Christianity 201

July 3, 2021

Called to Foreign and Fear-Filled Places

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we’re returning to Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital.  All his devotionals are also available on video, the one for today is at this link. Click the header which follows to read this at source.

Calming the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

For those of us who may be a little bit geographically challenged, the “other side” of Lake Galilee was the land of the Gerasenes which, roughly translated, means “over against Galilee.” This was Gentile territory, the land of the so-called “heathens.” It was the place where Jews did not want to travel. It was the place where “those kinds of people” lived. And so, I’m sure the disciples looked at Jesus a bit perplexed when he told them he desired to travel there.

But isn’t that like Jesus? He calls us to go to places that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. He calls us to leave behind the security and safety of the church and go out into a world filled with desperate people. A world that is in need of healing and hope. A world that has often felt rejected by the church and treated as “heathen territory.”

God’s people often hesitate to go to the other side, whether it’s a call to minister to the homeless, victims of domestic violence, the poor, those without the benefit of health care insurance, immigrants or the LGBT+ community. Typically, we like to surround ourselves with those who agree with us; those who look like us and think like us. We even select our newspapers and televisions stations based upon our beliefs and rarely consult those whom we view as being from the other side.

However, if I’ve learned one thing about Jesus in thirty-three years of ministry (Beside the fact that he passionately loves ALL his children), it’s the fact that Jesus rarely allows us to remain in places that are comfortable and secure. He often calls us to places that challenge us and help us to grow. He calls us to places that are out of our personal comfort zones. Because this is where he went while we has here on earth; smashing through barriers of culture, class, sex and race in order to transform everyone with the radical, inclusive love of God. And so, Jesus invites us to get into the boat and travel to the other side. We must make a decision as to whether or not we will accept his invitation.

The story continues: “And leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.” This is certainly an unusual detail in the story. Mark is the only gospel that contains the phrase “Other boats went with him.” To be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure why it is there. But I do know that it means we’re not alone. Others have also accepted Jesus’ invitation to cross over to the other side.

It has been my experience that some of these boats come from other Christian denominations, Some of whom believe very different things about God than we Lutherans do. But they have answered the call just as we have. Some of these boats bear names such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and the like. They, too, have answered the call to cross over to the other side. I’ve worked side by side with these “other boats.” We’ve entered the so-called “heathen territory” together and ministered to the most helpless and hopeless among us. I know this makes some Christians uncomfortable. They would like to be the only boat on the sea. But our gospel lesson tells us there are other boats. I’ll leave you to ponder the meaning of this unusual detail.

The story continues: “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Storms come in many forms. Some of them are the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Our nation has been experiencing a great windstorm” this past year as we’ve faced a global pandemic, political unrest and conversations regarding systemic racism. Storms have raged, and continue to rage, all around us. They rock the boats of our personal lives, our families and friends, our church, our community and our world. This reminds us that no one is safe from the storms of life. We will all experience times of smooth sailing, as well as times when the waves crash into our boats and threaten to sink us.

The story continues: “But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” It’s what I call the “Big God Question.” The “Big God Question” sounds something like this “God why are you punishing me?” “Jesus, why did you let this happen to me, to my family, to my church?”

We all ask the “Big God Question” from time to time. It’s human nature to do so. When the storms of life rage all around us, it’s natural to wonder where God is in the midst of our suffering, fear and loss. Our gospel implies that we are tempted to think Jesus doesn’t care about our plight. He’s asleep at the wheel, or in the stern of the boat, as the case may be!

During these times of fear and uncertainty it’s easy for us to try and blame God or blame someone else in the boat as the cause of the storm. I don’t know why this is the case. But it’s hard for us to accept the fact that storms are a part of life. They are unavoidable. Some of them result from us making bad decisions. Others have no great evil behind them. They are simply part of the cycle of life that goes between periods of calm and storm.

The story continues: “Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’”

The good news of our gospel lesson is that Jesus is NOT the cause of the storms that rage in our lives. Jesus is the one who is able to calm them. It has been my experience that the kind of calm Jesus offers us is not always smooth sailing and waveless seas. The kind of calm Jesus offers us is in here. In our hearts and minds and spirits. It is, as St. Paul calls it, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” It’s the kind of peace that recognizes we are in God’s capable hands no matter what kind of sea we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping in the midst of storm is not a sign of his indifference as the disciples indicated. Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping means he knew whether he survived the storm or not he was in God’s capable hands. Nothing, not even death, could change this truth. Therefore he slept, not as a sign of apathy; he slept because his heart and soul were resting peacefully in God’s hands. Nothing could alter this truth.

Now there is something to ponder! The challenge is for us to grow in our faith to the point where the storms of life don’t faze us in the least. This doesn’t mean we’ll never be fearful. It means we will remain confident that God is with us in the boat no matter how rough the seas get.

Jesus’ response to the disciples in our story is interesting. After they accuse him of being apathetic, he says to them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Some people may take this to mean that faith means WE have to be the strong ones. I think the opposite is true. Faith means we trust GOD to be the strong one in the midst of our fear and doubt.

You see, I don’t think Jesus was chastising the disciples because of their fear of the wind and waves. He was disappointed because of their lack of trust in him. They doubted his ability to protect them and see them through the storm. We’re not supposed to be the strong ones. We’re supposed to trust that God is the strong one. These two things are completely different. Which one we choose makes a BIG difference in how we understand the meaning of the story.

The kind of faith Jesus expects of us is beautifully defined by one of my all-time favorite authors, Frederich Buechner, who wrote the following about faith: “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

So, my dear friends, there is so much we can learn from our gospel lesson for today. There is much to think about, pray about and apply to our lives. It is my hope that today’s story will challenge us to have the kind of faith to get in the boat with Jesus and sail to wherever he wants us to sail. To have the kind of faith that trusts his guidance through calm seas and rough. May Jesus be the captain of our boat, both now and forever. AMEN

Copyright ©2020 by David Eck; used by permission


Bonus article: Here’s another by the same writer, Growing the Kingdom.


Related: Reading the first part of today’s devotional, where Jesus takes his ‘guys’ to a place they might have referred to avoid reminded me of a study we did last year on the “Jersualem, Judea and Samaria” passage in John, and how the reference to Samaria is less geographic and more symbolic: Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions.

September 7, 2020

For Those Needing Encouragement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A devotional website which has been a great inspiration to me, as well as the source of many articles here, is Daily Encouragement, written (and recorded on audio) weekdays by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber of Pennsylvania. Their devotional writing, combined with their workplace chaplaincy ministry is a full-time job.

Today’s post is in many respects a “signature” devotional, which covers the topic in their site’s name. I encourage you to click through and enjoy the flavor of what they post every day, including personal notes and video links. Click the title below to start.

Paying Encouragement Forward

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you” (2 Corinthians 7:6,7).

What a surprise blessing to be the recipient of someone “paying it forward”. The simplest way to define “pay it forward” is that when someone does something for you, instead of paying that person back directly, you pass it on to another person instead. An example is buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop and then they buy a coffee for the person behind them and so on (which really seems to me “paying it backward”).

Today let us consider “paying encouragement forward”.

I have on my heart today those who may be in need of encouragement. It may be a painful loss resulting in difficult major adjustments ahead such as those who recently experienced a very damaging hurricane in the Gulf Coast. It may be the sense of despair many feel as we see the crumbling conditions around us. It may be the loneliness so many of our seniors and others feel as this covid season goes on and on. We all need a mighty dose of God’s encouragement. Many of you reading this know of similar situations and in fact some of you are now in that place of need.

Today’s verse reminds us again of the power of God to bring encouragement and encourage others. The verse before indicates Paul’s need, For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within (7:5). Have you ever felt that way? I sure have. I believe we all have! And I thank God for people who refresh us like Titus.

He is one of the many ministry associates of Paul with whom we have little background information. He is referenced several times in 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Timothy and most famously in the book written to him that bears his name. It seems his ministry spanned quite a few years indicating that he remained faithful.

The daily verse begins: But God, who encourages those who are discouraged“. Foundationally, God is the Ultimate Encourager. During a time of deep despair David felt strengthened and encouraged in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6). What a blessing that we can get encouragement directly from God.

Encouraged us by the arrival of Titus“. The operative agent used by God to bring encouragement (Greek “parakaleo”, often translated “comfort”) to Paul was Titus. He was returning with news concerning the Corinthian believers who had been severely rebuked in an earlier letter. Titus’ report brought Paul joy because, he told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever (7:7b).

His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you.” What does Paul mean by this?

1) It could be that he was heartened at the results of his teaching in the lives of the Corinthian believers, how that they had encouraged Titus. In ministry we are so blessed to see Christ-like fruit in the lives of those to whom we have ministered.

2) It could be in the sense that Titus would have been unable to bring encouragement to Paul if he himself had not been encouraged by the Corinthians believers.

We are all aware of people who may be downcast today, people who need their day brightened. Could our actions or words, or the combination of both be an encouragement to someone in need, just as Titus was used of God to bring encouragement to Paul. He had received encouragement from the Corinthian believers and in turn reciprocated by transmitting that encouragement to Paul. The encouragement we share might be in the form of a visit, a phone call, or a brief e-mail message or text assuring the recipient of our interest and prayer. Indeed, let us practice paying encouragement forward today!

Be encouraged today.

Daily prayer: Father, sometimes we are frustrated by what little we have to offer others when we compare ourselves with those who are greatly talented or have a special way with words, or even those who may have financial resources to bless others in ways that we cannot. But we are not limited in reaching out to one who may be looking for a reason to smile or to the one who simply needs a helping hand. Paul indicated that the comfort You dispensed to Titus, was then transmitted to him, and then he passed it onto the Corinthian church. We pray for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to show us ways that we can encourage those around us so that it will naturally be passed on to others as well. We pray for this through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

August 26, 2020

Spiritual Comparison: A Snapshot

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Ten days ago, with the help of Scott Sauls, we looked at the “Is it I?” passage in the Last Supper story.

Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?” He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?” He said to him, “You have said it.” – Matthew 26: 21-25

But something else is also taking place at the same time.

 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. – Luke 22: 24-30

Last night I watched a teaching video on this from Dr. Van Johnson of Master’s Theological Seminary in Toronto and an adjunct professor at Tyndale Theological Seminary, someone with whom I had some limited contact many years ago and whose teaching style I have always greatly admired.

He points out that the conversations moves from ‘Which of us is the worst?’ to ‘Which of us is the best?’

The verse that arrested me in this passage however was,

And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Is this a promise to The Twelve Disciples or does it have broader application?  There is a more general promise in 2 Timothy 2:11-12a

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.

The more specific view is found in Matthew 19:28-29:

if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

As with the Matthew passage, it’s hard to imagine a grouping of us ‘sitting on a throne.’ It could get crowded.

Are these passages connect to the twelve thrones (or twenty-four thrones) in Revelation? I always check the cross-references in Bible Hub and they did not link the first few verses above to that book. However I found this possibility at CompellingTruth.org:

Revelation 4:4 mentions twenty-four elders who sit upon twenty-four thrones before the Lord. Who are these twenty-four elders?

The Bible does not specifically provide the identity of these elders. However, some information is provided that allows us to rule out some possibilities and consider a few options.

First, these twenty-four elders are described as human, male elders. They are not angels, creatures, or females, but specifically use male terms to describe these beings. They are also distinct from angels in other places in Revelation (7:11).

Second, they are clearly believers in the Lord. They are in heaven and wear white garments, something that symbolizes God’s righteousness. (Revelation 3:5, 18; 19:8). They also wear crowns (Revelation 4:4), something not said of angels in Scripture and which believers are said to receive (1 Corinthians 9:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10). Further, the elders also worship the Lord (Revelation 4:11).

Based on these descriptions, these twenty-four elders represent those who worship the Lord. More specifically, they may either represent 1) the church, 2) representatives of Israel, or 3) the twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles (Matthew 19:28). One variation of these views is that the use of twenty-four elders may come from 1 Chronicles 24:1-5 in which the priests were organized into twenty-four groups. If so, this “kingdom of priests” represents the church that dwells in heaven with the Lord during the tribulation period.

[…article continues; use above link]

Returning to Van Johnson’s teaching, it’s important to note again that the Lord tells his disciples, You are those who have stood by me in my trials. He does this knowing that one person will betray him, one will deny him, and ten will desert him. It’s an exceptional thing for Jesus to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 13, 2020

On the Cusp of the Four Cups

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:23 pm
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Okay, I don’t know why I chose that title for today’s devotional, but there is definitely something afoot in Luke 22: 13-23 about cups. We join the Passover meal (aka The Last Supper) in the middle of the story, where Jesus takes the second of four cups. Then the third. Bread in between. Only Luke offers this sequence.

That there are two cups in this story probably confuses new Christians who are accustomed to the Communion or Eucharist where there is one instance of bread and one instance of cup. The cup-bread-sequence needs to be understood.

I was thinking about this reading Devotions by Chris by Chris Hendrix in a post entitled The Promise of Redemption.

A traditional Passover meal, called a Seder, is a meal to commemorate the Israelites leaving Egypt. They recline to eat instead of sitting in a chair, eat matza (unleavened bread), bitter herbs and four cups of wine. The first cup of wine represents sanctification, which is the process of being made holy. It’s to remember that God’s people are to be set apart. The second cup represents the joy of Deliverance, a reminder that we are no longer under the yoke of slavery. The third cup is the cup of redemption. It was after eating the lamb as a reminder of the price paid for redemption. The fourth cup is the cup of restoration, a reminder that God would make His people a nation.

Think back to the night Jesus was betrayed (Good Friday). The disciples prepared the Passover meal where Jesus had told them to (Matthew 26:19). There’s no recording of the first cup of wine, but in Luke 22:17 we see the second cup where Jesus says He won’t drink it again until the Kingdom has come. We then read where Jesus broke the matza and blessed it. In verse 20 it says He lifted up another cup (third – redemption) and told them that He was making a new covenant confirmed with His blood as the Passover lamb. Matthew and Mark then say the went to the garden after this cup. While Jesus was on the cross, John 19 records that Jesus said He was thirsty. They lifted up sour wine to Him (fourth cup). Verse 30 says when He drank it, He said, “It is finished” and died. He finished the Passover meal and the fulfillment of it in that moment to redeem us and to restore us to God.

This drove me deeper into tracking down the cups in a Jewish context which took me to Chabad.org and this article which states,

G‑d uses four expressions of redemption in describing our Exodus from Egypt and our birth as a nation:

1. “I will take you out…”

2. “I will save you…”

3. “I will redeem you…”

4. “I will take you as a nation…”

Our sages instituted that we should drink a cup of wine, a toast if you will, for each one of these expressions. We recite the Kiddush over the first cup, we read the Exodus story from the Haggadah over the second cup, we recite the Grace after Meals over the third cup, and we sing the “big Hallel” (Psalms and hymns of praises to G‑d) over the fourth cup.

 There are a number of explanations as to the significance of the various stages of redemption conveyed through each of these expressions. Here is one:

1. Salvation from harsh labor—this began as soon as the plagues were introduced.

2. Salvation from servitude; or the day the Jews left Egypt geographically and arrived at Ramses.

3. The splitting of the sea, after which the Jews felt completely redeemed, without fear of the Egyptians recapturing them.

4. Becoming a nation at Sinai.

During the Seder we can experience these elements of redemption in a spiritual sense.

Another article by a different author at the same website offers various interpretations of the four cups.

We were liberated from Pharaoh’s four evil decrees: a) Slavery. b) The ordered murder of all male progeny by the Hebrew midwives. c) The drowning of all Hebrew boys in the Nile by Egyptian thugs. d) The decree ordering the Israelites to collect their own straw for use in their brick production.


The four cups symbolize our freedom from our four exiles: The Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek exiles, and our current exile which we hope to be rid of very soon with the coming of Moshiach.


The words “cup of wine” are mentioned four times in Pharaoh’s butler‘s dream (Genesis 40:11-13). According to the Midrash, these cups of wine alluded to the Israelites’ liberation.

The website of Chosen People Ministries shows each of these fulfilled in Christ:

The ministry of Messiah speaks to each of these four promises:

Messiah sanctifies us – “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19).

Messiah delivers us – “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Messiah redeems us – “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Messiah is our joy – “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

But the view suggested at the top of today`s devotional, that Jesus completes the Passover meal with the wine mixed with vinegar on the cross is occasionally challenged. Religion professor Jonathan Klawans states,

Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples did not take place on the first night of Passover. There is a real difference between John and the synoptics on this question, and John’s chronology continues to make much more sense to me: Jesus was tried and killed before the holiday began. By Seder time, he was buried.

Which begs the question, was this truly a ‘second cup, bread, third cup’ scenario? I would argue that it was a Passover meal. The notes in most Evangelical study Bibles would argue that it was, indeed a Passover meal, but suggest that the completion takes place at The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. (Notice the parallel lamb reference.)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”
 – Rev. 19:9 NLT

Back to Luke, I believe this ‘third’ cup is indeed Jesus of Nazareth saying, “I will redeem you.” He redefines both the bread and the wine, and most importantly, becomes our Passover lamb.

But that doesn’t dismiss Chris’ idea quoted at the outset, because you could accept that the wine/vinegar mix is cup number four if you are still anticipating cup number five. Yes, five.

You see, I didn’t give you the entirety of the first quotation from Chabad.org and I’m going to give them the last word, because I think the imagery from a Christian perspective is rather obvious!

There is actually a fifth expression in the above mentioned verses: “And I will bring you to the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance.

While the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation were permanent, we have yet to be brought to Israel on a permanent basis.

In honor of this verse we have a fifth cup at the Seder: the Cup of Elijah. This cup is set up for Elijah during the second half of the Seder, but we do not drink it. Elijah will announce the arrival of Moshiach1, who will bring all Jews to Israel, for good.


1(lit. “the anointed one”) the Messiah. One of the 13 principles of the Jewish faith is that G-d will send the Messiah to return the Jews to the land of Israel, rebuild the Holy Temple and usher in the utopian Messianic Era.

 

January 25, 2019

Looking for Disciples Who Look Like Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Several times at our sister blog we’ve linked to the writing of various authors at The Jagged Word, but we’ve never included his writing here. Today we’re offering you a sample. As usual, send some link love to our featured writers by clicking the title and reading each article at its point of origin.

Collecting vs. Making Disciples

by Joel A. Hess

I often forget a little detail in our Lord’s command to His church in Matthew 28. He says, “Go and make disciples…” Every time I read and reread this almost cliché passage, I am reminded that Jesus tells us He is going to “make” disciples. It will be something done to people. No one will be waiting at the church door knocking to come in. 

“Making disciples” implies that no one is going to “come to the cross,” “come to their senses,” or “sign up on the sign-up sheet” hoping to be selected. No one came to the birth of our Lord except those called by God. No one came to the empty tomb except those expecting to find a dead body. Jesus made every disciple we read about in the New Testament, from Mary and Joseph to Matthew the tax collector and Mary Magdalene.

He did this by the power of His Word and words. Every single person who has come to faith in Christ was once stone-cold dead—worse, an enemy of God. As Jesus says in John 8, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus finds us. We don’t find Him. So He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He is the “Good” Shepherd because He is the Shepherd David talks about in Psalm 23. But He is also really good at being a Shepherd! Just as God found Adam and Eve and made them into believers of His grace, so He finds lost, scared, dying people and does the same. He does this through His church, that is, through other believers in Christ.

While I give lip service to this directive of Jesus, I often times find myself collecting disciples instead. I think many of us pastors and fellow disciples do the same. It’s our default disposition. We look for people who look like us, believe like us, have the same political views as us, talk like us, and live lives like us. Ironically, it has been my experience that those people are the hardest to convert.

Social media probably hasn’t helped us, and neither has the increasing habit of putting our whole lives into political party categories. By doing so, we put a barrier up before we can even start to share the good news of Christ!

I get it. If we only live by sight and not by faith, it certainly seems impossible that a person bragging about their atheism, their alternative lifestyle, and even their hatred of Christianity would ever be a disciple of Christ. But that is what we all were! We were all made disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit through His Word. No one began with a disposition that was neutral, let alone favorable toward believing in God.

How quickly we are tempted to write people off! How quickly we are tempted to not believe the power of the God’s Word, that is, the Good News, that God does not hold our sins against us but has placed them upon His Son!

The church is not a collection of like-minded people, but a creation of God’s, united in their being found, rescued, and gently made (and being made) into hope-filled, peace-filled believers of Jesus.

May God open my eyes to see my neighbor and my enemy as Jesus sees them: as future disciples.

 

July 8, 2017

The Sender and the Sent

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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As You sent Me into the world, I have also sent them into the world. – John 17:18

Again Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you.” – John 20:22

Today, a brief article which appeared on Fred Sanders’ website, The Scriptorium Daily on May 1st. Click the title below to read this there, and then navigate around the site to look at other articles.

So Send I You

At the end of John’s Gospel, the risen Christ says to the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

It’s such a stark statement that, when I get to preach on this text, I usually spend about half the sermon explaining what Jesus didn’t mean by it. Our sending-out from Jesus can’t be like the Son’s sending-out from the Father in every way, can it? Or at least we shouldn’t presume that every wild thought that rushes into our heads automatically corresponds to the thought Jesus was thinking when he spoke these words. It’s an incomparable sending that Jesus compares our sending to.

But eventually you have to get around saying what Jesus did mean by these clear and simple words. My favorite way to answer that is to cast the net wide to see what John’s Gospel tells us about the relation of the sent Son and the sending Father:

Jesus didn’t do his own will, but the will of his Sender (4:34; 5:30; 6:38).

Jesus didn’t please Himself, but his Sender (8:29).

Jesus didn’t seek His own glory, but the glory of His Sender (7:18).

Jesus was the visible representation of the invisible Sender (5:37; cf. 1:18).

Jesus lived by his Sender (6:57).

Jesus taught the words of his Sender. (3:34; 7:16; 12:49-50).

Jesus could do nothing apart from his Sender (5:30).

Jesus was not alone; his Sender was with Him (8:16,29).

Jesus was busy doing the work of his Sender (4:34; 9:4) and when his work was done, He went home to be with his Sender (7:33; 16:5).

All of these, I think, describe not only the relation of the sent Son to his sending Father, and also our relationship to our sending savior.

And if it’s not Trinitarian enough for you: With his next breath, Jesus said “receive the Holy Spirit.”

 

May 13, 2017

Jesus Builds His Core Team

Sometimes I have been guilty of using terminology incorrectly. I know in my younger days this was true with disciples versus apostles. To be clear, Jesus chose 12 apostles, but had many disciples. In Luke 6 we see a turning point where he, to use a modern church term, chooses his board members. …Actually, that may not be a great analogy; make that Jesus chooses his ministry staff.

12 During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. 13 At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles

When did this take place in the overall chronology? Meyers N.T. Commentary states:

According to Matthew, the choice of the Twelve had not yet occurred before the Sermon on the Mount; nevertheless it is implied in Matthew, not, indeed, sooner than at Luke 10:1 [the sending out of the 72] but after the call of Matthew himself. Luke in substance follows Mark in what concerns the choice of the apostles. But he here assigns to the Sermon on the Mount—which Mark has not got at all—a position different from that in Matthew, following a tradition which attached itself to the locality of the choice of the apostles (τὸ ὄρος) as readily as to the description and the contents of the sermon.

The important takeaway from the passage is not chronology, however. The thing we’re meant to see with greatest clarity is that Jesus made the decision after much prayer. At Heartlight we read:

Few events were more important in Jesus’ ministry than his selection of apostles. How would Jesus select 12 from the mob that followed him? These men would have to change the world. Could he actually find 12 that could do that? Jesus knew what was in the hearts of people. Would anyone be able to stand up to the challenges that he would have to face as one of Jesus’ chosen 12? Jesus withdrew to the mountains to be alone with God and pray as he faced this momentous decision. He didn’t choose 12 and then ask God to bless his choice. No, he spent the night in prayer before he chose the 12. When faced with decisions, whether they appear important or not, we need to follow the example of our Lord!

At Redeeming God there is an excellent article — also on audio — on this passage. We can’t reproduce it all here, but I want to share some of it; click here to read it all (including a biography of each one).

We often think of the twelve apostles as the only disciples Jesus had. But that is simply not true. He had hundreds, if not thousands of other disciples. Out of them, He chose twelve to pour most of His time, energy and attention into. The twelve are named apostles, which means “sent ones.” The question though, is why did He pick twelve, and why these twelve? At that time, when a teacher wanted to focus his time and energy on a few specially selected students, the teacher would pick only one or two, at the most three students to train. If you have ever done any serious discipling, you know that adequately teaching and training even one person is almost a full time task. But Jesus picks twelve! Why twelve?

A. Rulers

The main reason is probably because Jesus was picking men to rule in His kingdom. He was, in a way, inaugurating a new Israel in Himself. Originally, the twelve tribes of Israel were to rule over the nations, and they will again one day, but with the twelve apostles ruling over the twelve tribes (Matt. 19:28). Before that happens, Jesus has something new to establish – the church. And the apostles will be the ones to help establish it. When Jesus picks twelve, he was indicating to them and everyone else, that these were the ones who would help Him rule when He came into His kingdom. They represented a whole new Israel.

This would be a great encouragement to them when they faced trials and tribulations later in life. It can be a great encouragement to you also. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, you also will rule. You cannot be an apostle, but you can be a disciple, and many passages in the Bible tell us that Jesus Christ is calling you to be His disciple. If you respond and follow Him, you will later be given the right to rule with him (Luke 19:11-27). Not to the same level as the apostles, but still in a very special and significant way. By picking twelve, Jesus was reminding the apostles that if they followed Him faithfully, they would rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. We need to be reminded that if we follow Him faithfully, we too will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. There is great motivation and incentive in that Biblical truth.

You say, “Yeah, but I’m not disciple quality. Jesus wouldn’t pick me.” Guess what? These twelve Jesus picked weren’t quality either. We sometimes elevate them and put them on pedestals, but they were human just like us.

B. Ordinary Men

They were perfectly ordinary in every way. Not one was known for being scholarly or well trained in the Bible. Not one was a great speaker, writer or theologian. None of them had outstanding talents or abilities. To the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, failures of faith, and bitter resentment toward others. Even the leader of the group, Peter, was forever sticking his foot in his mouth. In fact, at times, Jesus is amazed at how slow they are to learn and how spiritually dense they are (Luke 24:25).

Furthermore, we see from them that God loves variety. There is not one perfect mold that all Christians must fit into. Some of them were fishermen. Two of them, one a tax collector and the other a religious zealot, under any other circumstance, would have been trying to kill one another. Some of them were brothers to one another. Some of them were married, some single. Some were probably craftsmen and tradesmen, or maybe farmers. Don’t ever think that you don’t qualify to be a disciple of Christ. If these men qualify, you qualify. Though these men may not amount to much in the eyes of the world, they are exactly what God is looking for…

…God’s way of doing things is not man’s way. According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, God chooses the humble, the lowly, the weak and the meek. He doesn’t choose the strong and the talented, the powerful and the rich. He chooses those who would never be chosen so that when He works powerfully through them, everybody knows that only God could do such things. The people we would pick are not the ones God picks. If you feel like you are not qualified to be a follower of Jesus, then you are just right. If you feel, however, that you are just what God needs, then you may have some things to learn before God can start using you…

So Christ picked these twelve to show that He was choosing some rulers for His kingdom, and He also picked these twelve to show us that we don’t have to have great training or popularity to be one of His disciples.

C. Students

What is most curious about Christ’s choice is that at first, it seemed these apostles had nothing to do but follow Jesus around and listen to His teachings. They thought they were going to be put to some grand task, and given some great responsibility, but all they did was sit around, go to parties, watch Jesus interact with other people, and listen to Him teach.

Similarly, when you first become a follower of Jesus Christ, it may seem that God is giving you nothing significant to do. It may seem that Jesus has called you to be his disciple, but then He forgot about you, or doesn’t have any true purpose for you to fulfill. But this is because, frequently, God’s first will for your life is to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Before you can live like Jesus, you must learn from Jesus. Before you can do His will, you must know His will. If it seems like you are not being used by God, then you should take the opportunity to patiently learn from God. There is nothing wrong with sitting and learning, as long as you are willing and ready to go when Jesus says, “Go!” In fact, he will not send you, until you have learned what He wants you to know.

Even once they were trained, they were not perfect. After their training was complete, the first night on their own, they all deserted, betrayed and denied Jesus Christ. Afterwards, some of them even tried to go back to their original occupation of fishing, but they failed at that too…until Jesus showed up and got them back on course (John 21). To be a disciple means first and foremost to be a learner. A lot of people think that following Christ is all about doing what Christ would do. That is why we had that fad a few years back where everyone bracelets and T-shirts that said “What Would Jesus Do?”

The problem is that we cannot do what Jesus would do, unless we first become like Jesus, and we cannot become like Jesus until we know Jesus. Not “know” Jesus as in “I know about Jesus” but know Jesus as in “I know Him as if he were my best friend.” And the only way you can become the best friend of Jesus is by spending lots of time with Him. That’s what he wants from you. He doesn’t want you to do great things for Him. He wants to do great things for you and through you. But the only way that is going to happen is if you get to know Jesus. Listen to Him teach. Ask Him questions. Watch how He deals with people. Let Him encourage you, lovingly correct you, and patiently instruct you. As you go through this process, He will eventually give you an assignment. First a small one, then larger and larger until you will be amazed at the things God is doing through you. But it all begins with sitting at His feet and learning…

…continue reading here

 

October 1, 2011

Confronting The Season

I usually allow myself to go back 12 months in choosing things to repeat here, so as of today, I’m allowed into the October, 2010 file.  I found this set of notes pasted on Halloween, and thought moving it up to the beginning of the month might be more useful this time around. These are the notes for a message I prepared for a church in Toronto, and rather than running away from Halloween, I chose to confront it.

We looked at some supernatural encounters in scripture, including

  1. Simon the Sorcerer (aka ‘Great Power’) in Acts 8:9ff. He was a baptized follower of the Apostle Phillip, and yet parts of his old life — the love of the spotlight, for example — still lingered.
  2. The Seven Sons of Sceva in Acts 19: 11-16. The demons they tried to confront knew of the Apostle Paul and they knew Jesus, but they basically taunted the seven sons with “Who are you?” The world isn’t interested in what we have to do or say on our own strength, but rather, on whether or not Christ is flowing through us.
  3. Demetrius in Acts 19: 23-27. Christianity was turning out to be bad for the whole idol-making business. There are entire industries with a vested interest in retaining followers. If people really do turn to God, that will change. (But we have to be careful that we don’t create similar industries in the Christian world. Hmmm.)
  4. The Demon-Possessed Man in Mark and Luke and Men in Matthew 8:24-34. This wasn’t just a healing. There was a third party — demons — involved in this story. Jesus affirms their reality.

For a good spiritual showdown, we also looked at I Kings 18: 16ff, the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah just knew that God was going to come through. The buckets of water were a nice touch!

We contrasted Jesus’ words to the imprisoned John the Baptist (“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor…”) with his words to Thomas after the resurrection (“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”)

We also were reminded of Ephesians 6:12, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…”

We finished up with John’s admonition in 1 John 4: 1-6 to test the spirits.

1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Some credit for this message concept must go to my favorite Reformed pastor and friend, Jack Vanderveer.


If you’re a recent newcomer to C201, scripture verses here are often in green because the scriptures have life.  If the passage doesn’t have life to you, read it again!

December 3, 2010

Great News! Tim’s Out of Jail!

Today’s post, from Jon Swanson at the blog, 300 Words a Day, is a reminder of how the Bible never ceases to reveal itself to be a living book, with so many details awaiting our consideration!

That’s really good news, right? That Timothy was released from jail?

Of course,  many people have known that for a really long time. In fact, as long as people have been reading the book of Hebrews, they have known that Timothy is out of jail and is on his way somewhere.

I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. (Hebrews 13:23)

I, on the other hand, did not know that he had been released. Truth be told, I never knew that he had been arrested. I had no idea.

I knew, of course, that when Paul, who had mentored Timothy, wrote one of his instructional letters to Timothy, he reminded Timothy of all that they had been through. Paul said,

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:10-13)

I knew that, but I had never noticed that Timothy, apparently, had been through the whole process himself.

Why am I making such a big deal of Timothy’s release? A couple reasons.

1. Because I’ve spent some time reading the Bible, talking about it, teaching it. For all I know, I’ve probably taught some or all of Hebrews. And yet, there are things that I just haven’t noticed.

2. Because once noticed, this little observation connects with and fleshes out a picture of Timothy that I hadn’t thought about before.

There is a lot, I’m discovering, that I have to learn about what’s written here…

~  Jon Swanson

 

The persecution and suffering of those who took a stand for Christ wasn’t limited to just Paul and a few others, but perhaps was more common to the entire early church.

August 19, 2010

God Uses Nobodies

Here is a short devotional from Dwight Wagner at Strengthened By Grace:

I just recently spent some time studying Christ’s call of the twelve disciples. Even the nicknames they are given are suggestive that they were not impressive or extraordinary in many ways.  Then I came across this quote that reminded me again of whom God chooses and whom he uses.

“Grace means God uses nobodies.  Grace also means He makes nobodies into somebodies.  The problem is this:  Our shame screams so loudly and our guilt is so huge, we convince ourselves we’re not useful and we think we cannot measure up.  After all, you may think, I have to be somebody special to be useful or important to God.  But the fact is He does great things through nobodies.  He does some of His best work with those who think they are finished and, humanly speaking, should be.”–Chuck Swindoll