Christianity 201

September 26, 2022

Introducing People to Jesus for the Right Reason

Israel, what does the LORD your God want you to do? He wants you to fear him, follow all his directions, love him, and worship him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 10:12 GWT

Long before I ever started writing online, I had been following the writing of Keith Brenton who, continually since 2004, has been writing at Blog in My Own Eye. Although he has been featured here a few times before, it’s been eight years!

The scripture he references today is Micah 6:8. In the NLT it reads,

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (underlining added)

To read this where it first appeared click the title which follows.

The Purpose

I don’t believe that the purpose of encouraging people to follow Jesus is to get them to be baptized, or to go to church, or to give to church, or to agree to a certain set of postulates and catechisms, or to observe holy rites, or to memorize sacred scripture, or to vote a certain way, or to engage in a lot of churchly activities, or even to be fanatically worshipful and sold-out about going to heaven.

I believe we should encourage people to follow Jesus for the purpose of following Jesus. Finding out more about who He is; wanting more and more to be like Him; becoming a good person, a better person, a godly person, a person who is more and more like Him.

It’s about becoming less selfish and more selfless. Becoming less hateful and more loving. Less bigoted and more accepting. Less adamant and more inquisitive. Less mouthy and more listening. Less graceless and more gracious. Less judgmental and more equitable. Less helpless and more helpful. Less hopeless and more hopeful.

Jesus mentions church a couple of times in all of scripture. He talks about establishing it. He talks about what to do when something goes wrong in it.

The apostle Paul seems to have to address what goes wrong in it when people try to make it about self and their ideas about practice or theology or eschatology or politics or whatever. We get some lessons about those things in the process, but his undertone is the same as Jesus: love each other, and these things will matter less than your love for each other. And I think the other New Testament writers agree.

Synagogue is never prescribed in the Mosaic law. Church is never prescribed in Christianity. It was assumed, because people who have something wonderful in common like to gather and share it. There was a time when building a great edifice of a temple was part of the plan, but Jesus made it clear that time would pass, and it did. He would build a church, an assembly, independent of place and time and wealth and materiality — and it would be in the hearts of people who wanted to follow Him so He could show them who God really is.

Just, but merciful. Righteous, but gracious. Eager to walk with us. Exactly like Micah 6:8 describes Him.

And people who want to be like Him will want to be like Jesus of Nazareth.

So we’ll walk with Him. Learn from Him. Observe Him. Consider Him. Imitate Him. Reflect Him.

We’ll be people on a journey. Not sitting or standing to praise, pray, recite, assent, ritualize, preen, judge, condemn, divide, demand, legislate or pledge nationalistic loyalty.

People walking. On a journey with the One they adore, the Truth they adore about the Way they adore toward the Life they adore. Every single day and night. Getting a little closer to it. Drawing others with them to that candor and grace and hope.

That’s the Purpose.

And all the sitting in the magnificent buildings, and paying the devout and devoted staff, and listening to the inspiring messages, and giving so that staff members can do the hard work of gathering others, and saying all the right words together won’t bring us an inch closer to that Purpose if we’re not walking. Following.

I’m writing this on my blog-that-nobody-reads-anymore so I don’t have to take as much heat for what I believe. But this is what I believe, and I know these are harsh words for dear people I love; people who are sold on a way of doing church that I just can’t see working anymore; people who are so invested in it that their whole lives are about it and perhaps their income and their student debt and their thinking and their speaking and their actions. All church-centered.

But when church becomes your savior, you will always be in the business of trying to save it. Because we’re all human, fallible thinkers, inconsistent doers — constant screw-ups. And we’ll fail. It’s a given.

However, there is a Savior who is a perfect example of how and whom to be.

And He wants to walk with us.

Really, all we have to do is follow.


From the website Gospel Choruses:

My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.

Strength for today is mine all the way,
And all that I need for tomorrow.
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.

He guides me in the paths of righteousness For the sake of His name. -Psalm 23:3b NASB

September 6, 2022

The Day Approaching

The worldwide pandemic has certainly taken a toll on church attendance. And regular weekly attendance was already suffering, as some people took a more casual approach to the discipline of weekend gathering, while others found themselves compromised because of commitments to their job or their childrens’ sports programs.

A popular verse lately has been

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24,25 (NIV)

I tend to remember this verse in terms of three parts:

  1. urging each other toward love and good deeds
  2. not forgetting to meet together
  3. encouraging each other

But there is a fourth element I realized I was overlooking

4. even more so now as we see “the day approaching.”

The Amplified Bible renders this as “the day [of Christ’s return] approaching;” while Phillips has “the final day drawing ever nearer.” Most others simply have “the day” or “the Day” (capitalized) leaving both new and veteran Bible students wondering what is in the writer’s mind.

Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer. – Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

Personally, I think of this as, ‘Don’t stop meeting together… especially right now, of all times.’ Or, “‘… especially these days.’ I hear it as, ‘If ever there was a time we need each other and need to gather corporately, it’s now.’

Don’t you agree?

The idea here isn’t just that we (ourselves, personally) remember to keep meeting together, but that we spur (NIV) each other toward this, as the phrase is bookended by phrases about encouraging each other.

In November, 2013 we heard this from Jim Thornber who appears here frequently:

…Look at that word “spur.” It means to provoke, incite, irritate. When you gather with other Christians then you should be spurring them, provoking and inciting and even irritating them on towards good works. It also means when you gather you are willing to be spurred. But we cannot be spurred if we are not gathering, and we cannot be spurred or provoked towards good works if we only show up every once in a while to a church and leave as soon as possible. Still, this happens week after week in churches all over the world. But according to the Great Commission, to be a disciple and to make disciples means you are personally investing in the lives of others.

And this is terribly inconvenient. It means you will have to invest the one thing that means more to many of us than money – our time. We would rather pay someone to take our neighbor to the grocery store than actually drive them ourselves. We’d rather pay someone to work on the church than show up ourselves. We’d rather buy someone a book on finances than commit to going to their house for 12 weeks and taking them through the book and teaching them through our own example. I’m very glad that Jesus didn’t send someone else to earth to do His work. He came personally. He took time away from His throne in Heaven to invest His life, and then His death, so He could make disciples. That is what it cost Jesus. What are we willing to invest to make disciples? It will cost us our time, our talents, our personal touch and yes, even some of our treasure. But that is what it means to be a disciple. So ask yourself: “Am I a disciple, or am I just content with being saved?” I don’t know how anyone can think of the price Jesus paid to bring us to Heaven and be content with merely being saved…

In November, 2014, Ben Savage quoted this verse in an outline of six evidences of discipleship.  He simply called it “being present.”

  1. Connection through prayer
  2. Engagement with scripture
  3. Being present
  4. Acts of service
  5. Investment in others
  6. Worship through generosity

In July, 2015 we noted seven benefits of meeting together.

  1. Fellowship
  2. Corporate Prayer
  3. Receiving prayer ministry
  4. Corporate worship
  5. Corporate giving
  6. Confession
  7. Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion

By April 2016, we noted that data collection organizations were classifying being in church only once or twice a month as “regular” church attendance. But writer Phillip Pratt refocused our attention that “the context here is not about clinging to a particular local church or congregation but about clinging to Christ.” Using the KJV wording of the verse, “Forsaking the assembling ourselves…” he wrote:

The book of Hebrews has a theme and it is not about religious attendance but about clinging to Christ, specifically the hope of Jesus Christ (verse 23)…

…“Forsake” in Greek is egkataleipō = quit, leave entirely, abandon completely, desert, to give up or renounce

The same word is found in Matt 27:46 My God, My God, why have You forsaken (egkataleipō) me? & also in 2 Tim 4:10 for Demas has forsaken (egkataleipō) me

Now, is someone who attends a church service once a month or once every 3-4 months completely abandoning or renouncing anything?

Hebrews was addressed to persecuted Jewish Christians who were completely (or considering) abandoning “faith in Christ”.

“Assembling together” is a one word phrase from the Greek word episunsgoge or episynagoge = to be gathered together but to who or to whom?

It can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together (episynagoge) unto Him…

This verse is telling us to cling to & “gather ourselves unto Christ” & don’t be shaken. It has nothing to do w/ church attendance & everything to do w/ persistence to stay focused on Christ & His return…

We have to say here that yes; of course our motivation for gathering must be that we are gathering unto Christ. It also begs a question similar to the one I asked earlier, ‘How can we then simply be skipping church from week to week?’ We’re not reflecting a casual relationship to our local congregation, but a casual attitude toward God Himself.

So now… especially now… with all that’s going on in our world, and “as we see the day approaching,” let’s not be lax or casual in our commitment to the Body of Christ, His Church, and Jesus Himself. (capital letters intentional!)

As Danniebell Hall sang in 1974, “This is not the time for giving up, it’s time for holding on.”


Related: What did a commitment to church look like for First Century Christians? Check out a book called The Didache, introduced in this article here from October, 2021.
 

June 27, 2022

Being Perfect? You Can Do It!

One year ago we introduced you to the writing of Dr. Ron Braley, who is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at Equipping Believers and is Pastor and Director of the organization Finding Discipleship. To read today’s devotional where it first appeared, click the headline which follows.

There’s also a bonus item today about cross references in Bibles.

Perfectly Complete!

We are to be perfect as God is perfect! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “Ron! There’s no way I can be perfect—right?” almost as a badge of honor . . . or excuse. But what does the word mean? What should it mean, especially in our context as broken humans trying to figure out what God desires so we can follow suit?

Like many other words or concepts in the Bible, such as predestination, foreknowledge, love, or sin, perfection is often misunderstood or misapplied. Our minimal English modern dictionary tends to represent perfection as flawlessness (thank you, Merriam-Webster!). However, the original language and context teach us that biblical perfection is completeness. Remember the Jerry McGuire movie? In it, Tom Cruise utters the infamous phrase, “You complete me!” The concept is the perfection God desires and is what the ancient language teaches us.

We see this use in the Old Testament texts such as 1Chronicals 29:19: “and give to my son Solomon a “perfect” heart to keep Your commandments . . .” Alright: let’s start you on your journey to be Koine (biblical) Greek scholars. The original New Testament word is teleios, which means to be complete, full, whole. In 1Corinthians 13:10, we see that perfection completes the incomplete: “but when the perfect comes, the incomplete will be done away.” The unfinished things of today, even in our worship or knowledge, will be completed when God moves creation to the perfection (completion in Him) it once enjoyed.

An example of the unifying property of perfection can be seen in Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Anyway, my point is that perfection is meant to be completion in a relationship with God through Christ, not flawlessness. Trying to be flawless is futile, especially today with so much immorality ruling the day (and night). Here are a few biblical references by Jesus, Paul, and Jesus’ half-brother James that support the point that God seeks partners who ‘complete Him’ and whom He completes in a relationship:

Jesus (Matthew 5:48): “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul (Colossians 4:12): “Epaphras . . . sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”

James (1:4): “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

So, be perfect because God desires it! “But, Ron! How on earth can we be perfect—I mean, complete—with God??” Excellent question! The following article will explore character traits that can keep our fellowship with God perfect in “Perfect Characteristics.”


Bonus Item from Paul:

I wrote this in connection with some other work I do, but I thought we’d run this for people who want to know more about cross references in Bibles.

A word about Reference Bibles

You’ve looked at an older double-column Bible and seen that third column running down the centre and asked yourself, ‘Why are all these verses listed here?’

They may have been chosen because the lead you to a parallel account of the narrative you are reading. They might provide background information on a key individual or place mentioned in the verse. They might relate to a practice or the doctrinal foundation for a statement or Biblical principle in the verse. Of there may be a key word in the verse and the reference is taking you to another place where that word is used (which may take you to yet another.)

Traditionally, these notations were included in a third (centre) column. But as demand increased for large print and giant print Bibles, it was found to save more space if an end-of-verse system was used, with the cross references usually set in smaller type. Some Bibles incorporate a bottom-of-page system but this can sometimes get confusing because of footnotes.

Footnotes are usually included to show that there was another English language direction the translators could have taken (or that different manuscripts for that verse offer what is called a textual variant.) These footnotes are part of that translation’s core text, and must appear in all editions of that translations, regardless of publisher, and regardless if it’s a plain-text, reference Bible, devotional Bible or study Bible.Some translations use them more than others. But they can easily be confused if cross references are also placed at the bottom of the page.

Not every cross reference look-up is productive. We’ve had times where we turned to the second verse, double-checked the reference, and asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing here?’ That’s okay. The reference was included for a reason, and sometimes it only dawns on us later what it was!

 

 

 

June 26, 2022

Following Jesus: A Lifetime Deal, Not a Casual Arrangement

NLT.Matthew.4.18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

CSB.Matthew16.24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it. 26 For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?

Today, once again, we have a new writer to introduce. Charlotte (Shelly) Creamer writes at A Born Again Believer and currently lives in rural Nova Scotia, Canada, The title which follows links you to read this where we first discovered it earlier today, and from there you can look at other devotionals.

The Best Job You’ll Ever Have

When Jesus was looking for disciples, he didn’t go to their homes or track them down at the local pub or synagogue – he went to their place of work. Why did he do that? And not only did he go to their place of work, he told the disciples point-blank to quit their jobs then and there, and follow him. He made a very public demand, which they then very publicly agreed to and therefore could not backtrack on without seriously losing face.

I think one of the reasons Jesus nabbed his disciples at their place of work was because he was acting in the role of a competing employer. Discipleship in the Kingdom is not a hobby or a leisure activity – it’s a job, and it’s a full-time one. In fact, it’s full-time with perpetual overtime and no down-time. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus and at the same time work another job, even part-time. It’s not possible. Jesus himself had to give up his carpentry work when it was time to start his ministry.

That’s not to say that you can’t do a little something to keep body and soul together, but it can’t be a job with a boss and where you have to show up at a certain time or on certain days and remain at your duties for a certain period of time. Nothing should conflict with your Kingdom duties. NOTHING. Paul, as we know, did tent-making during most of his ministry years, but he did it on the fly. His tent-making didn’t tie him to any one location or any particular time-frame, as he couldn’t have traveled if it had. And he didn’t have any boss over him other than for Jesus and God.

I think another reason why Jesus went to the disciples’ place of work was so they’d understand they were entering into a business deal in agreeing to work for and with Jesus. It was a contract they were signing off on, not just a casual arrangement that could easily be walked away from. Not only that, it was a life-time contract that had implications for all eternity. And Jesus needed to get to the disciples where they wouldn’t be influenced or overruled by their sense of duty to their families. If he’d gone to their home environment, I’m guessing their responses might have been different.

We need to pay attention to the fact that Jesus went on a hiring spree when he chose his disciples, and that he’s still on that hiring spree. It didn’t stop when he went Home to Heaven. His offer to work for the Kingdom is never for a part-time position; it’s always full-time, and he’s a jealous boss: He wants you all to himself.

Needless to say, when Jesus comes to you with the offer (if he hasn’t yet), take it. Don’t tell him you need a few days or a few weeks to think about it – take it right there and right then, even if it means you have to walk away from everything and everyone and never look back. Because first of all, no-one will ever come to you with a better offer than to work for God and Jesus in the Kingdom, and second of all, if you reject Jesus’ offer or put off making a decision about it, there won’t be another opportunity. He won’t ask you again.

And if that happens, you will lose the only thing that matters in this life and the one to come – a Forever Home for your soul.

 

June 9, 2022

Social Situations, Self-Importance, and Christian Humility

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.   ~Romans 12:3b NIV

At 6’0″ (that’s 183cm for much of the world) I usually find myself in conversation with people not as tall as myself, but in the last few months I’ve noticed that I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable carrying on conversations with people taller than myself, probably because it happens so seldom.  Yesterday we ran into Tim, the son of one of my mother’s best friends, and I again found myself registering the fact I had to keep looking up to make eye contact.

I can see how people like myself who are tall of stature might get confused and think that they are somehow ‘taller’ intellectually or emotionally; and there is always the danger of thinking oneself to be ‘taller’ spiritually. Of course, we all know our inward shortcomings and weaknesses, but when we’re out and about with members of the wider faith family, it’s easy to posture. In the key verse today, Paul says we should use ‘sober judgment’ of ourselves.

Another application of this principle is that we look up to God, who scripture tells us looks down on us. This is repeated in various passages; it’s important to remember who is where! One prayer pattern that I learned years ago contains the phrase, “You’re God and I’m not;” or “You’re God and we’re not.” When we come to Him in prayer, we need to remember who is ‘taller.’

Here’s a similar application of how we deal with our own estimation of ourselves from Luke 14.  Jesus is teaching…

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  ~NLT

Ten years ago we attended a family funeral. My wife’s uncle passed away and we didn’t realize that some seats were being held for nieces and nephews, so we took a seat toward the back. Her cousin saw us and immediately told us that special seats were reserved for us, and invited us to “come up higher” in the seating plan. We appreciated this, but I couldn’t help but think of this passage as we were walking to the front, and also of the potential embarrassment that could occur if the situation were reversed.

The brand of Christ-following that is portrayed on television is centered on people with very strong personalities and — dare I say it? — very large egos. I think some of this is given away by the very fact these people want to be on television, though I don’t preclude the use of media to share the gospel.  But you and I, the average disciple, should be marked by humility; the type of humility that takes a back seat in a culture that wants to proclaim, “We’re number one.”

We serve the King of Kings. We have the hottest news on the rack. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. But we approach this in a humble spirit, with gratitude that God chose to reach down and rescue us from our fallen state.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. ~ James 4:10 NKJV

How tall do you feel?


Classic Worship Song: Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord

April 5, 2022

Next Steps: Me? A Leader?

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me …Then the God of peace will be with you.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

Jesus said: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

(Philippians 4:9 NLT, James 1:22 NLT, Matthew 7:24 NIV)

When I think each day of posting something to Christianity 201, I focus mostly on the “201” part.  The blog’s tag line is “digging a little deeper.”  However, I try not to post things that would only be of interest to pastors and church leaders, simply because there are sooooooo very many pastor blogs and Christian leadership blogs out there.

However, the time has come to reconcile the two.

As much as many of you want to go deep each day, God is looking for people who are willing to step up.

Put otherwise, much has been given to you, but now much is going to be required of you; or, if you prefer, it’s time to find some application for all the good stuff you’re learning.  It’s time to give back something.

Where to begin?

I think first of all, you have to see yourself as a Christian leader.  If it’s your desire to continue to walk in Christian maturity, you have to redefine yourself as someone who is striving toward being the “go to” person for others not so far along in their faith. The Biblical model of “Paul/Timothy” relationships necessitates forming mentoring relationships, but first, some of you may need to cultivate the desire to be a mentor to others. This may not place you in a visible position — what we called “the front of the room” a few days ago — but may just mean having friends over for coffee more frequently, or having that one person over for coffee; but doing it as intentional ministry.

Second, you need to make an assessment of what the needs are around you.  This is going to begin with developing critical faculties; though you need to remember that this is not the same as having a critical spirit.  You want the former, you don’t want the latter. If this seems like a big deal, don’t worry, some pastors have faced this before and decided to just ask around. They went door-to-door and asked people what the greatest needs were in their community. You can also approach existing leadership and ask what the greatest needs are within the church community. Or you can do a gift assessment and see where your particular gift-set intersects the needs in your church.

Thirdly, you need to vocalize your desire to make a difference to both your faith community and your surrounding (larger) community. As you see yourself differently and begin to look at what’s happening where you live and serve, God will give you a vision, an idea, an expression of a need; and you need to share what God is showing you or giving. “This is what I believe God is showing me,” can be the first nine words of a longer sentence where you make a declaration of your willingness to lead.

The fear is always that people will say, “Who do you think you are?” but I believe that more times than not, you will find God has already prepared people to hear what you are saying.

However, having said all of the above, the leadership role which God wants to see you taking may not be visible in your local congregation at all. Rather, it might involve not leading as we usually think of it, but being able to lead and share both the scriptures and God’s love with an authority in the life of someone else. In other words, it may not involve being a leader to the many, but being a leader to one person at a time.

This is in fact the theme of Kyle Ildeman’s new book One at a Time. While we think of Jesus teaching and then feeding the 5,000+ people, his ministry often involved on person at a time.

And the leadership that God is calling you to might equally not involve crowds, but happen in quiet places.

 

February 23, 2022

Removing Roadblocks for Earnest Seekers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Years ago I heard a response to people who were being overly-critical of “seeker sensitive” churches, saying they lacked depth and discipleship. The reply was, “The problem isn’t that some churches are seeker-sensitive, the problem is that a lot of churches are seeker-hostile.”

Many times we unwittingly do things which drive those away who were earnestly seeking after God. Years ago a pastor I knew well decided to rent some space in a high school gym and basically re-plant his aging church with a new look and new vision. But the “old guard” of the church wasn’t as passionate about it as he was, and after checking out the church, after a few weeks they would move on, as they got to know the people and, sad to say, saw their true colors.

Eventually, it was just the original group meeting in the school, and one of their number walked up to the pastor’s wife and said, “Isn’t it great! All the new people are gone.”

That’s one of the saddest lines I’ve ever heard.

A verse that sticks with me in recalling that story is contained in this passage in Acts 15: 12-19:

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’–
 things known from long ago.

 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

It was Andy Stanley who drew my attention to verse 19. That last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office. He contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

While we would never want to admit, in certain circumstances, most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do I agree with Andy’s take in this particular sermon?

I think this is an issue where, like so many other things in scripture, there is a balance point to be found somewhere in the middle. The initial offer of grace is easy to process and accept. However, there is an equally compelling argument for calling people to weigh the price and realize they are about to launch out into something that is costly, or difficult. Consider John 6: 56-66:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

In Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9 we read these familiar words:

Luke 9: 23 (NLT) Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

And yet we are often so quickly reminded of Matthew 11:30

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can both sets of verses be true at the same time? Or is each referring to something different?

I can’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

While we certainly don’t want to “bait and switch” earnest seekers — we need to up-front about what it means to “take up your cross” — at the same time we don’t want to create roadblocks.

Let’s not make it difficult for those who are turning toward God.


Extra credit:

Here are some resources unrelated to today’s post I wanted you to be aware of:

Also, apologies to subscribers for the order and timing of some of our devotional articles in the last 72 hours. If you think you missed something, visit the website.

 

February 8, 2022

Making a Spiritual Checklist, and Checking it Twice

We’re breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who faithfully write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net from their beautiful home in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania where, alongside editing and preparing weekday devotions like this one, they are in full time workplace chaplaincy ministry.

Click the header below to read this where it originated and you might find yourself clicking “previous message” or “next message” to read more!

Taking Spiritual Inventory

Message summary: Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

“But let a man examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28a). “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Randy is an inventory control specialist we see at a company that is a wholesale distributor of car wash supplies. The other day I was inquiring about his job and he told me, “I just love inventory”. Now in this day with so much laxness in regard to a solid work ethic his enthusiastic assessment of his job is heartening.

An inventory control specialist tracks inventory and stock changes. Responsibilities include overseeing inventory control, managing deliveries, inspecting inventory, maintaining inventory records, and ordering products. For a well run business it is an essential and very important job. But it’s a good thing that God made people with different gifts and interests because I can’t see myself saying, “I just love inventory”!

But Randy’s comment also prompted me to consider the vital importance of taking personal inventory of our own lives. That’s not something we necessarily enjoy, but it is beneficial since it shines the light on what really matters and that which we need to lay aside and the sin that might easily entangles that keeps us from running with endurance the race that is set before us. (See Hebrews 12)

In taking personal inventory we must reflect inwardly and take stock of our lives. Personal inventory can apply to our health, finances, family, goals and many other areas of life. But today let us consider a spiritual inventory, a self examination of the most important aspect of who we are.

“But let a man examine himself.” Today’s first Scripture verse is in the context of partaking of Communion at the Lord’s Table. Before one eats and drinks of the emblems representing the broken Body and shed blood of Christ he is instructed to “examine himself”. Of utmost importance in this personal spiritual exam is the answer to these foundational questions:

* “Do I have saving faith in Christ?” (Romans 10:8,9).
* “Do I have unconfessed sin in my heart?” (1 John 1:9).

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” In the second text Paul uses two words (“examine” and “test”) to emphasize his point. “Examine” is the Greek “peirazo” which conveys the sense “to scrutinize”. “Test” (“prove” KJV) is the Greek “dokimazo” which has the sense of discernment.  It implies the expectation of approval and is thus a very positive function. We need to regularly (I believe daily) examine and test our spiritual walk. Let’s confess sin, express faith, and practice obedience daily.

This vitally important exam asks this question, “to see whether you are in the faith”. Then there’s a sobering follow-up question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

In his article “The Place Of Self-examination” Bible teacher S. Lewis Johnson comments concerning this verse:

“There are literally millions of professing Christians who need to pay attention to this statement of the apostle. They have entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, they’ve joined the church, they’ve been baptized or they’ve done other things that might make them think that they are genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been encouraged to think that, by men who’ve not been careful to point out that, there is more to becoming a Christian than subscribing to a statement. They don’t hate sin. They don’t love holiness. They do not pray. They do not study the word of God. They do not walk humbly with God. These individuals, so many of them stand in the same danger in which the Corinthians stood. And the apostle’s words, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves,” are valid words that each of us should ponder.”

Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

Colossians 1:10-12 provides a list of examination items for our consideration. We will phrase them as personal questions:

* Am I living in a manner worthy of the Lord?
* Am I pleasing Him in all respects?
* Am I bearing fruit in every good work?
* Am I increasing in the knowledge of God?
* Am I being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might?
* Am I attaining steadfastness and patience?
* Am I joyously giving thanks to the Father?

Daily prayer: Father, I ask myself, “Am I living in a manner worthy of Your name? Do I seek to please You rather than myself? Does the fruit of my labor reflect the Spirit of Christ living within my heart? Do I have a zeal for the things of Christ and a desire to know Him better, to reflect His character every day in my life? Am I steady or do I sputter in my Christian influence?” Father, in all these things I want to be more like Christ, consistent in the ways that bring glory to Your name and growth in my spiritual nature. I want my spiritual walk to be the most important pursuit of my life as I journey here below so that I may influence as many as possible to live for Jesus, for it is in His name that I pray. Amen.

Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)

February 4, 2022

Out with the Old

Today we’re back at Whole Life Worship, a website we first visited four years ago. Dr. Douglas M. Lee is a pastor, teacher, conference speaker, worship consultant and seminary professor. He is currently Lead Pastor for the New Hope Missional Communities. He also serves as a Department Head for Artists in Christian Testimony International and is an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University/Seminary.

You’re encouraged to click the header which follows to read this where we located it and/or click the link at the end to subscribe to their devotions.

Transformation: Making Room for the New by Getting Rid of the Old

I had a good conversation with a friend the other day. She was really excited about some new and exciting stuff she was going to add to her life. She wanted to serve others in new ways. She wanted to do new things to improve her relationships. And she wanted to start some new spiritual practices in her life. I was excited for her, as there was a lot of good thought and reflection behind these new choices. Not wanting to squelch her enthusiasm, as a friend I needed to ask this question:

“So, what are you going to give up in order to make space for these new, exciting things?”

Silence.

Finally she said, “Hmmm. That’s a good question. I need to think about that.”

When we find something new that will change our life for the good, it will always involve getting rid of the old ways. Why? First, because we are limited: in time, in space, in energy and in focus. Second, because keeping the old ways will always short circuit our efforts in allowing the new to take root.

We’re in a series about Biblical Transformation. We’ve been looking at Romans 12:1-2 and seeing how different aspects of this WholeLifeWorship model is also God’s way of transforming us into the best versions of ourselves (if you missed the first three devotionals – no worries, just click here). This week we’re looking at how we can make room for God to transform us by getting rid of the old way of how we’re used to doing things.

The Apostle Paul put it like this:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” (Romans 12:2a)

In other places, he writes, “With regard to your former way of life, put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22). “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Col 3:5). All this points out to Jesus’ very basic teaching of discipleship, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

So, what’s behind all of this? Why is it so important to get rid of the old patterns in our lives?

1. There are active forces that are working overtime to keep us from being transformed into the image of Christ. Paul identifies these forces as “the world, the flesh (false self) and the devil” (cf. Eph. 2:2-3a). They have established some bad “default” settings in us and want to keep us there at all costs; lest we become transformed to Christ-likeness

2. The pattern of the world wants us to conform to its values. These forces seduce us with the lure of money, power, success, significance and fame to lead us down a dead-end road. They whisper messages that cause fear, anxiety, insecurity, lust and greed to keep us confined to these values. This causes us to become increasingly more self-referenced, self-righteous, and self-preoccupied.

3. The endgame of these forces is to “deform” us. They want to make our lives smaller and smaller so that we settle for a life that is based on mere comfort and existence. They want to keep us from having any lasting impact on others and in the world. They want to so shrink our souls so that the image of God within us shrivels to oblivion. They want your life and mine to become “purposeless” and “wasted.”

The Good News is that, through the power of Christ and the Spirit, we can overcome these forces, we can take steps to not be conformed (or deformed) by the world’s patterns, and we can make room for God to transform us for the good! Paul writes in Romans 6 that if we are united in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin (or the forces of darkness) because if we have surrendered ourselves to Christ. We are set from the power of sin over us!

So, what are some practical steps we can take to rid ourselves of the old worldly ways so that we can make room for the new, transformed life in Christ?

1. Take time to be silent and ask God to point out where we are conforming to the world. I believe that we already know where we are falling short, but we’re too afraid or ashamed to confront it. Being still and quiet before God allows us to be enveloped in His loving and safe presence. From there, we can receive and embrace the Spirit’s pointing out this issue in our lives.

2. Believe in God’s grace and strength to overcome the world. These areas are so ingrained in our lives that it seems impossible for us to get rid of them. We need faith and trust in God’s grace and strength to remove these psychological and emotional barriers. Remember, that we can do “all things through Him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13)

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower us moment by moment so that we can be victorious over the powers of darkness in our lives. We cannot overcome the powers of the world, flesh and the devil in our own strength or will-power. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our innermost being (Eph. 3:16). We can ask the Spirit for help every day in our personal times with Him, as well as in the moment where we are feeling the temptation to revert back to the old ways.

One of the most powerful moments of my life was when the Lord helped me overcome the power of sexual addiction. By giving into sexual temptation, I was becoming deformed by this sex-crazed world. But the Lord helped me not to conform to this any longer by following these steps I just mentioned. It was a major victory where I saw the power of God at work in my life. But more than that, this process became a spiritual rhythm that I continue to use to get rid of the “trash” in my life. By making choices each day to stop being conformed to the world’s pattern, I create the needed space in my life to be transformed by God.

So, I encourage you to step further into Biblical transformation by proactively seeking to dismantle the worldly mindsets, attitudes and activities in your life – using God’s Holy Spirit power at work within you to overcome the old pattern of life to make room for the new!

Remember, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!” (1 John 4:4)


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November 14, 2021

How Much Fruit are You Producing?

Today’s search to highlight new (to us) devotional authors took us to Following Jesus Today, and the writing of David W. Palmer, who with his wife Rosanna are involved in itinerant ministry in Melbourne, Australia. As winter makes it way into the northern hemisphere, Australia sounds like the ideal place, but even more so when you consider that they were previously involved with something called Surfcity Christian Church, as in “Surf City, here we come.” (Coveting is still a sin, right?)

Clicking the header which follows will take you direct to their page, rather than reading here. If you live an area like we do where there’s a chance of snow in tonight’s forecast, perhaps some of the warmth will flow through your internet cable.

The Living Word Produces the Fruit Father Seeks

(John 15:4 NKJV) “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

In John 15, Jesus is addressing his apprentices on the night he was denied, betrayed, and arrested. While he had this final opportunity, he was imparting to them truths and values of ultimate importance.

In this chapter, the Master begins with a parable about a grapevine, a vinedresser, and branches. Our wonderful Lord is emphasizing the need to remain in him and to be fruitful. So far, he has mentioned removal of fruitless branches and pruning of the fruitful ones. Today, we are looking at him urging all of his devoted followers to remain in him:

(John 15:3–4 NLT) “You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. (4) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Yesterday, we saw that Jesus alerted all of us who are “in” him to focus on bearing copious fruit. The consequences of being in him—drawing on his life and nutrition—but not producing any fruit, is catastrophic:

(John 15:2 NLT) He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

Even the branches of Jesus that do produce fruit, he prunes and cleans so they can increase their yield. Clearly, Father wants us to produce copious supernatural fruit for his kingdom. To emphasize this, Jesus earlier gave some focused parables:

(Luke 13:6–9 NLT) Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’  “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer.  If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” (See also: Mat. 25:14–30)

In John 15, Jesus is addressing those who are “in me.” And because he is fully aware of Father’s desire for fruitfulness from the branches of his ministry, he urges us to “remain” in him:

(John 15:4 NLT) “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Only as we continue in close connectedness with Jesus, the living word, will we be able to be productive at the level Father wants. Being connected without fruit is serious enough, but if we pull away from him—severing ourselves from his life-giving living words altogether—we are bringing disaster on ourselves:

(John 15:5–6 NLT) “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.”

Without the water of life flowing into us from Jesus continually, we will soon wither. Jesus explained that sadly, the only possible outcome for isolated, withered branches is to be “gathered” and “burned.” That does not sound like a joy-filled eternity. So, let’s remain well and truly connected to Jesus, his words, and his life.

Jesus continued this impartation session to his apprentices by assuring them of a particular stream of approved fruitfulness if they continue to “abide” in him:

(John 15:7 NKJV) “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

Here, Jesus specified the fruit that comes from successful prayer and faith. To double the emphasis of what we need to do to produce the type and quantity of fruit Father seeks, our Lord said both to abide in him and have his words abiding in us. He is the living word, so for us to abide in him, we need constantly to be in the word. To have his word abiding in us, we need to know it, understand it, believe it, and do it. Then, as his word comes to life in us, it is literally Jesus himself living in and through us. If he does, then he can continue his fruitful ministry here on earth.

Through the apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit put it like this:

(Galatians 2:20 NKJV) “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

The fruit of prayer and faith is supernatural. When we experience God’s supernatural work—which demonstrates his goodness, love, and majesty—we know we cannot take the credit for it; we give him the glory. When others see it, they too—given the right explanation—give him glory. Thus, the fruit of answered prayer and successful faith will glorify our heavenly Father:

(John 15:8 NKJV) “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

By saying, “You will be my disciples,” Jesus is saying that they would be doing things his way. In other words, he was showing them how he operated; this was exactly the way he had operated throughout his ministry on earth. He remained connected closely to his Father, drawing life from him through hearing, believing, receiving, obeying, and releasing Father’s words. As a result, God’s supernatural intervention was witnessed by all who encountered him: people received healing, saw miracles, heard the truth in love, understood mysteries, and felt God’s compassion and acceptance. Hence, God was glorified.

Today, let’s heed Jesus’s urgent plea to abide in him continually, and to have his word living in us. Then, along with this single-minded focus, we need humbly to accept his pruning while we live in abandoned obedience. This is the way to avoid withering, removal, and burning. This is the way to yield much fruit—fruit that remains, including the fruit of answered prayer and actualized decrees in Jesus’s name.


Second Helping: Abiding in Christ is a necessity to bearing fruit, but another part of the process, alluded to above, is the pruning process. (Sometimes as Christians, we don’t want to hear about that one!) The author of the above piece actually covered that two days before in a piece entitled Yield to the Father’s Pruning for a Fabulous Upgrade (click to link).

October 21, 2021

The Most Important Decision We Face

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Thinking Through Deuteronomy 30:15-20

by Clarke Dixon

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices. This means we are confronted with so many decisions, perhaps too many. There is such a thing as decision fatigue as we are bombarded with having to make a multitude of decisions daily. This might explain why I start each day with the exact same breakfast, porridge. That is one less decision on my plate!

The other, and greater, problem, is that with all the decisions we make in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime, the most important decision we face gets lost. What is that decision? Let us go to Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for a hint.

The Book of Deuteronomy captures what Moses said to God’s people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. This was an important new beginning for the people who had spent the last forty years in the wilderness following their rescue from slavery in Egypt. As they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, Moses called the people to make a decision:

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.

Deuteronomy 30:15 (NLT)

While it sounds like the people are to choose between life and good, or death and bad, that is not the real decision that is to be made. Those are the consequences of the decision that must be made:

For I command you this day to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.
“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, . . .

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

Deuteronomy 30:16-17,19,20 (NLT emphasis added)

The decision is whether to be in a love relationship with God, or not.

God had already called this one people into a special relationship through the call of Abraham. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness. God gave them the law and made promises about the future. In other words, the people were called to decide whether or not to be in a love relationship with the God Who had already decided to be in a love relationship with them. God had already made his choice. He chose this people, Israel, to be a special people through whom He would work out His purposes for the world. Now it was their turn to commit to the relationship.

There were consequences to their decision. It was as if God was saying “I choose you, we can do this life together, or you can be on your own. Of course, being on your own will not go well, for there are big bad nations out there who will want your land for resources and security, and your people as slaves. But if you want to do life with me, I will be with you, and protect you.”

Today, God offers to be in a love relationship with each one of us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

We each face a decision on whether or not be in that love relationship God offers. God has already made His choice, and that choice was made clear at the cross. God chooses a love relationship with us. Do we choose to be in that love relationship? There are consequences to what we choose. God will either be in our future, or not. That is our decision to make. Has a lifetime of decision-making pushed this, the biggest decision of our lives, onto the back-burner?

This one big decision, to be in a love relationship with God, will be reflected in every little decision.

The call to love God was accompanied with a call to follow God’s ways: “love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways” (verse 16). This would affect all of life’s decisions. God’s people could not be in a love relationship with God and live like the Egyptians, or the Assyrians, or the Canaanites, or anyone else. Choosing to be in a love relationship with God meant being different, marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Some may think of God’s law negatively, like it was a straight jacket and all about control. It was, however, really about becoming a better people and a more just society. We might read the Old Testament law and think, “what, they didn’t get to eat bacon?!” The Canaanites might think “what, they don’t need to set their children on fire?!”

Through the law, God’s people had the opportunity to be freed from foolish and evil practices, from the injustices that plague unjust societies. Reading the Old Testament prophets, the concept of justice comes up often. They often mention how the Israelites failed to follow God’s ways, failing to take care of the most vulnerable of their society. Through following God’s ways the people would be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. In choosing to be in a love relationship with God, and in allowing that one decision to shape all their decisions, God’s people would be taking steps toward the Kingdom of God.

Today, a love relationship with God will be reflected in every choice we make.

Spirituality is not something we fit into a time slot each day. Spirituality is at the centre of our being, affecting every decision.

Let’s not assume that the way we allow our decision to be in a love relationship with God shape all our decisions is by listing every rule we find in the Bible. We are not old covenant people, so to blindly apply every rule we find in Deuteronomy would be to miss the moment that we live in, the love relationship with God that we are offered. We are new covenant people, with a focus on Jesus, his teaching and example. Through following Jesus we take steps toward the Kingdom of God.

The Christian walk is more about heart work than keeping a set of rules. Developing character is hard work and takes a lifetime. It also takes God’s Spirit.

To choose a love relationship with God is to choose God every time over everything else that would want our allegiance.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

Deuteronomy 30:17-18 (NLT emphasis added)

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we discover that God’s people were often likened to a faithless spouse. Sometimes they did worship other gods, which meant that sometimes they did live according to the lifestyles and standards of other nations. Sometimes they did end up sacrificing their children. Seemingly the Canaanite god Molech liked that kind of thing. The God Who led the people out of Egypt did not. GOD offered them a love relationship, but GOD must be their only God.

Today, there are many gods looking for our allegiance.

Money can accomplish great things. However the love of money can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects so many other decisions. Sex is a wonderful gift of God. However the love of sex can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects other decisions. Similar things can be said of power, image, fame, family, celebrity, alcohol, influence, politics and so much more. These things and more can become like gods to us, negatively impacting our capacity to make godly and wise decisions. For a society that has largely rejected God and the supernatural, we sure do have many gods.

In conclusion.

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices, we are therefore confronted with so many decisions. There is one decision we face that is greater than any other. It is making a choice that is more important than choosing vocation, location, or even marriage partner: What are we going to do with God’s offer of a love relationship?

If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, all our decisions will be shaped by that one decision. If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, we will make the effort to identity and cease the worship of any gods that may be affecting our decisions.

GOD has already made His choice. Have you?

October 19, 2021

Deep Roots

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Col.2.6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

NIV.Ps.1.3. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

NIV.Jer.17.8. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

This is our fifth time visiting the website Preacher Pollard but only the first time it has dawned on me that the Pollards are a bit of a dynasty, with five sharing writing responsibilities. This is our first time with Carl Pollard.

Clicking the header below will take you direct to today’s devotional on their page. You can then navigate around (click the blog banner at the top) and read other articles by each of them. They are shorter devotionals so you can read a half dozen of them, as I just did, in quick time.

Tap Root

There’s a tree in the Sonoran Desert called the Mesquite. This is a very hardy, drought-tolerant tree. It survives the harsh climate by drawing water up from the water table through its taproot. This root has been measured to reach upwards of 190 feet long.

How does a desert tree with a tap root apply to us? In Colossians 2:6, 7 there is a command to walk in Christ. How do we walk in Christ? Paul through inspiration explains that the one who walks in Christ is:

  • Firmly rooted
  • Built up in Him
  • Established in faith
  • Overflowing with gratitude, and
  • Rejects false doctrine

Being firmly rooted (I’m talking a super-long taproot) in what you believe is an important part of how to walk in Christ. How would we know how to walk in Christ if we didn’t believe in what we…believe?

Being built up in Christ, is like finishing a building that already has a foundation. If we are firmly rooted, then we must continue to build. It’s like buying a night at a hotel, and trying to stay a week. You can’t do that. We either keep paying the fee, or we’re kicked out. Or, applying it to Colossians two, keep studying and growing closer to Christ.

Being established in faith, we have the faith that the sacrifice of Jesus will keep us holy and blameless before God.

Overflowing with gratitude is a very important part of this. There is a saying that goes, “Some Christians don’t want to pray in the cafe. Dogs wag their tails when they get food, and pigs grunt. But what does man do?” Are we showing gratitude for what God has done for us? Can people see it in us?

Making sure no one takes you captive with false doctrine can be very hard. 2 Peter 3:17 warns, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” False doctrines can be tempting because they appeal to what we want, and not what God wants. Rejecting these teachings takes a knowledge of the word, and a desire to do what God wills.

Today and every day, let’s practice walking in Christ using these principles from God’s inspired word.

 

May 10, 2021

Identity: Being The One That Jesus Loves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are highlighting an author who is new to us. Brian writes at On The Way. He is a pastor, which we learned from his various blog posts, but without an “about” page we can’t tell you more, except to say that we really enjoyed this article — it was one of three I considered — and hope you’ll click the header which follows to read this at On The Way.

I am the one Jesus loves

…I came across a bit from the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey:

“Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words: ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’ I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as ‘the one Jesus loved.’ Manning said, ‘If John were to be asked, “What is your primary identity in life?” he would not reply, “I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,” but rather, “I am the one Jesus loves.”‘

“What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as ‘the one Jesus loves?’ How differently would I view myself at the end of the day?

“Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?”1

The promises in our reading are amazing. Jesus is talking to his disciples after the Last Supper was over and before he was arrested. This reading comes right after last week’s discussion of the vine and the branches. Jesus says, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you.” He says, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.” Jesus loves you and he chose you. How does life change if we take this point of view seriously? Would your view of yourself change if you saw yourself as Mr. Yancey suggested: “I am the one Jesus loves.” This suggests that our primary identity doesn’t come from our jobs, our families, or our achievements, but from God. You are loved by God, and are a child of God who was chosen by God. When God sees you, it’s not through your acts, good or bad, or through your eyes or anyone else’s. God sees you as a child, and sees you through the lens of Christ.

You are loved and chosen. Many of you may think you have chosen Christ. It’s easy for us to think of that choice we made for Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. But before you could even make a choice for Jesus, Jesus made a choice for you. In prevenient grace, God seeks you even before you are aware of it. And as we accept the sacrifice of Jesus we are justified in God’s grace, with our sins being nailed to the cross. The grace of God continues throughout our lives, sanctifying us in God’s love. God chose us, offered us this amazing gift and as we have journeyed with Jesus he calls us his friends. Jesus told his disciples all the Father told him. He said they are no longer servants, but friends.

This distinction as Jesus’ friends is crucial because of the cross. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” This is what Jesus did for his friends, the ones he loved, the ones he chose, you and me. This is not some romantic love or a friendly love. This is amazing love, a deeper love than we have known. This is a sacrificial love. This is not some abstract idea. This love is a verb, implying actions. The action is so deep that death can’t even destroy it.

But he doesn’t just love you and he didn’t just choose you, he loves and chose all of us. It’s not for you to decide who gets the love of Jesus; that’s Jesus’ choice. So if Jesus chooses to love everyone in this room, praise be to God, but you’ll have to deal with the fact that Jesus loves some people you may not enjoy. So what are you supposed to do with that? Harbor resentment, extreme dislike or hate for another person? No. Jesus says in verse 12, “This is my commandment: Love each other just as I have loved you.” Jesus isn’t simply asking us to pretty please with a cherry on top maybe consider thinking about loving each other sort of. No. Jesus is plainly commanding us to love each other as he has loved us.

Jesus is repeating the commandment he gave in chapter 13, where he tells the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus restates this in his prayer to God in chapter 17, just before his arrest, saying, “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

This love is what we are to be known for by those who aren’t Christians. But again, this isn’t some romantic love, some pleasant thoughts about one another. This is a love that is both feeling and action. Jesus calls for us to love one another as he loved us. How does he love us? He has walked among us, taught us, healed us, equipped us and ultimately died for us in order that we may be set free from sin and reconciled to God. Jesus’ love was one of self-sacrifice. Jesus’ love was one of servanthood. After the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told the disciples to do the same to each other. They are told to love one another and to serve one another as he has loved and served them.

Jesus says that we are his friends if we do what he commands: to love one another as he has loved us. By doing this, we can live lives of complete joy knowing who we are and our purpose: We are beloved children of God who have been chosen by God to bear fruit and love one another. In loving each other, we show our love and devotion to God and bear the light of God’s love in the darkness of the world. Our light becomes the fruit of our love.

And while loving as strong and sacrificially as Jesus does sounds like a tall order, I believe we can do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on your own power to love that much because none of us have that power. Only God has that power. In order to love like Jesus we need to let go of our anger and resentment toward others. We need to stop thinking we’re better than others, stop slandering and gossiping about others, stop making fun of others. And this is within the church walls. We need to open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit and see people as Jesus sees them, with great sacrificial love. Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. Not only are you the one Jesus loves, but so are your brothers and sisters.

It’s not just us that we have to love. Jesus commanded love for God and neighbor, even when that neighbor is your enemy. How can we have love for our enemies if we can’t love each other? Our reading from 1 John 4 last week even questions our love for God if we can’t love each other. 1 John 4:19-21 says, “We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

The church and Christians are known for a lot of things, some good and some bad. Unbelievers look at the teachings of Jesus and then look to Christianity and too often find incompatibility. How can those who profess to follow Jesus neglect this important commandment to love one another. What is with the infighting within the church that has made it split into thousands of denominations? What is it within denominations that cause people to bicker and split? What is it within churches that causes people to split? Where is the love that Christians are to be known by?

We have to get this right. Our light and our witness affects our ability to make change in this world. Christianity isn’t just about scoring your pass to heaven but about bringing the kingdom of heaven to our current reality. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about the place you’ll go when you die, but something that Jesus is calling us to right now. The key to bringing it here is by living in the power of Jesus’ love. Jesus chose you and Jesus loves you. Abide in his love. Be encouraged, inspired and empowered by this. Live like you are the one Jesus loves. But also live like others are also the ones Jesus loves. Jesus calls us friends. He has given us the command to love one another and the power to do so. Love one another, not just superficially, but truly and deeply, as Jesus loves you. Let us show the world that we are Christians by our love toward God, each other and the world.


1 Yancey, Philip. What’s so Amazing about Grace?, Zondervan, 2011.

May 6, 2021

Team Jesus

1st John 2:1-6

by Clarke Dixon

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

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Good news! Our sins are forgiven!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

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

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

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

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

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

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

Now let us go back to John’s letter:

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

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

1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

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

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

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

1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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


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

April 5, 2021

The One Where You Tell God to Take the Easy Way Out

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NLT)

For years we’ve shared the writing of Jim Thornber, always pausing to remark at how our blogs have the same name. When it came time to revisit his page today, I was reminded that in 2020 he had suffered the loss of his wife due to complications from Coronavirus. He posted this item in November, and it’s timeliness to Easter cannot be overlooked. Click the header which follows to read at source.

Comfort Is Not The Agenda

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” (Luke 23:39)

One of the highlights of my week is meeting with pastors from other churches for coffee on Friday mornings. There is no plan or schedule to these meetings other than friendship, but we also gather knowing we have a unique position in our town and only other pastors will understand our victories and struggles.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the pastors referenced the thief on the cross who scoffed at Jesus, saying, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

After he quoted the thief I said, “And here we are today, still trying to tell God how to be God!”

As soon as I said this it struck me how often I have done the same thing as the thief. “If you were really THIS kind of God,” I would think, “then you would do THIS for me.” And, of course, this makes me a thief who is trying to steal the true character of God and replace it with a god of my making.

It’s a good thing our society no longer hangs thieves.

If anyone is wondering, I have plenty of suggestions on how God can make me comfortable and answer my prayers. But then, I think about Jesus. As He hung upon the cross, Jesus wasn’t concerned with His comfort. Instead, He was concerned with obeying God’s agenda for His life.

Furthermore, it’s easy for me to admit I’ve lived a comfortable life. I’ve never known the type of suffering that took place in Europe during World War II. I’ve never battled cancer or been kidnapped. I’ve never faced homelessness or starvation, never been in a car crash or lost a limb in an accident, and for those things I am grateful.

The worst pain I have ever experienced is the loss of my wife, Barbara, who died on September 12, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. I can find no words that adequately describe the pain of losing a soul mate, a best friend, the one God created to be my equal in life.

Still, I trust God will continue to work in my life as I go forward, the same way He worked in our life as I look back at the amazing twenty-six years I had with Barbara.

After years of wanting God to fulfill my will, I’ve finally come to accept that God’s agenda for my life is not to make me comfortable, but to help conform me into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Therefore, I cannot honestly say, “LORD, your will be done in me,” then complain when His will makes me uncomfortable.

Losing a spouse is devastating, but losing my perspective on God’s magnificent goodness and love would be worse. Therefore, I’ve decided keep these words of Habakkuk constantly on my mind:

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength!” (Hab. 3:18-19).

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