Christianity 201

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Are Heaven and Hell Consistent with a Good and Loving God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for the future? It would be odd if you were considering the compelling reasons to trust in Jesus, but then upon asking about the afterlife you are told that you enter an endless cycle of being reincarnated as a bird if you receive Christ, and as a worm, if not. That should strike you as utter nonsense. Now what about Christian teaching? The idea that upon death we either sprout wings and play a harp while sitting in the clouds, or burn in an eternal fire, is for many people, too much to believe. Is the Biblical Christian vision for the future consistent with a good and loving God? Or is it nonsensical? When we hear what the Bible teaches about eternal destination, do we say ‘of course that is what a good God would do”?

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Here we have, not a hope of going up into heaven when I die, to spend eternity there, but something much grander. This is a vision of God’s re-creation of all creation. All of creation was negatively impacted by the sin of humanity (see Romans 8:18-23). All of creation will be positively impacted by God’s rescue of humanity.

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Here we are told of a city, not in the sense of roads and buildings, but in the sense of people. The holy city is the “bride,” that is, the people of God. Just as people are the focus in the creation account of Genesis, people are the focus of the re-creation account. God created humanity, the only creature we are told he created in his image, for a special relationship. That relationship is what is truly important.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

There is much in the Bible about separation from God being a huge problem for humanity. It begins with Genesis chapter three and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It becomes apparent at Mount Sinai when the people cannot approach the mountain on which God’s presence was made palpable. It is emphasized in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with the establishment of both the tabernacle and priesthood. While God was willing to dwell among his people, as symbolized through the pitching of his “tent” among them, God needed to remain separated from the people, for their sake. An unholy people cannot approach a holy God without becoming holy first. The sacrificial rigmarole of the priesthood was a constant reminder of separation from God and the need for atonement. The priesthood and the sacrifices pointed forward to something greater; God the Son making people holy through his sacrifice. In Christ the future of God’s people is wrapped up with being at home with God. There is no more separation from God.

The problems of this world, which separation from God creates, also are dealt with;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

The consequence of sin and separation from God is death. The consequence of being reconciled to God is eternal life. In Christ death is no longer part of the human condition. However the consequence of God’s grace is not just eternal life, but as we have already seen, eternal life with God.

In sum, the Biblical vision of the future is one of transformation, for all creation, for our bodies, and for our very selves. The transformation within us begins now through the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian is to look to God to fix everything in the future is compelling. The fact that the Christian need not wait for Christ’s return to fix everything in us is also compelling. The hope of meaningful change, not into brilliant cloud-sitting harpists, but into good people who dwell with a good God in a good creation, is consistent with a good and loving God.

However, is the future of those who reject God consistent with a good and loving God? The idea of being on fire forever does not seem consistent to many of us. In answering this we must first appreciate that the people of the Bible often speak in poetic ways, just as we do today. We sometimes pick apart the Bible as if we are in math class working out equations. Let us remember our English literature lessons and have an appreciation for the poetic and literary nuances which often escape the math whizzes. We will not dig into this too deeply, but it is best to take the language about hell, with the everlasting fire and torment, as poetic. The least poetic, the most matter-of-fact, the most precise and concise description of hell we have in the Bible is this;

9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NRSV)

What is hell? It is separation from God. What is it like to be separated from God? Thankfully, no one alive can truly tell, for to be alive at all is to experience a measure of God’s grace. However, we do well to remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). As you read through the Bible, watch out for how often salvation is spoken of as a matter of eternal life versus death. This is consistent with the Genesis account and the promise that death would occur if the forbidden fruit were eaten. What we can say with certainty is that to experience hell is to experience everlasting separation from God.

If hell is separation from God, then is separation from God consistent with a good and loving God? Consider first, the holiness and justice of God. That unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God is made clear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; at Mount Sinai, and through the establishment of the tabernacle and priesthood. God did not teach about His holiness and our sinfulness in the Old Testament then come to us in the New Testament and say “it doesn’t matter anymore.” It does matter, but God offers to make us holy in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. If you reject that offer of being made holy, then separation from God is a very natural consequence. The experience of death is a natural consequence of refusing the offer of eternal life. Therefore, the future of those who reject God is consistent with a good and loving God who respects the wishes of those who want nothing to do with him. Of course that is what a good God would do.

The Bible presents a compelling and beautiful vision for the future of those who receive Christ and accept God’s offer of relationship. While we might not use the word beautiful, the Bible provides a vision of the future of those who do not want a relationship with God that is consistent with His goodness and love. The consistency of the Christian vision of the future is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

May 25, 2019

After the Righteous Die

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One writer we’ve borrowed from extensively over the years is Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. This article reminds us that Christ’s resurrection foreshadows our own resurrection some day.  We sleep, but we will wake up.

As always, click the header below and send some blog traffic to Elsie (and all our writers).

What happens after death?

Someone close to us recently experienced the death of a loved one without having any assurance about life after death. Their traditional hope is reincarnation, yet this seems to give little comfort. I’d never met the person who died but am deeply grieving the lack of assurance in this other person’s life.

It is true that the instant we are born we start to die. Most push this enemy out of mind unless sickness or old age insist it be given consideration. The Christians in Thessalonica had lost some of their number to death. They once worshiped idols and for them the afterlife was a place of fear and darkness. They needed to know what God said about this final enemy so Paul wrote to them good news:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14)

For Christians, ‘sleep’ is a suitable euphemism for death. We will wake up. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s full demonstration of His power over death and of the eternal future of those who put their faith in Him. While there is a bit of controversy of how this will happen (Will we rise out of the grave? Do we go directly to heaven? Does the soul sleep? Etc.?) the answer is in Jesus. He died and He rose again.

Paul uses a negative approach to this issue in another of his epistles . . .

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12–19)

Paul goes on to explain what will happen, revealing that death is no longer an unknown and that our faith has an incredible reward. Because Christ defeated death, we who live by the power of Christ will also defeat death. It cannot overpower the eternal life of Christ that is in us.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:21–27)

People hold all sorts of ideas about death. Some think that it is simply the end. Others hope their life will return in another form. There are a few reports from people who supposedly died, went to heaven then returned, but the Word of God is silent on most of this. It says only that we die once and that after death there is judgment. We only know the report from the only One who came back to life. Paul told the church at Thessalonica and He tells me to trust Jesus. He is my living Savior.

Prayer: Jesus, I am happy to trust You. Not only are You alive, You are alive in me. I am aware of Your presence and Your voice, also that You love me with an everlasting love. You are my hope. No idol nor ideology has ever done that for me. I’m grateful for the grace of God that brought me to this place of faith and peace. While I might not relish the idea of leaving this life right this minute, should it happen I do not fear death. You defeated it and Your victory is also mine! Amen!

April 29, 2019

In My Father’s House are Many Big Houses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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2 Cor. 5:1 .NLT For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.

The title of today’s devotional is meant to cause a double-take. More on that later.

Like many of you, there were key Bible passage I was asked to memorize as child. One of these was:

CEB John 14:1 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

and a quick overview shows four primary statements in these verses:

  1. Don’t be afraid
  2. Trust Me
  3. God’s house contains many ‘mansions’
  4. I would have told you if anything were different

Today my plan was to explore the fourth of these, the phrase “If it were not so I would have told you.” However, as I began to study this, my thoughts were redirected. We did actually look at that phrase a few years ago here.

Instead, I found myself looking at the “many mansions.” For me this verse was always contrary to the direction my personal theology has been heading: From an “up there, somewhere” heaven to a “New Earth” view of eschatology. However, for some reason I found this verse problematic, as I kept seeing the “up there” being described therein.

In Barnes’ Notes we read:

Jesus was consoling his disciples, who were affected with grief at the idea of his separation. To comfort them he addresses them in this language: “The universe is the dwelling-place of my Father. All is his house. Whether on earth or in heaven, we are still in his habitation. In that vast abode of God there are many mansions. The earth is one of them, heaven is another. Whether here or there, we are still in the house, in one of the mansions of our Father, in one of the apartments of his vast abode. This we ought continually to feel, and to rejoice that we are permitted to occupy any part of his dwelling-place. Nor does it differ much whether we are in this mansion or another.

It should not be a matter of grief when we are called to pass from one part of this vast habitation of God to another. I am indeed about to leave you, but I am going only to another part of the vast dwelling-place of God. I shall still be in the same universal habitation with you; still in the house of the same God; and am going for an important purpose – to fit up another abode for your eternal dwelling.” If this be the meaning, then there is in the discourse true consolation. We see that the death of a Christian is not to be dreaded, nor is it an event over which we should immoderately weep. It is but removing from one apartment of God’s universal dwelling-place to another – one where we shall still be in his house, and still feel the same interest in all that pertains to his kingdom. And especially the removal of the Saviour from the earth was an event over which Christians should rejoice, for he is still in the house of God, and still preparing mansions of rest for His people.


Then we come to the meat of the today’s study, in the writing of Howard Snyder. This is somewhat abridged; click the header below to read in full.

Father’s House — Many Mansions

“Many mansions.” In King James’ day, a “mansion” was a room, not a huge, fancy house. Today most translations say “many dwelling places” (NRSV), or “plenty of room,” as the TNIV helpfully puts it. Jesus’ central meaning is this: There is plenty of room with God. (It apparently has not troubled many Christians that “In my Father’s house are many mansions” is nonsensical as “mansion” is popularly understood.)

“My father’s house.” This does not mean heaven. Heaven is not mentioned once in the whole chapter. What then is the “Father’s house”?

Jesus speaks out of the context of the whole Old Testament revelation. In the older Testament, the Lord’s “house” or “dwelling place” is an immensely rich idea. It essentially means the place or places where God’s presence is manifest. Often in the Psalms God’s “house” or “dwelling” is the temple in Jerusalem. Other times it refers to the whole creation, or even the whole universe. Some Psalms describe God himself as our “dwelling place” (Ps 90:1, 91:9).

The point is: God’s “house” or “dwelling place” is wherever God is and wherever his presence is made evident and his will is done. Jesus assumes this in many of his discourses. The meaning of John 14:2 is, “There is plenty of room with God.”

“I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus assures his apostles that in going away (through his crucifixion and death), he is accomplishing the next step in God’s plan for his kingdom to come in fullness.

This verse echoes God’s word to Israel in Exodus 23:20, “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” Jesus very self-consciously fulfilled all the Old Testament promises concerning himself. In Exodus, the reference was to the Promised Land. In the New Testament, in fulfillment of the promises, the Promised Land becomes the whole earth, recreated as “new heavens and new earth.”  …

John 14:1–3 is not about heaven. It is about our “dwelling place” being eternally with God—beginning now on earth and in “the heavenlies” (Eph. 1:3, 2:6) as we love him and keep his commandments; for awhile in heaven before Jesus returns; and finally in the new creation—the new earth and heaven.

Jesus does not say in verse 3, “I will take you to heaven.” He says, “I will take you to myself.” And Jesus promised to return to earth, once for all.

The point in John 14:1–3: Not the place. Rather, the Person and the relationship. In the end, Jesus establishes the perfect relationship of shalom between himself, human beings, and the whole creation. For now, Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21).

Jesus’ words here thus mean: “I go to accomplish the next step in bringing the complete fulfillment of God’s promises of salvation and creation healed.”


Tangentially: I found his parenthetic comment in the first paragraph rather interesting. We often skip over familiar passages without really considering what we are reading. Basically, in the English translations, Jesus is saying:

In my Father’s this:

There are many of these:

which of course you are free to suggest doesn’t make any sense. For this reader anyway, the problem is not the splendour of the mansions, but a misunderstanding of what is implied by the “house.”

Of all the various translations out there, I most love how The Voice Bible renders John 14:2

My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.


A concluding verse:

Revelation 21:3 NLT I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 

March 8, 2019

Time: Our Perspective; God’s Perspective

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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While we mostly use writers here who have been featured before, every once in awhile we go ‘fishing’ so to speak, and today I feel like we struck gold. (If that isn’t the best example of a mixed metaphor, I don’t know what would beat it!)

Benjamin Moore is an MK (Missionary Kid) who clearly presents a subject here which confounds even seasoned, veteran Christ followers. Click the title header below to read at source, and then take a few minutes to check out the rest of his site, including articles written in Spanish.

God’s perfect timing

John 7: 6-8
Therefore Jesus told them,“ My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.”

Do you know what the rarest resource is?

Time is our most precious gift. Once it’s gone it’s gone.

Every second that passes is another second you can’t get back no matter what.

We know this and I think that is why we try to hold on to it so tightly and control it.

It’s not ours to control

The reality is that it is God’s time, not ours.

Time belongs to Him. Notice Jesus says “My Time,” twice.

We work on his agenda, not the other way around.

I struggle with this. And I know I am not alone.

Look at Jesus’ Brothers.

Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. – John 7:3 (NIV) 

In other words “Hey, Jesus, we think you need to go now”.

But it wasn’t up to them. It was up to Jesus.

And like His brothers, I am sure you struggle with this as well.

We like to play little gods and be in control of what happens and when it happens.

But that is God’s place.

You don’t have control, He does.

Even your days are numbered

Job 14:5-7 (NLV) A man’s days are numbered. You know the number of his months. He cannot live longer than the time You have set.

God is so in control of time that He has your days numbered.

It shouldn’t cause us stress but instead, it should move us into courage because when it’s your time it’s your time.

This is encouraging because now you don’t have to walk around frightened by the unknown because the unknown to us is laid out before God.

Give up control

Give up control is not what we like to hear. But just because you don’t like something doesn’t change the necessity for you to do it.

Stop trying to be in control of Time. It will only frustrate you. You will always come to the same conclusion. You can’t do anything about it.

You can try.

Turn back the hands on your clock but that doesn’t change anything. That will just make you late for work.

Time slips out of our hands like water and we are helpless to do anything about it.

God’s view of time is different

So as you give up control and as you wait, its good to know how God views time.

2 Peter 3:8 (NIV)  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

God is not bound by time like we are.

He is not restricted by it.

So He is never in a hurry to do something.

God’s calendar only has one square on it and it’s labeled eternity.

2 Peter 3:9 (NIV) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Notice this crazy insight Peter gives us into how God’s sees time. And the Psalmist actually said it before him.

Psalm 90:4 (NIV)  A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

Based on this we just can’t expect God to see things the way we do.

Can you imagine what God thinks we say things like I running out of time?

God’s time is perfect

Good thing for us God’s timing is always perfect.

We might feel like time is running out but God knows when it will be the best time for His plans to take place.

Just think of Jesus birth and how it was predicted thousands of years before He was born.

When the fullness of the time had come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law (Gal 4:4).

When the fullness of time = God’s perfect timing.

The Jews were coming under the dominion and taxation of a foreign power. Strangers were beginning to rule over them. They had no longer an independent government of their own. The “due time” had come for the promised Messiah to appear. Augustus taxes “the world,” and at once Christ is born. (J.C. RYLE – John Charles Ryle was an English Evangelical Anglican bishop)

The whole civilized earth was at length governed by one master (Daniel 2:40). (J.C. RYLE)

There was nothing to prevent the preacher of a new faith going from city to city and country to country. (J.C. RYLE)

So if you are in a time of waiting don’t worry because God’s timing is always perfect.

  • He’s never late.
  • He’s always on time.
  • Keep waiting.
  • Keep trusting.

He hasn’t forgotten you.

 

 

 

 

December 18, 2018

God’s Creation Plan Is Completed Through a Baby

by Russell Young

Christians enjoy the hope that has been availed through a baby, but God has instituted the incarnation of Christ for a purpose that may not be fully appreciated. It is through Christ that God is completing his creation plan. It is easy to accept that God created, but he is still creating. His original plan has not been brought to fruition but when it is finished, he will have the kingdom that he had envisioned from the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all men.” (Jn 1:14) That “life” that was the light of all men came to bring the light that will accomplish God’s creation plan; it will penetrate the darkness that shrouds the human heart, mind, and soul.

Paul has written, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom 8:22) The King James Version states this passage as, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” All of creation, including humankind, has been suffering. That pain continues because the light has yet to over-take the darkness. The “light of men” or as Jesus has identified himself “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12, 9:5), must reveal truth so that all of creation can be freed from the darkness that brings pain.

Paul has also addressed the eager anticipation that exists in creation for the revelation of God’s true or adopted sons. (Rom 8:19) Creation is eagerly waiting to be completed as the light of Christ penetrates the darkness in humankind. When this is accomplished, it will be completed as God had intended.

God loves his workmanship, all of it (Jn 3:16), to the extent that he gave his Son for its recovery. The restorative work of Christ must not be seen as limited to that of people but includes all things. God created humankind in their (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) own image (Gen 1: 27) and had declared his final product to be very good. People had been created with special attributes. They can absorb and process information and can store it to make reasoned, informed decisions. Although originally created to know “good” only, with the Fall they also came to know evil. God had ordained people to have free-will and it is this aspect of humankind that allows a freely chosen, loving and committed relationship with him. The LORD presented the nature of the relationship with him that was acceptable. “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees…” (Deut 10:12) Matthew, Mark, and Luke have recorded the same expectation. Love is chosen, it is an act of the will; consequently, freedom to choose is highly regarded and honored by the Lord.

Some would take the value of free-will away from humankind, but God requires a heart transformed by the Spirit of light so that people can choose the humble and holy and loving relationship that will bring glory to God. Paul has written, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, (Rom 12:2) and that, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) The needed transformation will result in a new creation; it does not result at confession of faith. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15)

Becoming a new creation conformed to the likeness of Christ requires his life to be lived in the believer through the Spirit. As the believer is led and obeys, death is brought to the “misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13) making him or her “an offering acceptable to God.” (Rom 15:16) The Lord needs to be honored as the “light of men” so that he can penetrate the darkness of the human heart.

Those who comply with the leading of the Spirit, “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21) or the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) will become God’s adopted children. (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:23) Those who have freely chosen to honor the Lord will dwell in his eternal kingdom which will be on earth. Once God’s sons have been revealed, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) Creation will be liberated when Christ has defeated the devil and his schemes. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…” (Isa 65:25)

Zion’s deserts, on the liberated new earth, will be made like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. (Isa 51:3) Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made and through him hearts will be transformed to meet God’s purposes while maintaining in humankind the freedom to love him by choice, thus bringing to fullness God’s creation plan. Christ will achieve their (Father, Son, Holy spirit) purpose with the selection (election) of a people conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) freeing all creation from decay and corruption. The devil’s work will be fully defeated (1 Jn 3:8) and all things made new. “Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24)

God chose to create all things through Christ, including the holy priesthood through the refinement of the human heart and the preservation of free-will. It is through the baby, Jesus Christ, that according to God’s plan, creation will be fully achieved, a state freed from decay where he can dwell with his people. In it “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 Jn 4:14)

Merry Christmas!


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

October 3, 2018

The Throne Room in High Definition

This our eighth time featuring Ben Nelson at Another Red Letter Day. This teaching, inspired by the ministry of Jack Hayford, is a scripture medley like no other I’ve read before. Click the title below to read at source.

Be lifted up, O ancient doors

I want to share this wonderful idea I’ve been tossing about this week. I recently listened to Jack Hayford teach on the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. I really love Pastor Hayford. He’s got such a gentle and tender spirit.

I first heard him teach on this in the 90s on his radio program. I bought the series on (wait for it) cassette tapes. I wanted to refresh his take in my mind, so I bought the MP3 version, which was recorded sometime in the last few years.

To the point. One thing he teaches about the scene in the throne room in Chapter 4 and 5 fills me with awe. Back there in the 90s, it changed my perception of this scene. It has stayed with me since. But this time, he threw in a new twist which just had me weeping as I listened and imagined the scene.

The translation of one phrase in this magnificent drama changed everything for me. Where the NASB renders “a Lamb standing, as if slain.” (From Revelation 5:6.) Hayford teaches this phrase could be rendered “a Lamb bearing the fresh marks of slaughter.”

John’s tour of heaven drops him into the middle of the most significant moment of all eternity, the ascension of Jesus Christ. Let me present the story, starting with the book of Acts.


And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11

…meanwhile in heaven…

I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; – Revelation 5:1-4

…Meanwhile – in the heart of David, hundreds of years earlier…

Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.

… in heaven…

and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5

…David…

Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory. Selah. – Psalm 24:7-10

…back in heaven…

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, bearing the fresh marks of slaughter, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.

And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. – Revelation 5:6-14 NASB


This thrills my heart. But what’s greater than this description, is that John is seeing this a solid 50 or 60 years after Christ’s ascension. It’s my opinion that this outside-of-time event takes place in front of every one of God’s elect. Every saint stands in attendance, from Enoch to Paul, from Noah to my mother and father, from Abraham to me.

I know you could break a brain cell or two trying to figure this out. This is the biggest moment in all eternity (wait—are there moments in eternity—mind blown.) And we will all be there (Maybe I should say we were there?) to see Jesus bring the sacrifice of His blood to the Father’s throne.

Can you understand why heaven’s worship gets real! When we all see the Lamb present His blood to the Father, and realize this is the moment of atonement—well—it’s going to get Pentecostal. I get chills thinking about it.

I admit this is speculation on my part. Still, it thrills my heart to think we’ll see this greatest of all wonders in person.

Won’t you praise Him with me today! He is worthy!

 

July 21, 2018

We Shall Be Like Him: How Exactly?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we return to Gary Henry at WordPoints. Click the title below to read at source:

How We’ll Be Like Jesus

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Over the years, I’ve heard many people speculate about heaven. What will it be like? In this post, I want to suggest that the main thing about heaven we ought to look forward to is the perfection of our character more than the pleasantness of our circumstances. In the text above, John wrote that “when he appears we shall be like him.” There are no doubt many things about our heavenly likeness to Jesus that I do not yet understand, but here are at least three ways I look forward to being like my Lord, not just partially but completely.

Free of sin. John said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The truth is, we struggle. As long as we live in this broken world, we will never be free from the painful process of grieving our sins in a godly way, repenting of them, and seeking God’s forgiveness. Won’t it be wonderful when we graduate from this remedial school and live in God’s realm where the battle against sin in our hearts is completely behind us?

Forever faithful. The struggle against sin is essentially a struggle to remain true and loyal to our Father. When we realize what we’ve done, it breaks our hearts to know we’ve committed treachery against a God who has never betrayed us even once. Jesus never betrayed His Father. He was always faithful. And the day is coming, for those who have been redeemed and reconciled to God, when we will be just as perfectly faithful to the Father as He is. I long for that day with all my heart.

Full of joy. Joy comes not from being patted on the head and told how wonderful we are. It comes from doing what is right — i.e., it is a by-product of purity in our character and faithfulness to God. Let no one tell you that joy has nothing to do with your character or your conduct. What we look forward to in heaven is the perfect restoration of our character to God’s holiness. When that goal is reached, we will be as full of joy as Jesus is. And that is something to look forward to!

At present, we are “works in progress” as far as our Christlikeness is concerned. In an important sense, growth in the resemblance of our character to that of Christ is what being a Christian is mainly about. By our Father’s grace and with His help, we are “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). It is the hope of being like Jesus in eternity that moves us to make progress toward that goal right now. So after saying “we shall be like him,” John says that “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).


As I posted this, the lyrics from a very old song kept running through my mind: It Won’t Be Long by Andrae Crouch. Especially the line where he sings, “We shall be like him.”


Dear friends, now we are God’s children. What we will be isn’t completely clear yet. We do know that when Christ appears we will be like him because we will see him as he is. 1 1 John 3:2 GWT

June 27, 2018

Knowing in Part

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely – I Corinithians 13:12a NLT

Today we’re back at the devotional page of Susan Barnes, who most recently has been working her way through I Corinthians. Click this link, to see the full index, or click the title below to read this one at source and comment.

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 13:12b

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12b

This thought is rather like what John writes in 1 John 3:2:

“Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.”

Living by faith requires that we acknowledge that we only know “in part”. We know we are children of God yet we won’t know “fully” until Jesus comes and “we shall see him as he is.”

I only have to look at my garden to know that God’s kingdom has not fully come. I still have weeds! And when God’s kingdom fully comes not only will I not have weeds, but, “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

Heaven is described in terms of a city. God isn’t taking us back to the garden but rather to a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). A city with foundations speaks of permanence, of security, and of community. The garden was a graceless state – one wrong decision and Adam and Eve were out of there. Heaven, however, is a permanent destination.

God’s grace is so amazing that we gain more than we lost in the Garden. The forgiven person is better off than before they sinned because God not only forgives us but credits us with righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We start our Christian lives with a righteousness we could never have achieved for ourselves.

However we are not, as Paul says, “already been made perfect.” We still live with the difficulties and inconveniences of a broken world with broken people and nothing works like it should. Nevertheless let’s press on to gain all Christ died to give us (Philippians 3:12).


Writing on the first part of the verse, Susan says,

God is waiting for a face to face meeting with you and me. At the moment no matter how clearly we may think we hear from God we always lose something in the communication. We only see “as in a mirror” but the day is coming when we will see face to face and then we will really know. Really know how much we are loved, how much we mean to God and how much He wants to be with us.

 

June 21, 2018

Fire and Brimstone – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Part two will run tomorrow, or you can read ahead by clicking the link at the bottom of this page to see it on Clarke’s blog.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we need to bring back hell-fire and brimstone? Preachers don’t seem to preach on hell as often these days, and for that some people are very grateful. Others think that something important has been lost. The good folk at Calvary may or may not have noticed I rarely use the word “hell”, preferring to refer to “separation from God”. But is there even such a thing as being cast out from the presence of God? There are those who would say that God is so loving, that everyone will be saved in the end. That might be what we would like the Bible to teach. But is it?

A brief overview of the Bible will help clarify our thoughts on God’s judgement. Let us begin at Genesis:

. . . then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:16-17

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24

The Bible is clear from the get-go that separation from God and His goodness is a consequence of rebellion against Him. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, the place where they could fully experience the presence of God, plus the way to the tree of life was guarded. Death became a reality, a sure thing. The gift of life was taken back.

This is reflected in the New Testament:

For the wages of sin is death . . . Romans 6:23

That is the bad news. Now for the good news:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

While it is clear that judgement against sin results in death, it is also clear that Jesus came to give us life. But perhaps Jesus came to give everyone life?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

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

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

The Bible is clear that though Jesus came to give us life, people can say “no thanks”.

The Bible is also clear that God is a good father:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

Would we as imperfect Dads go and force an adult child to return home, locking them up in our living room? God invites people to call him Father, but he gives people the freedom to people to say “no, I’m not coming home”.

There is such a thing as being cut off from God and his goodness. Hell is therefore a reality. So, time to bring back fire and brimstone, right?

We will consider that in Part 2.


Clarke Dixon is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to a 31-minute sermon of this topic.

April 11, 2018

When Did Time Begin?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

NIV Col 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

This topic came into greater focus for me back in 2012, when Wheaton College professor John Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One (and now a number of other “Lost World” books in a series) was a guest on the Phil Vischer Podcast. I wrote about that here at this article.

Another topic, which is of course quite related is studies into what theologians refer to as “the pre-incarnate Christ.” A book I always wanted to read on this topic is Ron Rhodes’ Christ Before the Manger: The Life and Times of the Preincarnate Christ (Baker, 1992). I recently got my hands on a copy and this short introduction turns up in chapter two.

When Did Time Begin?

Related to the issue of the preexistence and eternality of Christ is this question: When did time begin? Scripture is not clear about the relationship between time and eternity. Some prefer to think of eternity as time – a succession of moments – without beginning or ending. However, there are indications in Scripture that time itself may be a created reality, a reality that began when God created the universe.

The book of Hebrews contains some hints regarding the relationship between time and eternity. Hebrews 1:2 tells us that the Father “has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe(italics added). The last part of this verse is rendered more literally from the Greek, “through whom he made the ages.Likewise, Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command” (italics added). This is more literally from the Greek, “By faith we understand that the ages were formed at God’s command.”

Scholars have grappled with what may be meant here by the term “ages.” Lutheran scholar R. C. H. Lenski says the term means “not merely vast periods of time as mere time, but ‘eons’ with all that exists as well as all that transpires in them.” New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce says that “the whole created universe of space and time is meant.” From this verse, theologian John MacArthur concludes that “Jesus Christ is responsible for creating not only the physical earth but also time, space, force, action and matter. The writer of Hebrews does not restrict Christ’s creation to this earth; he shows us that Christ is the Creator of the entire universe and of existence itself. And Christ made it all without effort.”

Church father and philosopher Augustine (A.D. 354-430) held that the universe was not created in time, but that time itself was created along with the universe. Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof agrees, and concludes: “It would not be correct to assume that time was already in existence when God created the world, and that He at some point in that existing time, called ‘the beginning,’ brought forth the universe. The world was created with time rather than in time. Back of the beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1 lied a beginningless eternity.”

In view of the above, we may conclude that when the apostle John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1), the phrase in the beginning has specific reference to the beginning of time when the universe was created. When the time-space universe came into being, Christ the divine Word was already existing in a loving, intimate relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

(pp 36-37)

April 10, 2018

Death and the Body

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Russell Young

The body, or the flesh, presents a big problem for humankind. It functions well and can accomplish many amazing things; however, it also imposes many desires and wants. It can cause the body to entertain and be tempted to sin, and sin destroys. (Rom 8:13; Gal 6:8) All are familiar with the body’s need for comfort and protection, for sexual gratification, for elevation or prominence in the sight of peers, and for general acceptance. All want to be valued and to feel comfortable ‘in their own skin.’

The issue of concern is the tendency for people to take excessive interest in the things of the flesh, to give the body more prominence in life than the LORD has allowed. Pleasing the body through excesses can result in an ungodly focus and a denial of the purpose and place of God in a person’s life.

Paul calls the flesh “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24 NIV) That is, he refers to it as the body that brings about death. He states, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of death might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom 6:6 NIV) To find God’s eternal kingdom the interest of the body to entertain sin must be “overcome”. (Rev 7:21) Concerning the nature of his body, Paul lamented, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

Paul made it clear that deliverance from the death imposed by bodily interests was gained through Jesus Christ our Lord. But how? Deliverance seems to remain a matter of great confusion, but it is really the means of eternal salvation. When the believer is liberated from the “body of death,” he or she will have met God’s righteous requirements and will enjoy an eternal hope. (Rom 8:23) There have been many different postulations as to how Christ rescues a person from the death brought on by the flesh; many provide an understanding that is more philosophically than scripturally based. However, Paul has presented a clear theological understanding to the Romans in Chapter 8.

According to him, “the law of the Spirit of life set [people] free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2 NIV) It is the “law of the Spirit of life” that has freed the believer from death. Many understand that the crucifixion of Christ has met their need when it is “the Spirit of life” who must do it. The sacrificial offering of Christ was made to cleanse the sin accumulated by the confessor from his or her consequent death, and to provide the Holy Spirit so that he might set the believer free from the “law of sin and death.” Paul has made it clear that the confessor’s redemption was to make the Spirit of life available to the confessor. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14 NIV Italics added) He is not saying that believers have received the fullness of the Spirit’s cleansing, but that we might receive the promised Spirit. The writer of Hebrews has stated that Christ died so that the confessor might be set “free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV)

Deliverance from the body that brings death is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:4) Living according to the Spirit requires that believers hear and obey the call of the Spirit concerning their life practices. (Jn 14:15) This theme is presented in many places in the Scriptures and the believer would do well to understand it.

Earlier in his book to the Romans, Paul had addressed the need to “count” the flesh to have been crucified or to reckon that it has been put to death and has revealed that baptism is a proclamation of the believer to that effect. Chapter 6 goes on to develop and to explain this point. Death to the flesh is a matter of a person’s will and is proven by his or her choices. Paul told King Agrippa that he had preached that people “should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV)

Further, Paul wrote, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8: 1011 NIV Italics added) It is the Spirit who delivers the body of the believer–the obedient confessor—from its interest in sinful activities and gives it life, the life pleasing to God. Because of the saving power of the Spirit, Christ admonished that those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” (Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10) The LORD had defined blasphemy to the Israelites. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” (Num 15:3031 NIV Italics added) The Spirit must actively “live” (Rom 8: 9, 11) in the believer; he cannot be denied, quenched, or thwarted.

Paul has reminded his readers that they have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, if they are to be a son of God (Rom 8:14)—they are to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh. (Rom 8:13) They are to do something! The death that the flesh would bring is to be avoided or overcome. It is for this reason that he calls the Spirit, the “Spirit of sonship.” (Rom 8:15) Death to the flesh allows Christ to live his life in the believer and so to become like him.

Many have accepted the idea that they have been adopted into the family of God, however Paul taught that the believer’s adoption is being “eagerly awaited”. (Rom 8:23 NIV) Adoption into the family will occur when the body has been redeemed (Rom 8:23) from its sinful practices and from death.

Even Paul recognized that he had more to do in order “somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:11 NIV) He wanted to suffer as Christ did to overcome temptations (Heb 2:18). Although his conscience bore witness that he was progressing well, his life had not been completed. Christ requires that the believer remain firm in his or her faith to the end. (Mt 10:22, 24:13; Mk 13:13)

Because Christ has provided everything that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and because he indwells the believer as Spirit (Col 1:27), judgment remains for all concerning the things done in the flesh, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

Paul knew that Christ could rescue him from his body of death, but he also knew that his needed deliverance was being awaited (Gal 5:5) and that it came through obedience. (Heb 5:9) Christ has admonished believers “to make every effort” to enter through the narrow door, because many would try but would not be able to enter. (Lk 13:24)

 


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

February 24, 2018

Billy Graham Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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[He has] fought the good fight, [he has] finished the race, and [he has] remained faithful. Now there is in store for [him] the crown of righteousness… (2 Tim 2:7-8a, amended)

Yesterday we honored Billy Graham with an excerpt from his final book. Today we want to include him in our quotations series here at Christianity 201. Quotation columns here at C201 always run the danger of being pithy — such as the shorter ones found here — so I’ve tried to include some more substantive quotes as they were available. Preparing this was an amazing opportunity to learn more about a servant of God who was willing to be obedient to the call of God. His presence and influence will be missed.

The greatest need in our world today is the need for hope. We thrive on hope, we rejoice in hope, we witness in hope, knowing that experience works hope. ‘Happy is he . . . whose hope is in the Lord his God (Psalm 146:5).’ There is hope for the future. It is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the grave and is alive now. I have staked all that I am or ever hope to be on Him.

One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied. This is the answer that millions are giving today. Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ. All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests. Their response is not atheism. It is not defiance. It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christianity.

God proved his love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’

Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.

Ruth and I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a great one. How can I say two things that seem so contradictory? In a perfect marriage, everything is always the finest and best imaginable; like a Greek statue, the proportions are exact and the finish is unblemished. Who knows any human beings like that? For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. We learned that even before we were married.

The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.

The happiness which brings enduring worth to life is not the superficial happiness that is dependent on circumstances. It is the happiness and contentment that fills the soul even in the midst of the most distressing circumstances and the most bitter environment. It is the kind of happiness that grins when things go wrong and smiles through the tears. The happiness for which our souls ache is one undisturbed by success or failure, one which will root deeply inside us and give inward relaxation, peace, and contentment, no matter what the surface problems may be. That kind of happiness stands in need of no outward stimulus.

There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men.”

Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have many regrets…I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ. I would spend more time in prayer, not just for myself but for others. I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life. It is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages.

The cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for he took them upon himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.’

The men who followed Him were unique in their generation. They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up. The world has never been the same.

The cross shows us the seriousness of our sin—but it also shows us the immeasurable love of God.

I have a certainty about eternity that is a wonderful thing, and I thank God for giving me that certainty. I do not fear death. I may fear a little bit about the process, but not death itself, because I think the moment that my spirit leaves this body, I will be in the presence of the Lord.

Like Joseph storing up grain during the years of plenty to be used during the years of famine that lay ahead, may we store up the truths of God’s Word in our hearts as much as possible, so that we are prepared for whatever suffering we are called upon to endure.

The message I preach hasn’t changed. Circumstances have changed. Problems have changed, but deep inside man has not changed, and the gospel hasn’t changed.

“What is the greatest surprise you have found about life?” a university student asked me several years ago. “The brevity of it,” I replied without hesitation. … Time moves so quickly, and no matter who we are or what we have done, the time will come when our lives will be over. As Jesus said,As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work(John 9:4).

When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.

I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it, and for all He has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven. I look forward to the reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone on before. I look forward to Heaven’s freedom from sorrow and pain. I also look forward to serving God in ways we can’t begin to imagine, for the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is not a place of idleness. And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace–just as I am.

 


Sources:

December 31, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last day of the year; first day of the week…

…An ending and a beginning all at the same time. If that’s not a metaphor for the Christian faith in terms of living and dying, then I don’t know a better one! The idea that strikes me is that the end of this life is the beginning of the next chapter; the chapter we call eternity.

As a generation raised on Science Fiction, we’re probably more attuned than previous generations to the dimension of time. Biblical scholars tell us that the New Testament scriptures are less preoccupied about future concerns and more focused on living the Christ-follower life in their here and now.

Paul was a bi-vocational pastor, teacher and missionary. His “day job” if you want to call it that, was making tents. So when he does look at afterlife, he uses a work analogy to express the end of life:

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

2 Cor 4:16b – 2 Cor 5:2 (NLT)

I was also thinking of this in terms of prayer. God exists outside of linear time as we know it, but when we pray, we have an inter-dimensional communication channel from the constraints of time to a creator who exists in eternity. Each time you pray, the one you are speaking to is in a entirely different world (to put it mildly) and yet, although in Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens;” at the same time, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are…” (Hebrews 4:14b – 15a; HCSB)

We launch our prayers into eternity, but as we pray in Jesus’ name we have an intermediary who has lived under the same temporal and spatial limitations as we.

That eternity will soon be our home.

How would Paul say it if he were a contemporary writer? Perhaps he’d think in terms of a video game where you move on to the next level. Or maybe a rocket ship. When we jettison this space capsule, we will have arrived at a destination where we will breathe new air and have a new body. (It needs work, but you get the idea, right?)

‘Last day of the year; first day of the week?’ He might say, ‘Last day on earth, first day in eternity.’ (I would have liked it better if had been, ‘Last day of the week, first day of the year;’ but we’ll have to wait and see if a future calendar arrangement permits that one.)

When we keep eternity in view — and when we pray into eternity — I think we have a reason to worship.

 

 

 

August 6, 2017

Sunday Worship

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Today we’re beginning something new at C201. Each Sunday when you come here you’ll see the same title, Sunday Worship, with an article or study which revolves around some aspect of that theme, which as most of you realize, involves much more than music.

NIV Genesis 14:17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Melchizedek blesses Abram. Isn’t that the opposite of where we should be looking to consider worship? Isn’t worship about us blessing God through our worship?

I was drawn to this passage through a chapter in Rob Bell’s book, What is the Bible? I know Bell is controversial, but hear him out on this. He writes that Abraham has been promised that God is going to do a new thing through him. He begins a covenant with Abraham. Something that has not existed prior.

But then along comes “a priest of God Most High.” So there’s already a thing. An ongoing thing. A thing that’s been taking place long enough for there to be a priesthood. And even though we’re only 14 chapters in, the writer of Genesis assumes we get what that means. Long before the birth of Levi, there is already the notion of an ecclesiastic structure; within it a group that is set apart — by the designation priest — to serve in some capacity related to the sacrificial system which, in chapter 14, is just beginning. I think that’s Bell’s point.

So Melchizedek is part of that priestly class then, right?

Maybe not. Many believe that this is a theophany, a place where God himself breaks in and makes a post-Eden appearance. Perhaps even a Christophany, an Old-Testament appearance of the Son. (We’ve written on this subject a few months ago in this article.) Really, how can anyone ignore the mention of bread and wine in verse 18? So shouldn’t Abram fall on his face and worship Melchizedek? That’s what often happens in theophanies, where the term “the angel of the Lord” is used to describe the one making an appearance. Instead, Melchizedek blesses him.

So let’s instead go back to the idea that this priest is in every sense a human like us; the idea that there is a designated structure that involves a set apart, priestly class. We have a reference to him again in Psalm 110:4 and also in Hebrews. Who does he serve? What does he do?

Remember, by the time the book of Genesis is recorded, it’s a given that we know something of the meaning of the word priest. Part of the sacrificial system was to offer animals and the fruit of the land in hope of God’s blessing. But part of it was also as an act of thankfulness for blessings already received.  It meant honoring God’s place, God’s position, God’s status, God’s authority, God’s power, God’s involvement in the everyday, God’s predisposition to bless, God’s prerogative to withhold blessing. A calendar cycle would evolve which represented the intersection of God’s work and our lives.

There was a role for the priest in all of this, as overseer of that system. In facilitating that worship.

The people didn’t worship 24 hours a day. There were fields to cultivate, animals to feed and children to tend to. But where they set apart their time, they did so with the aid and direction of one set apart to lead. In other words, before the establishment of the singers, we could see the priests as worship leaders. Just not in the sense we use that term today.

But this priest “blessed Abram.” Is that backwards?

It depends how you were raised. In a Roman Catholic context, there’s nothing surprising about a priest blessing children or even blessing objects. If our modern day worship leaders are some type of parallel or equivalent, do they, in addition to facilitating God-directed worship, ever bless the assembled worshipers? Or does that tread into the murky territory of responding to God in hopes of receiving something in return; i.e. a blessing.

I want to raise the possibility then that Melchizedek is part of something larger, and something ongoing, and something that Abraham is going to be a part of, but in so doing, he is plugging into something long-established. Something that pre-dates the new thing God is doing with him. Some that has already been taking place…

…in heaven. That is to say beyond the time constraints of this earth. In eternity. We see visions of angelic worship in Revelation but that heavenly worship is, to use a common phrase today, a pre-existing condition. In other words it follows through in Revelation but it also precedes Genesis.

And the notion of being a “priest of God Most High” is an extension of what has already taken place in heaven, is already taking place in heaven, and will continue to take place in heaven: The worship of God.

 

 

July 14, 2017

God’s Promise for Our Eternity (Part Two)

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“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Last month at Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber took a week to present a five part article on the above verse. Today we continue our look at this passage with them, phrase-by-phrase. The days refer to the day of the week they published the topic and are also links to the original, longer articles.

Wednesday – No More Sorrow

Other versions translate “grief”, “anguish”, “suffering”, “sadness”.  Oh, how we long for the day when these heart-wrenching emotions will be no more, but on this side of eternity they are a part of life. As an old Andrae Crouch songs states, “I’ve had many tears and sorrows”.

…Sorrows can affect us in many ways, often concurrently. They may emotionally, spiritually and physically weaken us. Some look for ways to block out sorrow such as alcohol and drugs which usually leads to more sorrow. Foundational trust is tested during times of sorrow but it’s trust that is so vitally needed. As Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe writes, “Faith that cannot be tested is faith that cannot be trusted.” Times of sorrow are times we need to call out to God such as the Psalmist who cried, “My soul is weary with sorrow, strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28).

…Whether our sorrows are a personal experience or whether it’s bearing the burdens of others our faith in God and His promises is crucial, especially today’s text which is a wonderful promise for those enduring sorrow.

I have cried a river in the darkness
I have known the loss of precious dreams
But soon there will be perfect joy and gladness
All suffering will be gone from memory

Thursday – No More Pain

Pain is something we seek hard to avoid. “Pain killing” medicines are big business.

The first Biblical reference to pain was following the trangression in The Garden of Eden when God said to Eve,  “To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).

We’ve all known pain and for some it’s a present reality. Hardly a day goes by in the course of our chaplaincy work that there’s not a discussion about pain. There’s chronic pain, excruciating pain, unbearable pain and many others.

We normally think of pain in the physical but there’s emotional pain, spiritual pain and relational pain. Most of us have experienced all the above. Then as you age you face more pain associated with the aging process! And as Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote in their hymn “Because He Lives” one day we will “fight life’s final war with pain” at the time of our death.

In a message from the “Our Daily Bread” devotional (July 21, 2011) we read:

…He has hurt and bled and cried and suffered. He has dignified for all time those who suffer, by sharing their pain. But one day He will gather the armies of heaven and will unleash them against the enemies of God. The world will see one last terrifying moment of suffering before the full victory is ushered in. Then God will create for us a new, incredible world. And pain will be no more…

Friday – Former Things Gone

…Won’t it be wonderful there! The verse ends with the reason for these blessed “no mores”, “for the former things have passed away”. For now though we live in the season of what will be “the former things”.

…Christ taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come” and all over the world this day people who earnestly follow Christ are seeking to do just that, including many in the business world.

We are all called to have a Kingdom impact. When it’s all been said and done that’s what really matters. This present life is very temporary but it’s all we now know. From the perspective of Revelation 21:4 this life is called “the former things” which will pass away. A helpful outlook in life is to be constantly, intentionally and purposefully mindful of this. Whatever you are going through, pleasant or unpleasant, be mindful that one day these will be the former things.

When the former things pass away we will see clearly what really mattered all along.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to live with an eternal perspective in their daily lives because “the time is short” (1 Corinthians 7:29). “The things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

One of the reasons we are not to love the world is because Scripture reveals that which is in the kingdom of this world is often godless and ultimately transitory: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Theologian Joseph A. Seiss wrote, “Man comes into the world with a cry; and goes out of it with a groan, and all between is more or less intoned with helpless wailing . . . But the hallelujahs of the renewed world will drown out the voice of woe forever.”

While still living in what will be an age of “the former things” let us all seek to make a greater Kingdom impact. A phrase many of us have used fits well as we conclude today’s message, “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

 

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