Christianity 201

September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

August 12, 2021

Should Christians Watch the News?

If this were a century ago, the title would be, “Should Christians read the newspaper?” I also realize the phrase, “watch the news” implies the legacy television networks, whereas many of you get your current events through the internet, one way or another. Should Christians have a daily (or every other day) input of current events in their reading diet?

And I would answer with a resounding yes, which I recognize will indeed alienate some readers.

But this is 2021, post-Covid’s outbreak, and post-America’s federal election. Some people are simply “newsed out” while others debate the validity of certain media which disagree with their biases.

When the Sadducees came to Jesus in Matthew 16, it’s not immediately clear if they were asking for a miracle on the spot, some revelation of the divinity of Jesus, or, in the terms of which Jesus grants their request, some eschatological insight. He answers them,

NIV.Matt.16.2,3 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

It’s an analogy to be sure, beginning with the idea that today we might express as “wet your finger and hold it up to see which way the wind is blowing.” But on a deeper level he’s saying there are signs and it’s incumbent on us to be able to interpret them. That implies knowing what’s going on in your community, your nation and your world.

Some people devour local news. It’s good to be invested in your community. I’ve seen pastors who have never bothered to listen to local radio or subscribe to the local paper. Within a few years they’re off to another community, and I suppose they consider themselves citizens of heaven first, and getting to know the nuances of their city, town or village simply not worth the investment.

But other people major on world developments and then go to extremes trying to do the interpretation. A large container ship gets stuck in a canal for several days, and it’s a sign we’re heading toward one world government, they say. Because a boat got stuck.

In my youth, I was taught that “a wise person keeps abreast of the times.” When I went to find this verse however, I could only locate this rendering in the original edition of The Living Bible:

TLB.Proverbs.24.3,4 Any enterprise is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts.

All that to consider a quotation from Karl Barth, with a short post which appeared in 2015 at the blog of Geoff Sinibaldo. Click the header appearing next to read it there.

On Barth, the Bible and the Newspaper

Most preachers know the quote attributed to famed theologian Karl Barth:

We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

We have an inherent need to be relevant to our hearers. It is important to us as Christian leaders to both make the Bible come alive and speak to the real world concerns in which people live. The Bible and the newspaper balance those needs, but there is a cost. Sometimes we have such a desire to stay relevant we try to prove our relevancy by starting with the newspaper and working our way back to scripture and the tradition. Observation and revelation are not mutually exclusive, but they are not necessarily equal partners either. One interprets the other as a lens to read the other. It seems in our contemporary age where the church as a trusted institution and scripture as a trusted authority hold less sway with people, for well-founded and explicable reasons. As a result, we have inverted the relationship of revelation and observation, giving more weight to what we can see and experience with the hope that our faith might have something to say in response.

I recently discovered that the more accurate version of Barth’s quote is:

Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” (Time Magazine, May 1, 1966.)

This makes me a little less nervous than the popularized version of this quote.  We are not to give equal value to God’s word revealed and handed down through the generations and the daily word reported and experienced with the fresh voice of a journalist this morning. We don’t just read the newspaper and figure out what to do about it on our own. Nor do we keep our head in the book, and shut the doors to our churches and leave personal experience aside.  We need a contemporary voice and one of wisdom that scripture provides.  The preacher’s task (as is the task of every believer) is to connect the stories of God and God’s people with our own. Our story is interpreted in light of what we know about God, and what we know of God primarily comes be what is revealed. For Christians that revelation is given in Jesus; so that the themes of God walking alongside us, welcoming us, including us, forgiving us, healing us, raising us and sending us become the interpretive lens in which we engage the real world around us with all its corruption, pain, division, violence and suffering.

The ancient stories of the Bible are not out of touch with life filled with technology, travel and the influx of ideas. The truths told in those stories are just as relevant to our lives as they have been to former generations. Stories of jealousy, selfishness, greed, destruction and betrayal – can be ripped right from our own headlines today, and stories of compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice and faithfulness are needed now as much as ever before. The constant voice of scripture within those ancient texts is one of discernment – “Where is God in all of this and where is God leading us?” Those are not questions the newspaper asks, but one we can continue to ask as we read it.  We certainly could use that voice in our world and in our relationships today.  Martin Luther once reflected that Jesus only matters when he is Jesus, “for me.”  Faith is always a contemporary exercise revealed in the present. Our task is to pay attention – not just to the world around us; but to God’s story entering our own lives and experience so we can better engage our neighbors’ concerns and challenges. Barth’s reflection about the news and the Good news provides both wisdom and relevancy. We need both voices, and too often sacrifice wisdom for the sake of relevancy.

One more piece on relevancy is an honest confession: I don’t read newspapers; at least not in their printed versions.* I find they often offer one voice and/or perspective in a time where many voices compete for our attention and allegiance, and it is helpful to find a variety of thoughts on any given subject.  Yet I must also claim my own bias – and that is to see the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and take it from there.

So I offer this 21st century update, on what I think what Barth was trying to say:

“We must hold the Bible in one hand, and our hand-held device in other – filled with Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, blog subscriptions, news articles from a variety of sources and perspectives, societal studies, and local gossip. We must open our own experiences to reflection, and listen for God moments in the stories of others. We must look beyond our doors, books and screens, and spend some time in the real world, in our community among our neighbors and through our networks as we pay close attention to those voices too.

Yet at its heart, scripture still interprets them all, interprets us all, and brings us into God’s timeless truth again and again to us…right now.”


But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)


*  I know it is a contradiction, but in our digital age I do still love the feel of a real paper book. For those who love the feel of a real newspaper, I understand that too.

August 8, 2021

A Devotional Three-for-One Special!

For the third year in a row, we’re bringing you a trio of short-form devotionals from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner). Click on each of the headers below to bookmark or read at source.

The Valley of Decision

Joel 3:14 – “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”

The day of the Lord will characterize itself in a terrifying way to most. However, the day of the Lord can also be a day of great victory. For those of us who have accepted the Lord Jesus, our day of the Lord has come and God has already entered into judgment with our sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. Only as we have accepted Him as our sacrificial Lamb, will we then have moved from judgment to mercy as our sin has been forever atoned for by Christ’s perfect life.

The tragedy is that most will be caught in the conundrum of their own indecisiveness, not accepting the Lord’s most gracious gift before their respective death or His eminent return. If only they had known how close the Lord was to them in this time of decision! He patiently waited for their response but there was none.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us, if today you hear His voice, do not harden your heart but give your life to Him for He is full of love and abounding in mercy (Hebrews 4:7).

Divine Recognition

Acts 4:13 – “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”

Have you ever recognized someone as having been with Jesus? They aren’t difficult to spot. As the Pharisees witnessed, the hallmark of these folks is their immovable confidence in what they believe. How does confidence of this type manifest itself? Well, it starts in secret and spills out publicly. It oozes out of believers that truly believe their Lord and desire to spend time with Him. It comes by searching out His Word, and then living it to the best of their ability. It comes by living out the Great Commission and spreading the love of Jesus Christ to their communities, counties, states, countries, and finally to the world. Godly confidence is something that cannot be self-created but is a by-product of living and breathing the Lord Jesus Christ on a daily basis.

Do you want to provoke amazement as the Pharisees experienced? They merely acknowledged the confidence of Peter and John, that they were uneducated but yet they recognized the Lord Jesus in them. Confidence in one’s standing with the Lord only comes by getting into that secret place with Him — to pour out one’s heart and to pour over His word. Then, when we come out into the public light, there will be little to mistake any of us from having been with our Risen Lord.

Love and Compassion

Matthew 20:34 – “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.”

Often people confuse God’s compassion with His love. The Lord certainly loves at all times, for this is His nature (Proverbs 17:17), However, His compassions are often kindled according to His great will (Hosea 11:8). These ebb and flow in perfect measure as He touches and mends lives. Jesus’ nature did not always look loving, yet He never failed in this respect, even when He was angry or openly grieved. Likewise, His compassion was always at work although it was most demonstrative when God’s heart was “kindled.”

Always know God is a loving Father, even when He does not appear that way. The sign of a mature believer is patiently discerning how the Lord chooses to reveal Himself through His compassion. When God does touch us, there is a new awareness of His love and kindness and a greater desire to follow Him no matter where He might lead.


Bonus content:

It’s been awhile since we shared anything from Ruth Wilkinson. Today we have two video teachings for you in what will eventually become a series of four or five, which are based on the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy.

Click these links for

July 23, 2021

Christ’s Ultimate Authority at the End of Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Once again we’re back at the website of The Superior Word Community Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida and pastor Charlie Garrett. Last time, they were studying 3 John, and today, a year later, they are heading to the final two chapters of Revelation. It’s hard to jump into the middle of this, but hopefully it whets your appetite and if you want to get into deep detail on the New Testament’s last book, this is a great website to check out. Clicking the header which follows gets you to today’s piece.

Revelation 20:1

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. Revelation 20:1

With the introduction of Chapter 20, a new vision is also introduced. John begins it by saying, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven.” There is no reason to assume that this is not the Lord. He is coming down from heaven with a set purpose. As such, it is another aspect of the many roles of what Christ has come to do. Just as heaven opened and He came riding on a white horse in verse 19:11 in order to fulfill His role as the returning Lord and the conquering King, here, (assuming it is the Lord) He is coming down from heaven “having the key to the bottomless pit.”

The Lord is the One who has final authority over the bottomless pit. In Revelation 9:1, it said John saw “a star fallen from heaven to earth.” He then noted that “to him was given the key to the bottomless pit.” Being given a key means another gave him the key. Nothing is said about that now. Thus, the key is already in the possession of this angel. Along with the key, it says, “and a great chain in his hand.”

The Greek reads “upon his hand.” It signifies that in His hand rests the authority of binding with this chain. What will be done with it demonstrates that this is most probably Christ Jesus who bears it. Without taking the symbolism too far, one can almost imagine it is as if the chain is held upon His hand and, without words, hinting, “Here is the implement of your confinement, and it is I who have the authority to use it to bind you.”

Life application: So far, the bottomless pit has been mentioned in Chapter 9 in connection with locusts which were sent to harm men and who had over them the destroyer – Abaddon (Apollyon). It was also noted in Chapter 11 when speaking of the beast that would come from it and kill the two witnesses. Finally, the bottomless pit was mentioned in 17:8, again referring to the beast that would come out of it.

This pit, or abyss, then is not the place of final destruction, but a place which is under God’s control to which, or from which, these evil beings are directed to meet God’s sovereign plans for humanity. As He directs, these beings follow that direction. This is a good lesson for readers of the Bible to understand, and it is one that is also understood from the book of Job.

There is no wickedness, evil, or producer of evil that can thwart God’s plan. Anything which occurs does so to meet God’s overall good purposes and He is in control of all things. If we can truly grasp this and believe it, then no matter what happens, we know that it is being worked out for our good and for God’s glory. This should be an immensely comforting thought for us as we walk in a world that often contains difficulties, trials, and sadness. God is in control, and He has His great hand upon you – even when it doesn’t seem so.

Be of good cheer, God has your back. He has proved it through the redemptive narrative, and it is summed up in the incarnation. Everything ultimately points to what God is doing through His Son, JESUS!

Prayer: What a great comfort it is to know that You truly are in control. Despite the evil that surrounds us, the troubles that come our way, the terrible choices our leaders make, and also in the forces of evil that constantly try to mislead us, You are still there taking care of us and tending to us. You are working it all out for our good. You are great, O God! Amen.

January 13, 2021

It is a Time to be Stirred

Again today we have a new writer for you! Alex Steward is the pastor of a rural ELCA congregation in the greater Detroit area. He blogs at A Mysterious Way: A Journey Through the Desert of Life. Click the header which follows to read this in full on his page and then he encourages you to browse the rest of the site for other articles.

He begins with a paragraph describing his family’s downsized Thanksgiving which happened to coincide with the Perseid Meteor shower. In the scripture passage, Jesus talks about the stars falling. That’s where we pick up the devotional…

God Wakes Us

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

…Jesus sets out in the gospel lesson to provide an apocalyptic image of his return. He is preparing the disciples for what lays ahead of them. He begins with darkness and the stars falling from the sky. It is quite the image and one that often will generate fear in some people. However, this is not the purpose of apocalyptic literature. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to inspire hope and not sow fear.

From Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures to Revelation in the New Testament, we read of a promise and hope in the promise which points us to an unflappable God that reigns down with mercy and love.

It may be difficult to find the mercy and love that God promises to all of creation in the past eight months. From a pandemic that seems like a plague, to an election that divided many Americans,  to wars around the world, and civil unrest in our own country, it may seem as though we are living out the last days that much of the apocalyptic literature writes about. Yet, Jesus reminds us to keep awake because we do not know when the master of the house will return.

If we look at the history of Mark’s Gospel, we will find out it was the first gospel written and provided a basis for both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel, thus the similarities. It was written thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Up to this time everything was shared through stories and word of mouth. It was written around the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and was most likely shaped around those events. Mark encouraged his community not to get involved in the revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman Empire.  This is a time of high tension for the followers of Jesus as they witness the destruction of a community in which they grew up. As Mark reflected on Jesus’ words, there is the thought which the day of the Lord must be near and surely not a generation will pass away before seeing that day.

And yet, here we are. Still waiting with an impregnated hope and living in the promise of Jesus Christ. As we enter this Advent season, we come bearing deep wounds of events that have been cancelled and lives turned upside down as we face struggles and challenges which the majority have never had to even think about. God’s creation continues to groan and limp forward as we await something greater to come.

As Christians, we are set apart by our faith, placing our hope in the promise that has echoed throughout the millennia. As we hear these words from Jesus, it is not a time to panic or to be set on edge. It is not a time to fear and bury our heads in the sand or snow depending upon where we live. It is not a time to fret.

It is a time to be stirred. A time to be fully present to the season and contemplate on what Jesus’ birth means not just for us personally, but for all of creation. A time to be alert to those wondrous sightings of God in our world, like viewing a sky full of stars and witnessing meteors streak through the vastness of that sky. This past week in one of my morning devotions was the refrain:

Wake us to your presence, Lord: that we might not waste our times of trial.

The trials we have faced for much of this past year have been debilitating. There are mornings that it is just enough to get out of bed and take a shower. We are in unfamiliar territory and it is easy to get tired when confronted with the unknown. Our bodies are so incredible in telling us what we need, and at times we also need to push ourselves to move forward. Our relationships are more important now than ever before, even if that means we cannot reach out and give someone a personal greeting face to face.

It is times such as this that God invites us into the mystery. A mystery that has shaped our faith for the last two millennia. A mystery of God incarnate. God has come down to us in the form of a newborn baby to lead the way and give us a sign of hope. A sign that shows up in those very same stars that Jesus says will come falling down. A star that shines so brightly announcing the birth of a new reign of God. A time that God in Jesus walks among creation and is one with us in humanity. A time that we are invited to participate in the mystery of Christ’s reign in creation.

As we are awakened and become alert, we learn about ourselves and the place of our community in the greater aspect of creation. The trials that we face today are only a step along the way to that glorious new creation that will come down to earth. We participate by meeting our friends and neighbors where they are. We stare up at the stars together and are reminded of how connected we truly are and how God’s creation is limitless. A creation that invites us to be an active part of the welcoming of a soon to be newborn baby.

I leave you with a prayer from that same devotional I mentioned earlier:

What would you teach us today in our trials, Lord? Make us receptive. Help us to see your victory and compassion rather than look for every answer to our troubles. So make us expectant, Lord, and patient. AMEN


  1. Mark 13:25 Isaiah 13:10; 34:4
  2. Mark 13:29 Or he
  3. Mark 13:33 Some manuscripts alert and pray

January 11, 2021

Why Won’t They Listen?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today’s thoughts are more personal, perhaps more pastoral.

My day began with an email from a friend. I’ve changed some of the wording just slightly.

Whenever I thought about the book of Revelation and end times things, I always thought that when the predicted events started to happen, people would turn to God in droves. Yet here we are, I sit in a bullpen of construction workers and they are ready to believe the most far out conspiracies, but wouldn’t consider for a moment that God is real. The enemy is blinding them. It’s sad.

I sent him two replies. One was from my phone and I don’t have the text of it nearby, but I simply suggested that his contribution to the discussion — his gift to his co-workers if you like — might not be statements or declarations, but some well-placed, well-considered questions.

Using this strategy might re-direct the conversation, and even if it is not well-received by everyone in the group, there’s always the possibility that there’s one person who the question or questions might continue to haunt them until they decide they need to pursue the subject — or pursue God — further.

I consider my friend wise enough to know how to navigate my advice.

An hour later though, I thought of some scriptures I could send him. One he already alluded to in his remarks.

First I looked at I Corinthians 1 in The Voice Bible:

17 The mission given to me by the Anointed One is… about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed.

18 For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, it is nothing short of God’s power.

Verse 17 is interesting because if anyone could frame an intellectual argument, it would be the Apostle Paul. But we need to avoid jumping to the conclusion that if the world is “going to hell in a handbasket” we should just stop sharing the good news message altogether. Paul certainly doesn’t do that.

The next passage I shared was from II Timothy 3; this time from The Message. (I know the person to whom I was sending these well-enough that I thought he would benefit more from these more contemporary translations.)

1-5 Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

14-17 But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

Peterson’s phrase “They’ll make a show of God;” is better know to many readers here as “Having a form of Godliness, but denying its power.” Is this a summation statement? Is Paul saying that all of the characteristics listed in the previous two verses apply to the outwardly religious, or is this just another category?

(You can do a translation comparison on the verse itself, but this question is more context-driven. Does the em-dash between verses 4 and 5 used by the NIV fit or does it imply something other translations don’t? A compromise solution might be that as the world goes so goes the church. We know that, for example, divorce rates among evangelicals are no longer significantly different than the general population.)

I didn’t send this to my friend, but I consider II Timothy 3 in parallel. (I’ll revert to NIV for this one.)

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Finally, I sent my friend I Corinthians 2 again using The Voice:

12 You must know that we have not received the spirit of this rebellious and broken world but the Spirit that comes from God, so that we may experience and comprehend the gifts that come from God. 13 We do not speak of these gifts of God in words shaped by human wisdom; we speak in words crafted by the Spirit because our collective judgment on spiritual matters is accessible to those who have the Spirit. 14 But a person who denies spiritual realities will not accept the things that come through the Spirit of God; they all sound like foolishness to him. He is incapable of grasping them because they are disseminated, discerned, and valued by the Spirit.

That doesn’t leave us room for much discussion here, but I think what my friend was expressing today was simply all these non-Revelation prophetic words playing out in front of him in real time.

I can only conclude as he did: “It’s sad.”

But again, we can work to make a difference even in those situations. I believe that a few well-placed questions could make the difference in someone’s life.

August 26, 2020

Spiritual Comparison: A Snapshot

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

Ten days ago, with the help of Scott Sauls, we looked at the “Is it I?” passage in the Last Supper story.

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

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

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

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

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

The verse that arrested me in this passage however was,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…article continues; use above link]

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 10, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: End Times

For three days (here, here and here) we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew: the Ethical Discourse (the Sermon on the Mount, which we skipped since it is so often covered), the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Reading prophecy, people can become obsessed with trying to figure out “the day and the hour” but it’s more about understanding “the time and the season.”

This final teaching block, also called the Eschatological Discourse, is the second longest and spans all of chapters 24 and 25.

■ If you are able, take the time now to read both chapters.

The second of the two chapters (25) is, in many respects, easier for us to deal with as it also contains two parables, and one teaching section couched in the metaphor of sheep and goats.

The Ten Virgins

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegoom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”  – Matthew 25: 1-4 (parable continues to verse 13)

The purpose of this story is to remind us of the importance of being diligent; of being ready for Christ (the master) to return. However, if time permitted I would argue that this imagery has implications for other things as well, such as the teaching on the rapture.

The Bags of Gold

This is the section header used in the NIV 2011, but most of know this as the Parable of the Talents.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey…”  – Matthew 25: 14-15 (parable continues to verse 30)

Each of us then is like those to whom something valuable — here the modern use of the word talents actually works in our favor — has been given and is both expected and accountable to make the best use of those gifts and resources.

But note the text itself goes far beyond that, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (verse 29)

The Sheep and the Goats

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  – Matthew 25: 32-33 (the metaphor is implied throughout verses 31 – 45)

There is a future time coming when there will be a great separation.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25: 37-40 (this passage begins further back at verse 34 and is followed by a very similar set of verses which re-positions all of this in the negative sense.)

This contrast of charitable acts of commission and charitable acts of omission is in many ways similar to the teaching in the Ethical Discourse, aka Sermon on the Mount; but with the added judgment that those who failed to act “go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (verse 46)

And that would wrap up the fifth and final teaching block, right?

Not yet. Remember, we skipped chapter 24 just now.

Signs of the End

Chapter 24 is every bit as much entitled to be considered prophecy as is the Book of Revelation and the latter chapters of the Book of Daniel. We don’t always think of Matthew as a prophetic book, but it contains — mostly in this first chapter of this discourse — a number of prophetic descriptions and markers as do passages like chapter 4 of  I Thessalonians (“…caught up to meet him in the air”) or chapter 3 of II Timothy (“In the last days, perilous times will come.”)

Those prophecies include

  • the destruction of the temple
  • the coming of false Messiahs, false Christs
  • wars and threats of wars
  • famines and earthquakes
  • persecution
  • believers betraying other believers
  • an increase of wickedness; lawlessness
  • believers growing cold in their faith
  • the “sacrilegious object that causes desecration” (NLT) in the Holy Place
  • the flight of those heading for the hills
  • “trouble on a scale beyond what the world has ever seen” (The Message)
  • the sun darkened, “the moon turned to blood” (echo of Joel’s prophecy in 2:31)
  • the unmistakable return of Christ on the clouds
  • the gathering of “the chosen ones” (CEB) from around the world

Positive words of encouragement from Jesus:

  • “Watch out that no one deceives you…”
  • “…see to it that you are not alarmed
  • the one who stands firm to the end will be saved
  • this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world
  • “for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened
  • “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
  • “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”
  • “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

What can all this tell us?

Jesus said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (24:36)

But while we may not know the day or hour, we can know the times and seasons. Just a few verses earlier he offers a one-verse mini-parable: Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. (24:32)

We can be prepared, unlike the people he compares to those from the time of Noah for whom life was “business as usual” right up to the time God shut in his faithful, and the raindrops started to fall.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this four part series. I’ve never done anything quite like this in the history of Christianity 201, and I hope these four articles stand as a fairly decent overview of the four (out of the five) discourses we don’t hear as often.

November 9, 2019

Are We There Yet?

Christianity 201 has been blessed over the years to feature the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. She is faithful in writing and consistent in terms of the content of what she posts. I’m breaking a rule here and re-posting some recent things from her blog both today and tomorrow. Visit the blog and click the headers for individual articles.

Is He here yet?

Children are noted for their impatience on a trip by continually asking, “Are we there yet?” In their minds, time has two characteristics: now and forever!

Some Christians have the same attitude toward the return of Christ. Every bad news story brings the hope that this signals His coming. We are continually looking for signs and indications. Scripture is searched, predictions are made, even though Jesus said no man knows the day or the hour.

Peter was close to Jesus. He had ideas about the Second Coming. First, he predicted the scoffers who mocked that it would never happen, He said to his readers:

You should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:2–4)

There are Christians that may not scoff but also desire that all things stay the same. Thoughts of the end of life here as we know it makes people uncomfortable. I’ve felt concern too, not wanting Jesus to come until He saves those who I pray for and thousands of others that have no faith and no hope for eternal life with Him.

Peter may have been thinking that children think of time as now/forever as he continued to explain the end to his readers. The scoffers need to realize that eternity is not about time. While the Bible gives no explicit explanation, it seems that God lives in the realm where everything is NOW. That is, in His mind, there is no beginning or end, no clocks, no deadlines. He is also not interested in a calendar but in the hearts of men and women. If He seems slow to return in our minds, it is only because He is patient with those who do not yet believe:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:8–10)

That fits with my heart too. Even though the end of evil and hardship appeals to me, I also want all to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t want anyone to forever be separated from God.

Peter gives an application for thinking about the Second Coming and the end of this life as we know it. He says:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11–13)

His words are simple. Be a holy, godly person who waits patiently for Jesus to come and for the promise of a renewed creation. Evil will be removed and those who choose evil will be separated from God’s presence. All who trust Jesus will be with Him. This is not a popular topic and this application seems too vague. How do I live a holy life? What does it mean to be godly today?

For me, the answers are to seek the Lord in study and prayer, to obey what I know, and to rely on His grace and Holy Spirit to do it. This is not a list of rules nor laying out a plan. I can plan, but if interrupted, must listen for His direction. He will let me know what calls to answer, what chores to do, who to contact, and when I am procrastinating. In other words, the application is about knowing and being guided by the voice of Jesus.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Lord, help me hear You today. You know how my head can be filled with ideas and plans. May You guide me, and if today turns out to be ‘ordinary’ then I know You will have a few unexpected assignments thrown into my to-do list. That is fine with me. Just help me listen and willing to do all that You ask and at the same time rejoice in Your promise to return, knowing it will be exactly at the right time.

Today’s thankful list . . .
– the certain promise of Jesus to come again.
– the ability to plan and His willingness to be interrupted.
– today’s major interruption was important.
– making it through my chore list anyway.
– tilapia in lemon-flavored olive oil, yum.
– fresh snow.

June 26, 2018

Explaining the Phrase, “Spirit of Antichrist”

Today we’re paying a return visit to GotQuestions.org. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Today a much-discussed but often mis-used term, the idea of the “spirit of (the) antichrist.”

What is the spirit of the antichrist?

The phrase spirit of the antichrist is found in 1 John 4:2–3:This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

It’s vital to understand the context of John’s statements. A predominant worldview when he wrote this letter suggested that diverse spirits were at work in the world. Many false teachings, mystery religions, spiritual experiences, and variations of Christianity were emerging at the time. The spiritual atmosphere was not unlike the one present in our world today. People entertained countless views regarding truth.

John presented a definitive solution for wading through this variety of beliefs and teachings. He instructed his readers to pay attention and test the spirits: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

But how do we test the spirits? How can we discern which teachers are imparting truth? How do we recognize the spirit of the antichrist?

These “spirits” John spoke of were not merely disembodied, supernatural beings. John taught that a prophet or teacher was the actual mouthpiece for a spirit. Spiritual doctrines are promulgated through human spokespersons. Teachers of truth are filled with the Spirit of God and thus are agents who speak for God. Teachers of falsehood are spreading the “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB).

So, the first test relates to theology or doctrine: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 2). We can ask, does the content of the person’s teaching acknowledge that Jesus Christ—fully God and fully human—has come in the flesh? If the answer is yes, then we know the Spirit of God inspires that person. If not, his entire teaching ought to be rejected. This particular test was especially apropos in John’s day, as the heresy of Gnosticism was becoming prevalent; Gnosticism taught that Jesus only appeared to have a human body but was not actually a flesh-and-blood person.

Next, John says, “But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3). Anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Bible presents Him is inspired by the spirit of the antichrist.

The word antichrist means “against Christ.” People who say that Jesus is not from God are controlled by the spirit of the antichrist. Satan opposes Christ, and he desires to deceive people into a false view of who Jesus is. The spirit of the antichrist teaches against Christ. To twist the truth about Jesus Christ is to pervert the gospel. Satan works to spread lies about Christ and keep people in the dark: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7).

The spirit of the antichrist is the birds that eat the seeds along the path in Jesus’ parable (Mark 4:4, 15). It is “the god of this age” who blinds the minds of unbelievers, keeping them from seeing “the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is “the father of lies(John 8:44). The spirit of the antichrist is “the great dragon . . . who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).

The Bible teaches that the world will eventually produce a world ruler, called “the beast” in Revelation, who will wield great power and demand worship of himself. He will have “a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies” (Revelation 13:5) and is empowered by Satan (verse 2). He is called “the man of lawlessness . . . the man doomed to destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. This final Antichrist will be the culmination of the evil workings of Satan throughout the centuries. The Antichrist of the end times will embody all the deception and perversion of truth that the spirit of the antichrist has always promoted. Today, “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work” (verse 7). The same spirit that will empower the Antichrist of the last days is currently operating in the world to bring confusion and deception to the issue of Jesus Christ’s person and work. “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).

Even given the pervasive influence of the spirit of the antichrist, there is no need to fear. As John reminds us, the Spirit of truth indwells all believers and provides protection from the spirit of the antichrist: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

We have some practical ways to distinguish the false spirit of the antichrist from the true Spirit of God: “[False prophets] are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:5–6). Those who are influenced by the spirit of the antichrist are of the world. They have the same values as the world; therefore, the world listens to them. Those who acknowledge Christ have His Spirit of truth, and they embrace the apostles’ message. The gospel the apostles preached is never popular in the world, but it is that very gospel that holds the power to save, through God’s Spirit of truth (Romans 1:16).

The believer’s job is to test the spirits carefully (1 John 4:1). We must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV). We should not automatically embrace the message of any preacher or teacher simply because of his or her reputation or credentials; rather, we must listen cautiously to their Christology. What they say about Jesus is of utmost importance.

December 9, 2017

Unpacking 666

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.– Rev 13:18

Today we’re paying yet another visit to the blog of BibleStudyMagazine.com and a short article on a topic that you’ve probably encountered. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then take some time to look at other articles on the site. The author is Michael S. Heiser.

666: What Theories Add up?

If there’s one part of the Bible virtually everyone has heard of, it’s 666—the “number of Beast.” And if there’s one thing no one can agree upon, it’s what that number stands for. We find the number in Revelation 13:18: “let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” The wording here is important: John tells readers that the number needs to be “calculated,” which means there must be a hidden meaning behind it. But how do we calculate it?

Calculating Symbolism

One option for solving this biblical riddle is gematria, the idea that numbers have symbolic meaning. While some have called gematria a tool for speculation, it actually derives from an ancient convention in languages like Greek and Hebrew where letters of the alphabet are used to represent numbers.

But gematria is not limited to just Revelation; the New Testament contains several other symbolic figures. The 153 fish of John 21:11 could be interpreted as ancient symbolism for the Church, the body of Christ, and the Old Testament sons of God as analogous to believers in the Church. The Greek word for “dove,” like the dove that descends on Jesus at His baptism, has a numerical value equivalent to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, thus symbolizing the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8).

Calculating 666

When it comes to 666, one gematria explanation is that the number represents Nero Caesar. The Greek Neron Kaisar adds up to 1,005, but when the name is transliterated into the Hebrew letters nrwn qsr, the sum is 666. Nero Caesar also would explain the variant number of the Beast (616) found in some New Testament manuscripts. Transliterating the Latin Nero Caesar into Hebrew, nrw qsr, yields 616, suggesting John may have been thinking of the well-known Nero Redivivus myth when writing about the Beast (i.e., that Nero would rise from the dead to destroy Christians).

The gematria solution presents three major problems: it could be viewed as cheating with the spellings (the usual Hebrew spelling for Caesar is q’st, not qsr, although the qsr form does exist). It assumes that readers knew Hebrew well enough to do the transliteration from Greek back into Hebrew. And, perhaps most tellingly, the early Christian commentators who knew of the Nero Redivivus myth never identified 666 with Nero.

Ancient Sudoku

There is another possibility: 666 is a magic square. From very ancient times, philosophers and mathematicians were fascinated that the numbers 1–36 could be arranged in squares so that each row and diagonal would add up to the same sum (the same principle as modern Sudoku). One magic square has four rows and two diagonals that each add up to 111. The six lines of 111 = 666. Each magic square in ancient Jewish and Greek tradition was also associated with a celestial body. In the case of the 666 square that body was the sun, which was associated with Zeus, the highest god in the Greek pantheon.

Zeus was often associated with Baal and the mythological north (tsaphon) of Canaanite religion. Most relevant to the Beast of Revelation is Baal’s (and Zeus’) title, “lord of heaven” (Baal-shamem). It is possible that the “abomination of desolation” (shiqquts-shamem) in Daniel 9:27 is a play on Baal-shamem, since the Old Testament writers sometimes substituted words that meant “shame” or “abomination” into proper names that formerly contained “Baal” (e.g., Mephibosheth, Ish-Bosheth). This would mean 666 is a symbol for the abominable Baal, the dark lord of the Old Testament world—satanic power in New Testament thinking.


Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 5

December 4, 2017

Identifying The Spots and Wrinkles

When He cometh, when He cometh,
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

– William Cushing, 1856


Do you hear them coming, brother?—
Thronging up the steeps of light,
Clad in glorious shining garments,
Blood-washed garments, pure and white

’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb;
’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb.

– Ralph Hudson, 1892


Today we’re back with Patrick Hawthorne who blogs at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “author’s blog page” to view other articles.

Has the Separation Begun?

A passage that has always troubled me is Ephesians 5:27 which reads,

“…that He (Jesus) might present her (the Church) to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

While the “what” of the verse is self-explanatory, the “how,” of the verse is not.  How will the Church – the Body of Christ Jesus – be without spot or blemish?  It’s obvious that the Church has some serious issues that need dealing with, but how will the Lord deal with these issues prior to His return?

Lately, the Lord has been revealing things to me about the Church so that I might pray more effectively.  One way was through a vision while in prayer, A Body Out of Alignment. Another way was through the Word, Storm On the Horizon. This latest has come through a conversation with my mom.  As a side note, never discount nor limit the way in which the Holy Spirit may speak to you.

As I was speaking with my mother about this burden to pray and write concerning the Church she said to me, and I paraphrase, “Did you know that the spots and blemishes of the Church are people?”  Of course I asked her to explain.  “Yes,” she said, “Look at 2 Peter 2:13 and you will see that the spots and blemishes are those within the Church who appear to be part of the Body but practice wickedness and deception.”  Naturally, my curiosity was peaked.

At the first opportune moment I went to those verses.  Sure enough 2 Peter 2:12-13 read,

“But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you,

(2 Peter 2:12-13 NKJV underline mine).

The spots and blemishes written of are church members.  These are they who live two lives; one life is in the church and the other is in the world. Suddenly things were making sense.

As I previously wrote, I believe we are in the season of the last of the last days.  I don’t know how much longer till Jesus returns but all indications reveal that we are close.  Could it be that the prophecy of Malachi 3:16-18 may occur prior to His return?  Could it be that the separation of the wheat from the tares within the Church has already begun?  Maybe… Be blessed.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.17 “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels.  And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”18 Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.  (Malachi 3:16-18 NKJV underline mine)


Lyrics for When He Cometh and ‘Tis a Glorious Church from TimelessTruths.org

November 24, 2016

Is Peace Possible? Psalm 46 Gives the Answer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

clarke-dixon-picby Clarke Dixon

Will we ever have peace on earth? If you set out to write a book on the history of the world, by the time you are finished you might rather call it a history of conflict. Likewise a history of conflict is practically a history of the world. In the 1980’s I was fascinated by an encyclopaedia that chronicled all the world’s conflicts since WW2. Unfortunately, there were enough to devote a separate volume for every year. More recent volumes may be thicker.

We may also think that personal peace is an impossibility. Perhaps the enemy is at the gates, whether the enemy be in the form of threats to physical health, mental health, financial health, relationships, or well being in general. Will we ever have peace?

Peace may have seemed like an impossibility to the people in the Psalmist’s day, but the writer of Psalm 46 expresses great hope. Consider the great hope and comfort expressed in how the Psalm begins and ends:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalms 46:11

What trouble might God’s people in the Psalmist’s day expect? Why might they feel the need for refuge? We can easily forget that Israel in the Old Testament was quite a small nation stuck between some very large and powerful empires. And just as there is a constant moving of, or a desire to move, territorial boundaries today, so in those days the empires would swell and abate with much conflict. Many Biblical scholars think that the sparring of the nations is the upheaval symbolized in the early part of the Psalm:

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Psalms 46:2-3

Earth shattering events were always too close for comfort. Who wouldn’t feel stressed stuck as the little guy between several big bullies? Knowing that God, the Creator of the universe, was on your side was a very encouraging thing.

We may be tempted to think here that this Psalm is therefore only for the nation of Israel, and only for those days. However we can note how the hope of the Psalmist in Psalm 46 is reflected by the hope found in the book of Revelation. Consider, for example . . .

  • In verse 4 we have a river.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. Psalms 46:4

This is actually quite a strange thing as there was no real natural river in Jerusalem. So we are meant to think of God’s supernatural provision of blessing whereas other nations could only boast of their natural provision. There is also a river in Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1

  • In verse 5 we have the presence of God.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns. Psalms 46:5

In Revelation there are many references to the presence of God. Here are two:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;  they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Revelation 22:3,4

  • In verse 6 we have the nations at war.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts. Psalms 46:6

And in Revelation we have good news about the nations:

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. Revelation 22:1-3

  • In verse 8 we have the notion of God as a destroyer.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalms 46:8

This might seem out of character for God for those who believe that He is so loving He could not hurt a fly. But being a destroyer is completely consistent with a loving and just character. As verse 9 makes clear, he is the destroyer of war itself.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. Psalms 46:9

That God is a great destroyer is a theme of Revelation also. He is the destroyer of death itself.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; Revelation 20:14

Also, there is the destruction of empire, from Revelation 19:11 and following, all the way to the destruction of the most evil empire builder of all.

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10

Psalm 46 points well beyond its own time, in fact it points even beyond our own time as we find its hopeful themes reflected in the Book of Revelation.

Is world peace possible? In Revelation 7:9-10 we see a vision of something that has never been done before:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10

Here we have all different kinds of people standing together. It is a vision of world peace. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised. And as for personal peace, every enemy that threatens us now will be destroyed along with all God’s enemies. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised.

This leads us to verse 10:

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:10

This is to be taken in two ways, and which way you understand it depends on your relationship with God. The word for “be still” is really the word for “cease” or “stop.” If you have picked up your cross to follow Jesus, then be still, cease from your stress and anxiety over everything that threatens you. God’s got your back. The peace that may seem impossible to you right now is not only possible, but promised. But should you be against God, then cease from your striving and conflict, knowing that the Lord is God and not you. In which of these two ways do you take verse 10? Is peace possible for you?

 All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

March 13, 2016

Another Look at Grace and Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

•••by Russell Young

Another Look at Grace and Works

The doctrines of “grace” and “works” need another look. One’s comprehension of these doctrines significantly influences his interpretation of the scriptures and their understandings should not be left up to one’s imagination. Some believers sum up “grace” and “works” with the idea that God has done it all; that is, God has gifted them with eternal salvation and they need not participate (understood as “work”) since it is a gift. God’s Word clearly presents the need for “obedience” in order for one to gain eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:9, Matthew 7:21; Revelation 22:14 (KJV); 2 Thessalonians 1:8) There are other verses that require the believer be to be “led,” (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:14; John 10:27) and others that required him to “please the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8) or to live in some appropriate manner. The Lord said that his angels “will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41, NIV) These will be weeded out on the basis of their ‘doing.’

Accepting the common teaching of “grace” as meaning “God’s unmerited favor” being expressed in one’s life, does not necessarily mean that God will unilaterally bring about the “believer’s” eternal salvation. Neither does the phrase, “You are saved by grace,” necessarily infer the “gifting” of eternal salvation as some understand. The gift that God has given to the redeemed is the Holy Spirit who can bring about one’s eternal salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13, Titus 3:5-6) and that through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9)

To put the matter of “works” into meaningful context, the “works” being referred to is the “works of the law.” (Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16, 3:2, 5, 10 KJV, YLT) Some translators have not included “of the law” in their rendition, confusing the issue.

The law cannot be accomplished by anyone using his own resources. The righteous requirements of the law must be accomplished but require the Holy Spirit’s ministry for that purpose. When the Word of God speaks of salvation as not being accomplished through “works,” it is referring to the “works of the law.” It does not mean that the believer need not be obedient or that he is not required to walk righteously or in the light of Christ. It means that the covenant of the law, “of works”, the Old Covenant cannot bring about one’s eternal salvation. The covenant of the law “kills.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) The work of the law (that which the law produces) cannot satisfy God’s righteous requirements because of man’s sinful nature. (Romans 8:3) That which can bring about one’s eternal salvation is the appropriation of the ministry of the Spirit in order to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law and the Prophets (Romans 8:4), but the Spirit must be obeyed.

The sacrifice of Christ which was an act of grace allowed the believer escape from the consequences of the sinful acts he had committed while under the jurisdiction of the law’s requirements for righteousness. The provision of the New Covenant was an act of grace by God. The provision of the Holy Spirit was a gift of grace by the Father making the believer “competent” to satisfy the New Covenant. (2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Peter 1:3) The ministry of Christ as High Priest is an act of grace. Complete provision was made by Christ for the one who would honour Him through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Eternal salvation is NOT a gift of grace but must be worked out through the provision God has made in Christ.

The gift of grace is Christ’s presence in the believer. (Colossians 1:27) He has come to fulfil the law in the believer and for the believer. (Romans 8:4) He does not over-rule the will of man but will allow it to be exercised. Obedience is faith in practice and the faithful will obey their lord/Lord.

It is worth noting that God is going to destroy the world when the time comes because man will have “twisted his instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5 NLT) The NIV reads, “disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.” The accomplishment of instructions, laws, and the covenant is NOT a gift of grace as is often taught; their accomplishment is through the gift of grace (the Holy Spirit) and the believer’s commitment to obedience. There are many who have been led astray, and many who lead believers away from truth, by their misrepresentation of the doctrines of “works” and “grace.” Paul told his readers not to be deceived; they would reap what they sow…receiving either life or destruction. (Galatians 6:7)

The Lord said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Luke 16:1-17, NIV) God’s grace does notabolish” the law (Matthew 5:17) or preclude the need for its righteous requirements to be satisfied. Woe to those whose teaching allows such. His requirements can ONLY be met through obedience to the Spirit.

One’s need and hope for righteousness is being “awaited” (Galatians 5:5) and it comes through his allowance of the Spirit being lived through him. (Romans 8:4) Eternal salvation comes through God’s grace and not by the “works” of the law. However, the believer is to put every effort into obeying the Spirit. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Luke 13:24, NIV) When the Lord encouraged His listeners “to make every effort.” He was requiring just that. They are to hear His voice (the Spirit) and they are to follow. They are to do something. Later in the passage Christ made it clear that it is those who are “evildoers” (v. 27) who will be condemned and cast from Him even though they had walked in His presence…they had not been led or had not put forth the “effort” to walk righteously. The writer of Hebrews offered the same admonition. (Hebrews 4:11) Paul admonished the Philippians “to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12, NIV)

When Paul spoke of being saved by grace, he identified that grace as creating a product having been accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (God’s “workmanship”, Ephesians 2:10, NIV), the product of one’s transformation. The expression of God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit makes one a suitable offering for God. (Romans 15:16)

July 4, 2014

The Pattern of Nations

Ezekiel 7:1 NIV The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to the land of Israel:

“‘The end! The end has come
    upon the four corners of the land!
The end is now upon you,
    and I will unleash my anger against you.
I will judge you according to your conduct
    and repay you for all your detestable practices.
I will not look on you with pity;
    I will not spare you.
I will surely repay you for your conduct
    and for the detestable practices among you.

At one of my other blogs, Thinking Out Loud, posts tend to be more topical. Not surprisingly for the 4th of July today, we looked at the question, Is America in Bible Prophecy.  Several of the responses we found online dealt with two recurring themes: Judgment, and what was called “the pattern of nations.”  You can read that post here.  For C201 readers, I want to look at one of the lists of scriptures dealing with judgment:

Jewish scholars and many good Christian theologians tend to think of prophecy in terms of biblical “pattern.” For instance, nations fall into patterns of behavior which results in God’s judgment again and again. These are clearly outlined in Scripture.  This is from the blog Remnant Report. A link to the full article follows.

Patterns of Behaviors

In terms of pattern there is no question that almost all nations including America fit into biblical prophecy. For example, Deuteronomy 28 & 29 lists the blessings of following God’s law and the consequences of disobeying it. Hosea 4 and Ezekiel 7 are two books which also list patterns of disobedience and God’s judgment. We might include Isaiah chapter 5 to feature consequences of disobedience, too. This one mentions large, beautiful houses sitting empty due to God’s judgment.

Ouch, America! …Empty houses, indeed!

A Case of Pattern – American Upheavals

In Ezekiel chapter 7 we find a clear example of pattern by God punishing a nation for its wickedness and pride. Does this sound like America today?

– The economy is destroyed. Citizens are warned not to rejoice over “bargains” or sellers to grieve over losses, because all will fail (v. 12-13).

Epidemics and diseases will kill and sicken many (v. 15).

– Citizens will be ashamed and mourn what has become of them (v. 18).

– The nation’s currency is destroyed and not even gold or silver will save them (v. 19).

– Citizens will become sick of its wealth and they will be robbed of all their valuables (v. 20-22).

Foreigners will swoop in to claim all the riches (v. 20-22).

– Ruthless immigrants will occupy citizen’s homes and homes will be lost, mansions empty (v. 24-25). (see also Isaiah 5:9)

– There will be terrorism, disaster after disaster, and calamity after calamity (v. 25-26).

– People will seek out religious leaders & advice, but there is no word from God (v. 26b-27).

– It’s payback time. What the evil citizens & rulers have done to others will be done to them (v. 27).
___________________________________________

In fact, I think you could make a good case for America suffering this kind of judgment at God’s Hands today. The pattern fits, doesn’t it?

[…read the entire article here…]

Go deeper: Here is another article on the same subject; be sure to also follow the links at the Thinking Out Loud piece.

Next Page »