, power is deceptive. It often promises much but delivers little. Wisdom, on the other hand, is a great blessing. When we apply the wisdom of God in our lives instead of applying forces, we find true happiness and peace in Jesus’ name. Amen. Proverbs 16:16 says, How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.”

Prayer:
1. Oh Lord, grant me wisdom from above so that my heart can discern your will in Jesus’ name.
2. O Lord, arise and deliver me from this prison of ignorance now in Jesus’ name. Amen.
3. Luke 21:15: I pray, may the Lord give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict in Jesus’ name. Amen.


If you know someone who struggles with reading and would benefit from the YouTube podcasts from Magnificent Life Ministries, there is a wealth of choices on their MagLife’s Daily Devotional YouTube channel. They also produce content for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp.

 

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