Christianity 201

September 22, 2022

Keeping the Sabbath – Part Two – Sabbath

by Clarke Dixon

Guess what I did last Sunday after telling the story about mowing the lawn on a Sunday. I mowed the lawn. A blatant disregard for the rules? Should I feel guilty? Is the Sabbath a day for going on a guilt trip whenever you do anything?

In reading the New Testament with fresh eyes we may be challenged in how we view the Sabbath. Let us take a look at what we do and do not find.

We do not find the apostles telling the Jesus followers who came from a non-Jewish background to keep the Jewish Sabbath when given the perfect opportunity to do so. At the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15 the apostles came together to discern if people needed to become Jews in order to become Christians. Here is what they wrote:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.

Acts 15:28-29 (NLT)

Each of the things listed to not do relates to worship practices that were common in the Roman world. You would expect that if keeping the Sabbath as the Jews did was to be a necessary religious practice of the non-Jewish Christian, it would have been listed as something to do.

We do not find Paul, who calls himself the apostle to the non-Jews, putting an emphasis on Sabbath keeping. In fact we find a hint of him doing quite the opposite in his letter to the Galatians:

You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

Galatians 4:10-12 (NLT)

Some think that “observing certain days” includes keeping the Sabbath in the strict manner as the Pharisees commended. Here Paul is commending freedom instead.

What we do find is Jesus appealing to the use of wisdom in keeping the Sabbath:

One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely. There was a man there whose arms and legs were swollen. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in religious law, “Is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day, or not?” When they refused to answer, Jesus touched the sick man and healed him and sent him away. Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” Again they could not answer.

Luke 14:1-6 (NLT emphasis added)

Jesus pointed out that even the Pharisees would break the commonly held rules around Sabbath when it was wise to do so!

We also find Jesus setting the record straight on why the Sabbath exists in the first place:

One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath…”

Mark 2:23-27 (NLT emphasis added)

What we also find is Paul telling his protégé Timothy how to think of the writings of the Old Testament:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

We Christians can become quite confused in how we use the Old Testament, especially since we are no longer living under the old covenant that is given so much attention in it. Paul calls these Scriptures “useful.” He does not call them binding rules, nor the covenant we are still under in addition to the new covenant, but rather they are “God breathed,” so yes God was involved in their writing, and they are “useful.” Nothing more, nothing less.

As Christians, we are not going to say “we are not under the old covenant, and we don’t need to become Jewish, so we are never going to rest!” Rather, the practice of a regular rhythm of rest is a wise thing to do. The Old Testament Scriptures are useful for teaching, just as Paul said. In a world that takes so much out of us, the practice of Sabbath is wise, in fact it is an act of love.

Let us be reminded, too, that the Old Testament commandments were an act of love toward others as well as oneself:

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.

Deuteronomy 5:12-14 (NIV)

Although the practice of a Sabbath day is not commanded for Jesus followers, practicing Sabbath is wise and is an act of love, toward oneself, and toward others.

So how do we Christians keep the Sabbath as a wise and loving thing to do? Should we set aside Sunday as a Sabbath, a day of rest? For some people that is very wise. Must we set aside Sunday as a Sabbath, a day of rest? For some of us that would be unwise, another day, or another rhythm of rest would be better.

When it comes to wisely practicing Sabbath, perhaps thinking of taking a day off work is too narrow. What would working too hard every day do to the ancient Israelites when the commandment to rest was first given? It could deplete their energy, cause injury, take away joy, destroy opportunities of connection and celebration, and likely lead to an early grave. Sometimes we need a break form the things that would deplete our energy, injure us, take away our joy, destroy opportunities for connection and celebration, and lead us to an early grave.

We might therefore need a break from hard work, but we may also need to take a break from bullies, expectations, people, loneliness, perfectionism, judgemental attitudes of others, or from being self-absorbed. There are many things that it may be wise to take a break from. Sabbath is an act of self-love.

But it is not just about us.

How might we give Sabbath to others? People might need a break from our expectations, our presence, our absence, our perfectionism, our judgement, our issues, and the things we do which trigger their anxiety.

Paul prayed for the believers in Philippi that their love might “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Phil 1:9 NIV). Loving people with wisdom includes concern for their need for Sabbath, discerning whatever kind of break they might need.

Given what we do and not find in the New Testament writings, Sabbath is not a strict day of obligation for the Christian, but it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity of practicing love toward oneself, giving ourselves permission to take a break. We may need a break, not just from work, but from whatever may be grinding us down. Sabbath is also an opportunity to love others, giving them a break, from work, or from whatever is grinding them down.

Notice how this can affect how we relate to those who are not church going Christians. When we think of Sabbath as a day of obligation we can have judgemental attitudes towards Sunday shoppers, Sunday mowers, or the like. Instead, in our super busy world where even retirees are worn out from having too much to do, Sabbath can be a point of commonality, and an invitation; “You need a break too, huh?”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Sabbath is not an obligation that sends us on a guilt trip, but an opportunity for a journey in being wise in acts of love toward ourselves, and others.


This spring, Clarke Dixon announced the completion of a book. Read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link. It’s a great book to give to someone who is considering Christianity but hasn’t made a decision. It contains material adapted from Clarke’s “Compelling” series which ran here a few years back. Available in print and e-book. For the rest of Clarke’s blog, click Thinking Through Scripture.

September 13, 2022

Trumpeting vs. Illuminating

“You must understand that God has not sent his Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it—through him. Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. This is the judgment—that light has entered the world and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds are evil. Anybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But anybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God.”  John 3: 17-21; J. B. Phillips translation.

The Bible makes a strong case that we’re not to “trumpet” our good works in order to get credit, or draw attention to ourselves. Nor, we are instructed, should we make a spectacle out of prayer, or giving. We are to approach God, and do acts of service with a humble spirit. We’re to take the back seat, though we might be asked to come forward.

But this passage, particularly vs. 21 “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,” following on the heels of the popular John 3:16 text, tells us that we won’t stay hidden in the darkness such as those who do wrong (evil), but rather we will come into the light, because we are naturally drawn to be people of the light.

  • NASB: But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
  • NCV: But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God
  • The Message: But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.

One verse that comes to my mind in this context is in Acts 26 where Paul is speaking before Agrippa and Festus:

26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.

I deliberate chose the KJV for this one because I love the phrasing, “this thing was not done in a corner.”  But most of the translations — even the modern ones — keep this phrasing, with The Message rendering, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.” Just as ‘cream rises to the surface,’ so will the works of God be evident, even in an unbelieving world.

Here’s how the NLT and Amplified Bible render Matthew 5:15-16

NLT 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

AMP 16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your moral excellence and your praiseworthy, noble, and good deeds and recognize and honor and praise and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.

I can’t help but also think of the tension in 1 Peter 2:12 here as well. The world may on the one hand criticize and condemn us, but then on the other hand, they recognize the good that the presence of Spirit-filled Christians are doing in the world.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (NLT)

Therefore:

  • We dwell in the light, not darkness
  • We reflect (or you could say, carry) The Light of God
  • We shine like light and are the light of the world

September 2, 2022

The Good News Changes the World

NRSVUE.Acts.17.4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some brothers and sisters before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this…

 

Appropriately enough, we’re back for a fourth time with Stanley J. Groothof who blogs at The 4th Point. In many communities, pastors are often asked to write something for the local newspaper. That’s what this is: An opportunity to speak to a wider audience than weekend church services might offer. Clicking the title below will take you to where it first appeared (and a picture of Stanley’s mouse pad referenced in the first paragraph!)

Upside down

On my desk is a mousepad. It’s a round mousepad and pictured on it is a map of the world. You can see a good chunk of North and South America, all of Europe and Africa, and part of Asia.

There’s just one thing that’s a little strange about my mousepad: It’s upside down – at least compared to how we usually look at a world map. The tip of Argentina points straight up pretending it’s high noon and Santa’s home at the North Pole is at the bottom! I understand that’s how Australians orient their globes, but here in North America it just doesn’t look quite right.

My upside down globe daily reminds me of something the people in Thessalonica say in Acts 17. Although the Gospel is initially welcomed by the Thessalonians, some ruffians show up where the followers of Jesus are sharing the Good News. These bad characters form a mob that turns into a riot. They drag some the disciples before the authorities with this accusation: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”

Apparently the people in Thessalonica don’t like having their world turned upside down.

I don’t either.

Yet that’s what the Gospel consistently does. It reveals how weakness is strength. How poverty reveals true wealth. How death leads to life. It sounds backwards, but God wins by losing. His perfect Son Jesus dies on the cross – the most humiliating, shameful ending imaginable. But Jesus beats death at its own game and rises in a shocking new beginning on the third day. Now for all who are in Christ, sin has been defeated, life has purpose, and the future is hopeful.

Those who identify with Jesus can’t help but adapt more and more to God’s upside down ways. Followers of Jesus perceive that generosity carries the highest profit. Slowing down helps you get ahead. Apologies are necessary. Forgiveness is freeing. Fidelity is meant to be celebrated. Sports are not meant to be idolized. Wisdom is more valuable than a university degree. Possessions are temporary. Beauty comes from character instead of the cosmetics counter. It’s ok for both men and women to cry. Those who are overlooked need compassion. We’re stewards (not owners) of creation. The truth matters. Promises need to be kept. Rights can be willingly set aside. The unborn already have an imprint of the divine. Ethnic diversity is a foretaste of heaven. Worshiping is the best use of time. Persecution is a reward. Peace overpowers hate. Loving one’s enemy is normal.

Many influencers in our culture say that living in line with these and other priorities in God’s Kingdom is unrealistic and pointless. They say living like that is upside down. And sometimes it feels that way. Especially when I get used to things not being right side up as described in the Bible.

So I keep Argentina on my mousepad map pointing upwards to remind me that God works in surprising ways. And that his Spirit empowers me to sometimes turn things upside down in God’s name. When I do so, I’m in good company with the disciples in Acts 17.

 


About the scripture reference: This is the first time we’ve had an author using the new NRSVUE which is publishing this month. It stands for New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

June 4, 2022

Pentecost Sunday: The Church Branches Out

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Acts.2.1.NIV When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[or languages] as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Growing up, I often heard Pentecost Sunday referred to as “the birthday of the church.” It is generally considered the ground zero moment for the Church-with-a-capital-C that Jesus said he would build.

We have a first-time writer to highlight again today. Pastor John B blogs at his self-named site and is a United Methodist pastor in the U.S. His tag line is,”Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!” Clicking the header which follows will take you to where today’s devotional first appeared.

As Faithful

Verse 6: “A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his [or her] own language.”

Acts 2 tells the story of God’s word branching out. A small group of Jesus followers are gathered for worship in Jerusalem, a city teeming with people there to celebrate Pentecost or Shavuot, in Judaism. It is a yearly festival to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. On this day a loud wind draws people from all over the world to the house where the followers were gathered. Upon each follower was the flame of the Holy Spirit – just as Jesus has promised.

As the worldly crowd gathers, the Spirit enables the followers to speak the good news of Jesus Christ in a diverse array of languages. People from all over the known world hear these Galileans speaking in their own native tongues. Many are amazed by this act of God. They know that something extraordinary is happening here. Many listen and are drawn into Jesus.

When have you had a similar experience? Maybe for you it was when the Spirit prompted you to go and offer reconciliation. Maybe for you it was a nudge to go visit a shut-in or someone who was ill. Maybe it was a whisper to engage that stranger. Maybe it was a random thought to pray for someone you know. This same Holy Spirit continues to speak and to empower followers of Jesus Christ to witness to the good news. May we be as faithful as this first Pentecost crowd, drawing others to know our Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, this day is full of opportunities. Use me as you see fit to be a sharer of the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Bonus item:

Some of you enjoy watching sermon content online. Earlier this week, it was announced that in the Fall, Andy Wood will replace Rick Warren as the senior pastor at Saddleback Church. I was curious to hear Andy preach, and this morning watched and listened to this sermon from a few months ago, about what it means to be an ambassador of Christ. (It’s part 3 in a series, but this was the message I selected earlier today.)

May 6, 2022

The Love Chapter in Romans

Earlier today I noticed that while we tend to think of the Apostle Paul’s treatise on love occurring in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, he has much to say in the thirteenth chapter of Romans. And because chapter divisions are artificial, we see see the basis of his teaching starting in chapter twelve.

But just as in I Corinthians the teaching falls in the middle of a discourse on spiritual gifts, in Romans it’s the opposite. There’s a bit of a surprise teaching sandwiched between two passages on love; a teaching that’s really timely and relevant for us today.

But first let’s look at love.

The basic teaching

Love must be purely motivated

12.9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Love must be other-centered

10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves

Love must incorporate hospitality

13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Love is counter-intuitive

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Love is empathetic

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Love works for peace

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Love is a continuous imperative; ongoing

13.8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Love is the summation of the commandments

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.

10b … love is the fulfillment of the law.

Love never causes hurt or pain

10a Love does no harm to a neighbor.

The in-between teaching

In the first part of chapter 13, we encounter a section on obedience to the ruling authorities. Paul clearly sees this as an extension of what he has said in chapter 12, and what he will offer as a conclusion.

13.1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

In the verses which follow, although he doesn’t use the phrase “the sovereignty of God,” he appears convinced that God has ordained for certain people to be in authority. This would be a difficult pill to swallow for people living in Roman-occupied Palestine, although it was the church in Rome to which he is particularly speaking here.

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

His last point on this matter is one which may have been another cause of discontent, the remission of taxes. He sees tax payment and submission as being the mark of respect for the government.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

It’s interesting that Paul goes this route. With the Corinthians, when he wants to speak about spiritual gifts, it is often the gift of speaking in tongues he uses as his example. Here in Romans, when he wants to speak about love, it is our relationship to authority that he pinpoints as his best example of whether or not we’re expressing the principles of love listed earlier in chapter 12.

If you live in a country where the democratic political system is partisan in nature, and elections are often close, it means that 50% of the people may not be satisfied with their government at any particular time. The command to honor and respect becomes difficult when emotional attachments run high.

This is certainly our challenge as well in this cultural moment.

 

 

May 2, 2022

Paul’s Encouragement: A Reforming Process

This is our fourth time with , who writes at Our Living Hope. We often think of Paul’s letters as being encouraging, but in this article he uses the language that they are part of a reformation process for the churches which heard them read and applied them in the situation they were facing or would face. Click the link which follows to visit the site in person.

A Letter of Encouragement

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you….” 1 Thessalonians 1:4.

Recently I was reading an interesting article on reformation, and it was the story of English reformer William Tyndale but with a fresh insight, and it was good to know how God used him in his time in a unique way. The Holyspirit is the greatest reformer of the Church, time and again he raises and inspires people to voice out his reform whenever it is needed. Apostle Paul who was once persecuting the Church became the torch bearer of the Gospel, he not only planted churches but also reformed the churches time and again through his letters. His letters spoke reform to the upcoming churches in the Greco-Roman world and still speaks reform and transformation even in our times. This is one such letter to a growing Thessalonian Church which was influenced by many issues. He carefully lays out his heart and his burden with all humility to strengthen them in the truth.

Apostle Paul writes to the Church at Thessaloniki encouraging them in their faith to face challenges, reminding them about the acts God performed among them when Paul and his team approached and preached them the Gospel of Jesus for the first time and how they received it with great joy. Apostle Paul takes them on a journey back to remind them of their strong faith in the Lord, God’s faithfulness in their lives and their own ministry among them. Reformation means growth and change towards the truth, and Paul sought growth in them by speaking out the truth in various dimensions.

In Power and of the Holyspirit :

“Because our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction”. 1 Thessalonians 1:4.

First and foremost A. Paul reminds them that their message didn’t come with just words but was attested by the power of God. It came with the conviction of the Holy Spirit which transformed their lives and made them believe in the midst of suffering. The Holyspirit acted powerfully through their ministry and the heart of the Thessalonians got convicted by the Gospel and there were signs and miracles resulting in people being delivered and coming to the knowledge of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), the kingdom of God is not just talk but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20) and the Holyspirit brings conviction in people’s lives through the Gospel (John 16:8). A. Paul underscores in authenticity that their message was accompanied by God’s power, which was evident by their changed lives and that a community of faithful was raised among them.

Amidst Persecution and challenges:

“We had previously suffered in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his Gospel inspite of strong opposition”. 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

A. Paul then reminds them of the manner in which they brought the message of truth to them. It was not an easy journey to them, they had to go through suffering and opposition in order to reach them. It tested their faith and commitment to their call but it also became a witness and testament to the church at Thessaloniki that they were indeed servants of God. Truth will be tested but it has the power to remain till the end ( 1 Thessalonians 3: 3-4, 2 Timothy 3:11-12, John 15:19-20, Revelation 2:10-11, 1 Peter 4:12). As Paul reminds them of his sufferings, the Church were reminded them about their responsibility to care for those who serve them and be an encouragement to them by growing in faith and commitment to the Lord who suffered for their salvation.

With Authority and Good intentions:

“On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness”. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-5.

The Gospel preached by Apostle Paul came with authority as the one approved by God. Their intent was to please God than men, they called upon God as their witness and their accountability partner. They didn’t deceive them with carefully constructed stories but their motives were true, and they sought the wellbeing and growth of the Church at Thessaloniki. They served God with pure hearts and clean hands for the Glory of his Holy Name ( Psalm 2:11-12, Matthew 3:17, 25:23). They didn’t do anything to exploit them but their intention was to fulfill God’s plan for them.

In Love and Care :

“..But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us”. 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.

Like Christ gave himself to the Church, A. Paul reminds and encourages the Church at Thessaloniki that their message came with care and love that they shared themselves with them. He carefully shows them that they not only shared the message, but they have a relationship with them in the Lord. ‘We were gentle to care for you as a mother cares for her own children’ he states (Isaiah 44:3, 66:13). He lived among them and fed them with spiritual milk so that they may be nourished and grow in the Lord. It was out of love and care the ministry was built among them (Philippians 1:8, Galatians 4:19, Philippians 2:1-2). Paul taught that the spirituality of our Faith hinges not only on the divinity of God but also from the support of the community of God.

In Example and in Truth :

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children….”. 1 Thessalonians 2:10-11.

If Apostle Paul’s work for the Lord can face criticism then it’s a gurantee that everyone else’s will be. But he also patiently reminds them about the exemplary life he lived before them (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). He was like a Father to them without any partiality teaching them the truth and disciplined them in the ways of the Lord ( Hebrews 12:6). He lived a life of such faith when he lived among them which made the Gospel message relevant to the fellowship there, his life became the most important message. He was able to say follow me as I follow Christ, and that he is a father to the Lord’s flock (1 Corinthians 4:15). His life itself became an encouragement to the Church at Thessaloniki.

One of the early letters of A.Paul to the church in Macedonian province serves as an encouragement even now. It was a letter of mutual encouragement and reformation. A. Paul was encouraged looking back at his own ministry in Thessaloniki and the believers were encouraged and refreshed by being reminded of their commitment to the Lord and was comforted to stay firm in their faith. The steadfast work of A.Paul for the Lord not only comes because of his call, anointing and the grace over his life but also his willingness to learn and grow (Philippians 3:12). In Paul’s appeal to the Church at Thessaloniki we behold one of the finest and powerful torch bearers of the Gospel.

There is always refreshing when your spirit flows
There is power as it overflows
May it reform us to incessantly grow
By the light of your gentle glow…

January 19, 2022

Resumé: The Apostle Paul

We again feature the writing of someone who appears here for the first time. Pastor Will has spent his life on the U.S. west coast, in California, Oregon and Washington. If you have time, check out his testimony. His blog posts are all titled the same as the blog itself, Today’s Scripture. We reached back to last October for this one, while he was in a series on 2 Corinthians. (He’s currently in Hebrews.)

Click the header which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Today’s Scripture

2 Corinthians 11:16-32 (HCSB)

I repeat: No one should consider me a fool. But if you do, at least accept me as a fool, so I too may boast a little. What I say in this matter of boasting, I don’t speak as the Lord would, but foolishly. Since many boast in an unspiritual way, I will also boast. For you, being so wise, gladly put up with fools! In fact, you put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours you, if someone captures you, if someone dominates you, or if someone hits you in the face. I say this to our shame: We have been weak.

But in whatever anyone dares to boast—I am talking foolishly—I also dare: Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, near death many times.

Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods by the Romans. Once I was stoned by my enemies. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.

Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is praised forever, knows I am not lying. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to arrest me, so I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

The “super apostles” that had followed Paul into Corinth built themselves up by boasting of their credentials, and by tearing down Paul. Many of them had impressive educational credentials, having studied under one famous rabbi or another. They had traveled miles spreading the good news, and even had letters of commendation from elders in Churches in other communities who appreciated their ministry. What did Paul have that could possibly compete?

Paul didn’t actually have to compete, especially in the church in Corinth which he had founded. But he is willing to play the game, even though it was a foolish game.

He begins with his human credentials, his birth as a Jew, and his credentials as a follower Jesus. In these Paul is in no way inferior to those who are striving to displace him.

Then Paul goes on to list an impressive catalogue of sufferings he had undergone for the gospel. Many of the “super apostles” had done their ministry quite comfortably, being given the best available accommodations in every community they had visited. But they had traveled on trails that had been blazed by Paul, making a comfortable living from structures that Paul had built over years of suffering, privation, and loss.

Paul also pointed out that while those “super apostles” might care for the Corinthians while they were in Corinth, Paul cared about them, wrestled in prayer for them, even when he was ministering in other communities. They were his spiritual children, not just a project he had embraced while he was with them, and then forgot after he had moved on.

Paul has no motive to share only the positive things he has experienced in his ministry, painting a picture of a charmed life. From his beginnings as an apostle in Damascus, his life had been anything but charmed. But all his sufferings, all the persecutions and privations he had experienced, testified to the goodness and power of God the Father and of Jesus. And Paul’s whole focus was not to lift himself up, but to glorify them.

Father, it is easy for us to be swayed by impressive credentials and by people who seem to have had nothing but ever-increasing success in their ministries. Not many congregations today would hire Paul to be their pastor with his history of persecution and conflict. The pastor who has faithfully led a small congregation, often staying put in the face of opposition and outright persecution, is not much appreciated today. It was the same in Paul’s day. But Lord, I am thankful, not only for Paul, but for the unsung heroes of our own day, who faithfully lead small congregations into the deeper life in your kingdom, and who work, and sweat, and persevere until they show up at Your heavenly gates, beaten, and bruised, and exhausted, to hear your words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Amen.

January 12, 2022

A Powerful Church

Four years ago we introduced you to the writing of Bert M. Farias, who like another author frequently featured here, J. Lee Grady, has a blog at Charisma Magazine’s website. This time however, we’re featuring some writing from his own site, at Holy Fire Ministries. Bert has a number of published books, as well as two new ones due this month.

His primary audience is Pentecostal and Charismatic readers. Note that as you read. Click the header which follows and read today’s devotional at his site.

Christ’s True Church is One of Power

The Church began as a pure and powerful free flowing river in Acts 2, but through the centuries of time that river has picked up much dirt and debris (sin, man’s traditions, doctrines of demons, carnality, and compromise, etc.) until it became so muddied and diluted of its former character, power, and authority that it devolved into a shell of its former glory and such a phantom of the original. But in the last few centuries a glorious restoration has begun in its character, power, and authority until now we stand on the precipice of the greatest awakening and move of God this world has ever seen.

The early Church was birthed in Jerusalem where Jesus commanded them to wait for His POWER (Acts 1:8), and through the early apostles this POWER was carried forth to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth at the time. Then years later the “work” that Saul and Barnabas were separated unto added to the expansion of this gospel of POWER very quickly (Acts 13).

“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the HOLY Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the WORK to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus” (Acts 13:2-4).

Most church members and saints, however, are not called to the “WORK” but specifically called locally. They have jobs, families, and relationships in their Jerusalem. Others’ sphere of influence will extend out to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world etc. This is the Lord’s divine design to add to the local churches and multiply the number of disciples and the obedience to the faith of many (Acts 6:7). It is to be the Church’s primary focus and commission.

UNITY IN THE BODY WHEN EACH FINDS THEIR PLACE

This is a simple word but profound and will create greater unity in the body when everyone finds their place. We cannot think of ourselves higher than we ought to, but at the same time, we cannot lightly esteem the lesser or weaker members either.

“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Cor. 12:18).

We often forget that this verse was written to the church at Corinth. It is in a local church setting and context. Here is another verse from another chapter:

“Do you not discern and understand that you [the whole church at Corinth] are God’s temple (His sanctuary), and that God’s Spirit has His permanent dwelling in you [to be at home in you, [collectively as a church and also individually]” (2 Cor. 3:16 — AMP)? We need more collective movement in the body and less independent movement. I’ll say more about that at another time.

THE WORK VS. THE LOCAL CHURCH

Saul and Barnabas along with three other prophets and teachers were ministering to the Lord and fasting at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), when the Lord separated them to a WORK whose sphere of influence would be far beyond the local church in Antioch. Not everyone is called, separated, and sent that way. You can’t make yourself a prophet or a teacher, or an apostle, or choose it like you would choose a secular profession, as many self appointed Facebook and social media individuals do. I’d rather hear a donkey bray in a barn at midnight than listen to some of these pseudo “apostles” and “prophets” tout their latest revelations on social media. A true apostolic anointing has Power attached to it. It is God who appoints, anoints, sets and sends.

We see the immediate impact and results of this separation and sending. Saul (Paul) immediately begins to operate in a greater POWER and authority (Acts 13:8-12).

A TRANSFER OF POWER: STEPHEN AND PHILIP

In the early church at Jerusalem we see the same principle in operation as Stephen and Philip move from serving as deacons and tending to windows into a ministry of POWER and greater supernatural influence ( Acts 6-8). What often happens, though, is Christians get excited about Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth, and they lightly esteem Jerusalem. Spirit-filled leadership will recognize callings and anointings but it’s the Holy Spirit who does the “setting apart”. You can’t just lay hands on people to receive gifts and mantles, as is so common today, without the authorization of heaven and the direction of the Spirit. That’s just treating the things of the Spirit as common and playing with them as if they’re toys. It’s childish and irreverent to make so base that which is holy. Immaturity should not be a leader of God’s people.

LAYING ON OF HANDS WITH PRAYER AND FASTING

Honestly, so much of the laying on of hands today is done in the flesh. Often there is no leading of the Spirit to do it. No faith. No reverence. No POWER.

I remember being a part of a full gospel but still traditional church that would lay hands on the sick nearly every Sunday. The pastor would call up the elders, most of whom had no anointing, give each of them a bottle of oil, and just lay hands on people with no faith, no unction, and no POWER. Never did I see anyone healed. Never was there a testimony of such. You might as well just have laid hands on a piece of wood.

Friends, these things are holy. The laying on of hands is holy whether it be for healing or setting someone apart for ministry. There is supposed to be active faith and/or a transfer of POWER with it. There should be believing effectual prayer and at times fasting attached to it.

Notice that it wasn’t until the apostles laid hands on the seven that Philip and Stephen began to move out and preach the gospel in great miracle POWER (Acts 6:8). They received a great impartation and transfer of Power from the apostles when they hands on them.

STEPHEN

“… whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:6,8).

PHILIP

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:5-7).

This is not for everyone. We have no record of the other five deacons receiving the same impartation or transfer of POWER Philip and Stephen did. Yes, we are all commissioned to preach and to lay hands on the sick and cast out devils (*Mark 16:15-18), but some are called, especially anointed, and appointed to a ministry office or function.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:27-28).

God sets in the body whomever He wills and appoints various ministry gifts. Some are called to work locally all their lives. Others will mature into greater callings of greater influence. Stay content in that and don’t push for ministry beyond the scope of what the Lord has ordained. Even John the beloved, an apostle, appears to have limited himself to mainly Jerusalem for sometime to care for Jesus’s mother Mary and help oversee the local church before ending up at Ephesus, and then confined to the island of Patmos in his later years. But he lived longer than the rest of the original apostles and became known as the apostle of love from what we glean from the gospel and epistle that bears his name.

Not every minister has an international ministry. I believe some ministries are confined to their present locale and region. The same could hold true with apostolic and prophetic ministries. Be faithful to your local church family and community as Philip and Stephen were, and if God sees fit to increase your sphere of influence let Him do it. Don’t initiate it on your own. Your overseers, if they are Spirit-filled men, will know it.

Find your place in your grace. Function in your unction. Remain in your lane.

In conclusion, read the following portion of Scripture very slowly and carefully:

“They compare themselves to one another and make up their own standards to measure themselves by, and then they judge themselves by their own standards. What self-delusion! But we are those who choose to limit our boasting to only the measure of the work to which God has appointed us—a measure that, by the way, has reached as far as you. And since you are within our assigned limits, we didn’t overstep our boundaries of authority by being the first to announce to you the wonderful news of the Anointed One. We’re not trying to take credit for the ministry done by others, going beyond the limits God set for us. Instead, our hope soars as your faith continues to grow, causing a great expansion of our ministry among you” (2 Cor. 12:12-15 — TPT).

I could say so much about these verses, but that will have to be for another time.

Stay tuned or buy the book (s) when it’s published.

November 18, 2021

Time to Make Christianity Great Again?

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Thinking Through Acts 10:44-48

by Clarke Dixon

There is no doubt that Christianity does not enjoy the esteem and influence that it once did in this part of the world. No doubt there are many who would love to make Christianity great again. This being so, there is an event recorded in the book of Acts which should be cause for reflection.

To understand the importance of this event, we will want to go back to the Old Testament. Let’s go back to Genesis where God called Abraham and made two key promises. The first was “I will make you into a great nation” (12:2 NLT). The second was “All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (12:3 NLT).

As we read through the rest of the Old Testament, we may get the impression, from Exodus right through to the book of Malachi, that it is all about the special nation that descended from Abraham. We read about the founding and formation of God’s people, the giving of the law, their relationship with God along the way, their lack of relationship with God along the way, their exile due to a lack of relationship with God, and their return from exile thanks to God’s commitment to the relationship and his promises.

Reading through the Old Testament, therefore, we might get the impression that the focus is almost entirely on the first promise to Abraham, of making him into a great nation. The other promise, of all nations being blessed, for the most part seems to fall off the radar.

Enter Jesus. The attitude of people toward Jesus, as they considered whether he was the Messiah or not, could be summed up with the question: “Is this the one who is going to make Israel great again?”

God’s old covenant people had been through a lot including exile and the return from exile. They continued to face hard times as they had been under foreign rule quite often since the return from exile, and were now under the thumb of the Romans. Perhaps Jesus is the one who will fix this Roman problem and bring them back to being a sovereign nation? The mood in the air pointed to a focus on the first promise of making Israel great. Even the apostles were caught up in it when following his resurrection,

…the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

Acts 1:6 (NLT)

While the apostles still had in mind the promise of making Israel great, Jesus pointed to another promise, the promise of the Holy Spirit:

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:7-8 (NLT)

The Holy Spirit did indeed come upon a great crowd of people which we can read about in Acts, chapter two. But all these people, though coming from different nations, were part of God’s old covenant people. The idea of making Israel great again could still linger, the promise of blessing all the families of the earth could still be largely off the radar. Until we get to Acts, chapter ten. Here Peter had a rather “un-Jewish” vision, while Cornelius, a non-Jew had an angel visitation resulting in the invitation of Peter to the home of Cornelius, another rather “un-Jewish” thing to happen. Peter then spoke to them about Jesus, and,

as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.
Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:44-48 (NLT)

If there was any doubt before, there was no doubt now, that Jesus’ purpose was not about making Israel great again, but about making the world great at last, fulfilling the promise to Abraham that “All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

This fulfillment of the promise challenges us in our desire to make Christianity great again.

Let’s remember that while the Jews hated being under Roman rule, most nations, and many Jews, could see the benefit of Roman rule. New roads were built along with new buildings and facilities like gymnasiums. And there was the “peace of Rome.” Nations under Roman rule, and there were many, could count on protection from attack, both from beyond and from within the empire. The Roman army would intervene, and it was a very good army.

While Rome brought peace, it did so, as at least one Bible teacher has pointed out, by “the power of the cross.” Rome ruled and kept peace through the use of brute force and brutality. The empire had peace, but it was an ugly empire, with an ugly, and precarious, kind of peace. In contrast, Jesus brought a different kind of peace, a beautiful lasting peace with God and others. Jesus brought peace by the power of cross, but it was not peace won by brute force and brutality, but rather peace won by love, grace, and forgiveness.

Through Jesus, God was not making Israel great again by making it like Rome as some had hoped. Rather, through Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God was, and still is, inviting everyone to the Kingdom of God. This is a good kingdom, one of love, justice, and goodness.

Rome had accomplished the bringing together of many different peoples together in one peaceful empire. That peace was held by the power and brutality of the cross. Jesus brings people together in one peaceful kingdom. That peace is held by God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love made evident at the cross.

Which cross do we use? Are we a people of brute force? Or are we a people of love and grace? Christianity can not be made great again through brute force. There is nothing great about that. Perhaps we need a better focus than making Christianity great again anyway. Perhaps a better focus is the blessing of all the families of the earth.


Clarke Dixon had a significant birthday yesterday, but hey, we’ll never tell! His the devotions here come to us via his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s message is based, click this YouTube link.

November 11, 2021

The Greatest New Beginning Ever

Thinking Through Acts 1:1-5

What is the biggest new beginning the world has ever seen?

Some might point to the conclusion of WWII, ushering in a post-war era, or the the dropping of atomic bombs, ushering in the nuclear age and a nuclear arms race. Some might point to the Reformation, or the Enlightenment, or of course, the current pandemic. Has anyone in the world been immune to the changes it has brought?

Whatever we might think has been the biggest “new beginning” humanity has experienced, let me suggest that the biggest and greatest new beginning ever can be found summed up in the first few verses of the book of Acts:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven . . .

Acts 1:1-2 (NLT)

The writer, in speaking of a first book, is referring here to the Gospel of Luke in which he wrote about the birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The biggest new beginning the world has ever seen is Jesus!

You don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate how Jesus has had a great impact on world history. Yes, Christians have sometimes had a negative impact, but there can be no doubt Jesus has changed the course of world history. Of course we can also think about the impact Jesus has had in many, many individual lives.

As the book of Acts opens, we learn about how Jesus has been the greatest new beginning ever seen:

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles . . .

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

Central to this new beginning is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. There are different ways of looking at how the death and resurrection of Jesus works, of how the events of that first Easter have brought a new beginning. Though there are others, here are three keys ways:

First, Jesus took our place, suffering the consequence of our sin, so that we may have eternal life.

Second, Jesus had victory over evil, sin, and death. Though it looked like the powers of evil had won at the crucifixion, actually it turned out that God had the victory. As Bible scholar N.T. Wright often points out, Jesus is not a failed messiah, but the true king. Good triumphs over evil in the end because God triumphs, and God is good. Love wins in the end because God wins, and God is love.

Third, Jesus is the example of what love looks like. God came to us in Jesus, we killed Jesus, God loves us anyway and offers reconciliation. If everyone responded to offence the way that God responded to the offence of humanity at the cross, what a different world this would be!

When we hold these three perspectives together we see a wonderful new beginning with the expectant hope of eternal life though we have not earned it, the knowledge that Jesus is Lord though we don’t always perceive it, and the example of the better way of love though we don’t always live it. The suffering and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything.

Let us continue in Acts:

. . . and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

It was obvious to the disciples and everyone else in Jerusalem that Jesus was killed. It likely took a wee bit more convincing that he was alive. However they were convinced, not that they had seen a ghost, nor that Jesus was simply resuscitated to life in the here and now, but that Jesus was raised to new life with a new kind of body. The disciples and many others were convinced enough to change their whole perspective, and convinced enough to suffer and die for what they knew to be true. The resurrection changed the disciples. The resurrection changed everything. It was a wonderful new beginning.

Let us continue,

And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

We can take note that during the forty days between resurrection and ascension, the Kingdom of God was a special focus for Jesus as he taught his disciples. Therefore the Kingdom of God really ought to be a focus for Jesus followers today.

We may think the focus of Christianity is “how to get to heaven when I die.” We think, therefore, that the new beginning will be when we die. True, that will be a wonderful new beginning, but there is much more to it than that.

We are reminded of how Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What are we praying for when we pray that? Are we praying for the end of the world?

Here is one way to imagine “Thy kingdom come.” What do you imagine that future will look like, when we are with God in the age of resurrection?

Will there be poverty then?
No, so let us deal with poverty now.
Will there be racism then?
No, so let us deal with racism now.
Will there be abuse, sexism, discrimination, bullying, war or…?
No, so let us deal with these kinds of things now.

Will people be suffering from mental health and depression then?
No, so let us help people who suffer from these things now.
Will people battle addictions or other kinds of inner battles then?
No, so let us help people who are facing these kinds of battles now.

Will there be a concern for truth then?
Yes, so let us pursue truth now.
Will there be justice then?
Yes, so let us pursue justice now.
Will people feel free to be honest then?
Yes, so let us make space for people to be honest now.
Will there be a love for reconciliation, then?
Yes, so let us pursue reconciliation now.

Will we be a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and things like these then? (See Galatians 5:22,23)
Yes, so let us open our lives to the Holy Spirit to be nurtured in these qualities now.

Are we waiting to die before things can get better, before we experience a true new beginning? There is no need to wait, Jesus is already king, we are his kingdom people now.

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

We are not done yet,

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5 (NLT)

This new beginning brought about a new normal which persists even today; the Holy Spirit is now running rampant in the world. This new beginning, this Kingdom, is not happening without God. It is not going to happen without us either.

In Conclusion.

With Jesus came a massive new beginning for the world. In Jesus God’s kingdom is both here and near. It is a massive new beginning that God is doing in the here and now, which will lead to something bigger in the there and then. It is a massive new beginning that we are invited to participate in. It changes the world, it changes our communities, it changes us, it changes everything.

Are you ready for a new beginning?


Regular Thursday contributor and Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s message is based, click this YouTube link.

August 16, 2021

Philippians: Packed with Strong Doctrine and Theology

NIV.Phil.2.6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

We’re back for our fifth annual visit highlighting the writing of Jim Grant at Preach Between the Lines.  Jim is Executive Director of the Galveston Baptist Association, a conference speaker and contributing writer for the National Revitalization organization called Renovate. Clicking the header which follows will take you to his site and other articles, some written for pastors and leaders.

As preparation for today’s thoughts, take a few minutes to read Philippians 1-4.

Philippians 1-4; The Koinonia Church

I think the book of Philippians may be the most often quoted book. I think of this because it has so many uplifting verses. In Paul’s other epistles he always has a nice opening paragraph then he dives into the issues the particular church has. This is not the case with the Philippians.

The church at Philippi was started in Acts 16. Paul wanting to go to other regions but was directed by the Holy Spirit to wait. While he was waiting, the Macedonian Vision came to him. As was Paul’s custom he goes to the Jewish synagogues and seeks out God-fearers. I must have been such a joy to minister to the people of the Macedonian region. We find that they are a loving church and a giving church. When Paul asks the gentile churches to give an offering to the Jerusalem church in harsh persecution and a deep famine; the Philippian church not only gave generously, but first gave themselves to the call. They were probably the very opposite of the Corinthian Church, who seemed to be very self-centered, childish, and carnal. Yes, the great Apostle Paul had to deal with bad churches!

This short book if filled with strong doctrine and theology. Looking at the “Kenotic passage” Philippians 2:5-11; we are confronted with the humanity and deity of Jesus. Now there have been Councils in the Early Church to debate whether Jesus was human and/or deity. Our minds cannot conceive how someone can be fully both. Jesus never ceases to be God. It took me a long time to understand how this could be. Jesus being God, “Set aside” His deity so as to be fully obedient to the Father, not on the basis of His own power, but the power of the Father working in and through him. I believe that Jesus is the perfect man. As we know from 1 Corinthians 15:45, the second Adam was a living spirit. Jesus was what the original Adam was supposed to be had sin not entered in him.

There is several verses that admonish the believers to conduct themselves as the Children of God that they are called to be. Particularly Philippians 1:27-30. Unity comes out of this book; which Paul has repeated before in Ephesians 4:1-6.

When we think about Paul writing this letter while in prison, I am amazed at his upbeat tone. Obviously, the Philippian church is very dear to him. Of course, they have ministered to him directly. Even though Paul is in a Roman prison, awaiting sentencing – he can speak joyfully “for him to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil. 1:21]

Paul knows that death is near, yet he is so intense about serving and being found faithful with his remaining days. In chapter 3, we find the wonderful testimony of Paul. He could have boasted about both of his lives, his pre-salvation and apostleship. Paul was already a successful man in the Jewish religion. He had the right schooling and blood lines. He has ascended the “success ladder.” But when Jesus comes to him on the Damascus road – Paul considered everything prior to his salvation worthless!

Paul had known pain and agony. He did have an unknown “thorn in the flesh” that kept him humbled. Yet, in his last days, he says that he is a “drink offering” already being poured out before God. He had an amazing missionary ministry, yet his desire is to “know Christ and the fellowship if His suffering, being conformed to His death.” [Phil. 3:7-10]

Paul is writing this heart-felt letter to his dear friends in Macedonia. They have supported him when no other church would even identify with him. [Phil. 4:15-18] Paul, it seems is reliving his life through the letter. He does not know his future, yet still he is encouraging and complimenting the Philippian church. I have always thought the Philippian church was sort of a church that lived “in the trenches” of culture. It was not like Rome or Ephesus or even Corinth. Yet it was a strong, mature church.

I wonder how we would write our memoirs. What would we focus on? If this were our last will and testament, what would we think was most important to say to those we love? Paul pours his heart out to this group of believers. Yet his focus was not “oh, look at me, pity me for being in prison.” No, Paul energizes and encourages the church to “Press On to the high calling in Christ” as he has.

Oh, that pastors and congregations would have this mutual loving relationship. No struggle for who is in authority, but a clear focus of Kingdom building and living. May it be so!

 

July 15, 2021

Parallels Between the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Story And Ours

NIV.Acts.8.30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31a “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”

This article is based on a sermon that was a sequel to the one which presented here last week and appeared under the title below. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in one of several Canadian denominations of Baptist.  We hope some of the good things he has to say about his faith family apply to yours as well. The scripture focus today is the story of the eunuch who was some type of government official as well, so I’m not sure why we focus on his eunuchicity. (Like that word?) He was riding in a chariot when the encounter took place. Clarke has linked the scripture text in the article.

What I Love About Being a Baptist Despite My Misgivings About Baptists

by Clarke Dixon

Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, but no I don’t always like Baptists.

First off, I don’t like being a Baptist when people think they know what you are like and what you believe. This happens for people from every Christian tradition I’m sure, but when you are a Baptist, you face things like “you can’t dance.” True enough in my case, but that is not a theological thing, I’m just not good at it.

People hear you are a Baptist and think Westboro Baptist, they think Republican party. They don’t think Tommy Douglas, an NDP politician voted the Greatest Canadian in a national poll by the CBC not too long ago. Oh, and he was also a Baptist pastor.

People think “Bible thumpers.” They don’t think of people who put a lot of thought into reading and understanding the Bible.

We also have a reputation for not getting along with others, including each other! When it comes to the churches we officially associate with, the sentiment is often expressed, “if they are in, we are out.”

Worldwide, Baptists are one massive dysfunctional, disorganized, and often estranged-from-each-other kind of family.

What I love about being a Baptist, despite my misgivings.

In reading the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 we can find some of the reasons I love being a Baptist.

I love being a Baptist because freedom is important.

The Ethiopian Eunuch came to trust in Jesus freely and of his own accord. Phillip did not force him, in fact being baptized was the Ethiopian’s idea. He would also have been free to reject what Phillip told him about Jesus. If my sons express faith and are baptized, it will be their decision, their faith, not mine.

We promote the freedom to worship God according to our own conscience and not under compulsion from any government or church hierarchy telling us what to believe and how to live as followers of Jesus.

We also believe in the importance of freedom for others to worship God, or not, according to their own conscience. Religious freedom, within reason, for all people is important to us.

We do not think of the Christian Church as being a community of people who ought to be Christian because they are born in a certain nation, but rather a community of people who have freely chosen to follow Jesus, no matter where they are from.

I love being a Baptist because our main creed is ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Jesus was the focus for Phillip when the Ethiopian asked about the suffering servant in the scroll of Isaiah he was reading. We see no effort on Phillip’s part in trying to get the the Ethiopian to start practicing a certain kind of religion, or buy into a certain tradition, but rather he introduces him to Jesus. As Baptists, we are all about Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and therefore the head of the church, not a king or queen, or a pope. This is why congregational voting is so important to us. The hierarchy of the church is not Lord, nor is the pastor, but Jesus. Since Jesus is Lord, we believe finding out what our Lord desires is very important. Since we believe that the Lord speaks through the entire body of believers, we ask the entire congregation. The way we discern what the Lord desires is through every member. Our congregational votes are not about the preference of the members, but the discernment of the mind of Christ, even when that may be contrary to one’s own preference.

I love being a Baptist because the Bible is our authority.

The Scriptures played an important role in the Ethiopian’s embrace of Jesus. We are a people for whom the Bible is very important, it is our authority.

We should note that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is our authority. The way we talk about it, however, may cause some people to think our belief is that the Bible is Lord and our particular understanding of it is the authority.

Since the Bible is our authority, we keep going back to it in every generation. While confessions of faith have been drawn up by different Baptist groups over the years, we often push against the idea of having such. We can learn from what those in former generations have learned and taught from the Bible, but they are not the authority. The Bible is our authority and not a statement of faith. Therefore, the teaching of the Bible can come alive for every generation and in every context.

I was once asked for a statement of faith by an organization wanting to partner with our church. I asked if they would like a pdf of the Bible!

I love being a Baptist because there is a focus on each person relating to Jesus directly.

When the Ethiopian Eunuch trusted in Jesus, he did not need to go find an official priest back at the temple in order to experience the forgiveness of sin. His sin was forgiven at the cross. He was free to come before the throne of God without any need for a priest as a “go-between.”

We call this the priesthood of all believers, each person relating directly to God through Jesus. We also have the role of priests, of being “go-betweens,” presenting God to people through witness and conversation, and people to God, through prayer.

I love being a Baptist because it is a grass roots, keep-it-simple-like-the-early-Christians-did kind of movement.

The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch was not very formal at all. If this Ethiopian came to faith in Jesus today and said “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?(Acts 8:36 NRSV), we would come up with reasons! We would make it complicated. Some churches, and entire denominations, have such complications formalized in the rules of how things are to be done, on baptism, in fact on everything. We Baptists don’t always keep it simple, but the opportunity is there to do so.

Conclusion

If people are turned off by organized religion, then we can tell them not to worry, for we are highly disorganized religion! Seriously though, our goal is not to help people move towards organized religion, but relationships and connections starting with a vital relationship and connection with Jesus. This is what Phillip did in the life of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

People today do not like organized religion but they do like authenticity. We have space, as Baptists, for authenticity. We do not say; “here are our traditions and rules developed in another time and place, which you all need to conform to,” but, “here is the Bible, how does it speak into how we walk with Christ in our day, in ways that are authentic to our time and place?”

At the end of the day, it is all about helping people know Jesus and walk with Jesus, like Phillip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch. May we, who are Baptists, be like Phillip, but even more so may we be like Jesus.

May 28, 2021

Cultural Differences Can Lead to Lack of Unity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Six months ago we introduced you to who writes at Our Living Hope and today we’re back for a return visit. Click the header below to read or leave a comment there.

Cross + Culture

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” 1 Corinthians 1:10.

An appeal by Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth, he talks about the need for unity among the believers. Ancient Corinth is a very important city, it was known for its harbors connecting Judea, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. A melting pot of many cultures, especially it had a mixed population of Jews, Greeks and Romans, and one can understand how complex the Church would be. Even though they believed in one Lord, they had so much of differences culturally which made it difficult for them to overcome and be united. To a cross-cultural community Paul introduces a solution called Cross+Culture. He explains to them the need to overcome their differences and be united in Christ.

In a world full of conflicts, and a church which is influenced by those conflicts, Apostle Paul appeals the Church to stand out and make a difference, and he shows his pastoral heart going deep in to the issues in order to find suitable solutions based on truth. And in that process we get a beautiful Epistle to address the conflicts of our times.

The conflicts included the issue of leadership, race, culture, ministries, gifts, gender roles and doctrinal understanding. I think Paul’s strategy here in the Epistle was to point all of the issues to an higher call, which is Love! As well, he reminds them of the cross which meets their culture. The peak of his teaching was found in 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter dedicated to emphasis Love in a God filled community. He seeks growth and maturity in the mindset and guides everyone to the leadership of Christ and the order he would expect.

“Follow the way of Love”. 1 Corinthians 14:1.

What happened in Corinth is not irrelevant to us today. We too have issues based on conflicts that we have to continuously deal with, there can be controversies and divisions arising out of those conflicts, yet it is important to see the reality of those issues, and bringing them to the cross where all are united. This cross+culture is a culture of Love, the Love of God was displayed on the cross to unite all men under one head to live a life filled with Love.

Apostle Paul didn’t lose hope because of these conflicts, instead he admonishes and encourages the community to crucify the ‘self’ so to be perfectly united. Community is possible through commitment and mutual respect. He teaches them on how the ‘Cross of Christ’ opens a new way for everyone to travel together and grow out of each other. They were told to focus on things that would enable them to grow together, which is by serving one another and encouraging each other for the good.

Above all the cross teaches us about the Glory in God’s will, and the Apostle encourages the church at Corinth to put their differences out and seek God’s will. A community which seeks, knows and understands God’s will and his good purposes will always be willing to let go of the differences and unite. To the church at Rome he writes this,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will”. Romans 12:2

Even though the cross cultural world influences the church with its patterns, and even though conflicts arise, our purposes in the Lord are far greater than the differences that divides. The cross+ culture has the power to go across our cultures to bring transformation.

“Believers are never told to become one; we already are one and are expected to act like it”.

Joni Eareckson Tada

What are the reasons that causes divisions in a community?

Is church unity possible in a multi-cultural world?

Prayer : Heavenly Father, may we be one as you are one. Help us to come to the higher ground, and seek your good purposes together. Amen.

Bible Reading: Amos 8

 

April 15, 2021

What is the Bible and Can it Be Trusted?

What is First John and Can it Be Trusted?

by Clarke Dixon

What is the Bible, and can it be trusted? Your answer to that may lie somewhere between two extremes.

At one extreme, as I once heard it described, the Bible was dropped into our laps by God one day, already leather bound and including maps and a ribbon. The Bible is purely the work of God, people need not be involved. Therefore, of course it is to be trusted. Don’t question it!

At the other extreme, the Bible is a library of works written by men long after the events they speak about or purely based on their own religious speculations. The Bible is merely the work of humans, no God need be involved. Therefore, of course the Bible is not to be trusted. Don’t question your doubt!

Because we are beginning a series in 1st John, and because thinking of the whole Bible would make for a very long post, we are going to focus in on 1st John; what is it, and can it be trusted as a source of truth? Did God drop 1st John into our laps, or was it written by a mere man? The first four verses will help us sort this out:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched —this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4 (NIV)

We might notice that the words “we” and “our” come up a lot. Who is represented in this “we”? Specifically, this letter is traditionally thought to be written by John, a disciple Jesus called to follow him very early on in his public ministry. By saying “we,” John is including all the disciples who were with Jesus during the events related to us in the Gospels.

Having been followers of Jesus from the beginning, having seen him, heard him, been with him, and having seen him risen from the dead, the disciples were sent out by Jesus to teach people about him, all that he taught, and that he died and rose again, and what that all meant. The disciples, meaning ‘students’, became ‘apostles,’ meaning ‘sent-ones’. They were sent out to tell people what they knew to be true according to all they had witnessed. They were eyewitnesses. They were called to tell people what they had seen:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1:8 (NIV)

We might think of the disciples receiving a call to be “witnesses” in a religious sense, just as I am a Christian “witness” today. But really the were called by Jesus to be eyewitnesses, like in a court of law.

It was important that these apostles were eyewitnesses, able to speak from personal experience. We can consider the qualifications Peter set out in replacing Judas:

So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts 1:21,22 (NLT)

So what is 1st John? It is a letter written by an eyewitness, John, who was a follower of Jesus based on his personal experience of Jesus, sent to Christians in various communities to encourage them.

As we read 1st John, we can be aware that John, as an eyewitness, was not making stuff up, but living life out of what he had seen and experienced. This is a real letter from a real person speaking from real experience. Therefore, before we even start talking about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in John’s writing, there is already good reason to consider that John knows what he is talking about.

We often think of people like John as being primarily religious leaders, people who just loved to think of philosophy and religion. Let us keep in mind that John was a fisherman, and not someone who was seeking a career in spiritual leadership. He was a fisherman whose life was changed by Jesus. If John were still alive today, he may feel more at home in a witness stand in a court of law, than in a pulpit of a Baptist church.

The apostles were not sharing religious ideas they cooked up, in fact they would not have come up with this stuff anyway. Rather they were simply sharing what they had seen and experienced. Let us again consider the opening words of John, being sure to think of “we,” not as “we representing all humanity,” but as “we who were there with Jesus, who know what we are talking about”:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched —this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

1 John 1:1-3 (NIV emphasis added)

Someone may object, how can we trust John to tell the truth when John is obviously a Christian and therefore biased in what he says. That is like asking if you can admit as evidence in a court of law, the testimony of someone who has seen someone commit a crime. You can accuse a witness of being biased to thinking that a criminal is guilty. But if they saw the criminal commit the crime, you want to hear their testimony and weigh it along with all the other evidence. So of course John is biased. He is a Christian precisely because of what he has seen, heard, and experienced. Of course John is biased, he has spent time with Jesus, before his death and after his resurrection. It would be odd if he were not a follower of Jesus!

Let us recognize that in his letter, John does not just simply report on the fact that Jesus is risen. He unpacks what that means and how it applies to life and faith. We will be looking at that in the weeks ahead, but even in the first four verses we can see how John can speak of the identity of Jesus, as being from God in a significant way, being the source of eternal life, and being the Messiah, the rightful King of the Kingdom of God. In other words, John doesn’t just want to share that Jesus is risen, but that the resurrection of Jesus has meaning, it confirms Who He really is.

We have not yet spoken of the inspiration of Scripture. In what way can we speak of this letter of John as being “God-breathed” or “inspired”? Let us be reminded of what God is like:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

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

When we speak of the inspiration of Scripture we can recognize that God would want to be involved, not just in the writing of Scripture, but any editing that has happened, and also the collecting together of the Scriptures into what we now call the Old and New Testaments. With regard to the New Testament, the early Christians were very intentional in limiting the writings they revered as Scripture to ones they knew were connected with the apostles, the eyewitnesses. Therefore John’s three letters are included.

The events of the Bible cover a long span of history because God had been relating to us in a special way for a long time before Jesus came. It took a long time, and a lot of people involved, to get to the point of being able to say we have “a Bible”. The Bible was not a book dropped in our laps by God. Rather it is a library of writings written by many different people for many different reasons at many different times. They are each a response to God’s real work in our world and in the lives of real people. This makes the Bible a very exciting read!

The Bible was neither dropped into our laps by God, nor written up by religious types who wanted to fool us. The Bible is a collection of writings by real people experiencing God in a real way. They are a real response of real people to God’s very real presence. God showed up. People wrote about it. God was involved in the shaping of the those writings then, so that He can show up in the shaping of our lives today.

(Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. The full sermon can be seen as part of this online worship expression”)

March 21, 2021

Rome’s Only Weakness Was Israel’s Greatest Strength

The Pharisees were watching Jesus closely, but the Romans were watching the Pharisees (and all the Jewish people) closely as well. Here’s why.

During the time of Christ’s birth, childhood, teaching ministry and death, Israel’s history and Rome’s history are intersecting or overlapping. You can’t read the gospel accounts without somewhere seeing the presence of Rome, and in some respects it looked like Rome was everything that Israel wasn’t. For example:

  • The Roman Empire was big. When Luke records, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed;” we can easily dismiss that the phrase all the world is hyperbole. Were people in China taxed? No. But the Roman empire was, like the guy says in the used car commercial I see every night before the news, “H-U-U-U-G-E.”
  • The Roman Empire was rich. We just mentioned taxation. Maybe Rome didn’t invent it, but the perfected it to both an art and a science. Matthew 22 speaks to the coinage used and the taxation, “[Jesus said] “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s…” And of course we remember that, among others, Matthew and Zacchaeus worked in the multi-level, tax franchise system.
  • The Roman Empire was powerful. The entire narrative of Christ’s life takes place against the backdrop of Roman occupation. Many translations of Matthew 5:41 make it clear that when Jesus says, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two;” the whoever or the someone is a Roman soldier. During the key events that we’ve just remembered at Easter, it a soldier who compels a passerby to help — “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Matthew 27:32) and a soldier who speaks to Christ’s identity after his death: “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!‘”

But Rome had some weaknesses, one of which is that as a family run business the empire was unstable. The fear of insurrection from within no doubt created some insecurities.

So if we want to think of this in terms of a balance sheet we have something looks like this:

Roman Empire

It’s because of this insecurity that Rome’s leadership found the little territory at the east end of the Mediterranean so troublesome. Why did they need to worry? In terms of the above criteria:

  • Israel wasn’t big
  • Israel wasn’t rich
  • Israel wasn’t powerful

And yet, Israel’s army had a history of defeating its enemies against unbelievable odds. They were a feisty lot of people whose Levitical laws compelled them to not assimilate to their surrounding neighbors (or occupying forces) but to maintain a distinct identity. While other nations had crumbled and vanished, Israel had a long, proud history and its people could trace their ancestry back to Adam.

This is one aspect of Jewish tradition that is affirmed in Christian teachings today:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2 ESV)

Therefore, Rome’s only weakness was Israel’s greatest strength: Their longstanding stable history that had even survived occupation. (To look at some well known early history, think of the time of Moses, or the famine period at the time of Joseph.)

How does all this apply to us today?

We should identify with Israel. 1 Cor. 1:26 depicts the early church this way:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

I’ve deliberately held off on our key verse for the day (often at the top of these readings) until the very end and here it is:

Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. ~Daniel 11:32 NKJV
The king of the North will tell lies to God’s people. Those who have not obeyed God will be ruined. But there will be some who know God and obey him. They will be strong and fight back. (ICB)
Israel would never be absorbed, they would never be assimilated.
Today, neither should we. The surrounding culture is big, it’s powerful and it controls a lot of wealth. But it’s built on a crumbling foundation. We are the opposite: small, not powerful and not wealthy but we draw our source; our life from God Himself.

 

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