Christianity 201

October 7, 2021

Our True Home, Our Refuge from Change

Thinking Through the Life of Moses

by Clarke Dixon

Home is the one place where we are sheltered from the onslaught of change, right?

Everything else changes, our world changes, our society changes, people change, we change. Recently upon standing and seeing my hair on the floor I wondered why my barber has started only cutting the grey hairs. We change and we may not like it. We may not like any change.

Home is a refuge from all that change, it is the most stable thing in our lives, the one thing we can depend upon to not change, right?

Unless you are Moses.

Actually, unless you are most of us!

Let’s think about Moses’ sense of home for a moment. If we could ask Moses what he considered “home” what would he say? He might say it was his family and people of origin, among whom he was born. Or he might say that home is where he had his first memories, among the Egyptians that he grew up with. He might say that home is in Midian where he settled down with a wife and family from yet another people, having fled Egypt. Yet God called him from that new home, and that new people, to be at home among his clan of birth, God’s people, who had made a home in Egypt, to lead them to a new home, the Promised Land, a new home that Moses would never step foot in. Instead Moses spent the last forty years of his life leading the people around the wilderness.

You could say that Moses spent most of his life pitching tents, and never really settled in one home. His life was a journey to his true home.

How would Moses have answered that question “where is your true home? Where does your sense of stability come from?”

There was one constant in Moses’ life, one thing that remained the same throughout, and remains the same for Moses even now; God.

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
When the LORD saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

Exodus 3:1-4 (NLT)

God first appeared to Moses in a bush which was burning, but not consumed by the fire. Is there anything in our lives that cannot be consumed by fire? Take a look around, in the event of a massive fire, would anything be left untouched and unchanged? There is a hint here, that everything in our lives can be taken from us or destroyed, but only with the presence of God can there be any hope of something that endures. Only with God can we find a home that cannot be destroyed or taken from us.

But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”

Exodus 3:13-14 (NLT)

As we read through the Old Testament we often see the word “LORD,” written with all capitals, but not many people know why. It stands in for God’s divine name, which in Jewish tradition, would not be pronounced out of respect. When coming across the divine name in the Hebrew Bible, Jewish people say the word for “Lord” instead. We more or less carry on that tradition as Christians. The point is, God’s name has the idea of existence built right into it.

Only God has existence as part of His essence. God just is. Everything else and everyone else has been created. Everything that is created can also be destroyed. God cannot be destroyed because existence is part of God’s essence.

What is the the one thing we can depend on, the one thing that is not subject to change or can be destroyed, or taken from us? Only God can be our true home, the one constant in our lives.

God was, and continues to be even now, the one constant along Moses’ journey, his true home. Everything else was pitching tents. We may think we are building a home, some might even think they are building, or buying, a “forever” home, but we are always just pitching tents. Whatever home we think we are building will only last for the a season of life, for however long that lasts.

Being at home with God means that this life is a journey home. Being on a journey means saying goodbye, a lot. 

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to places. Having lived in eighteen different dwellings I am amazed when I meet someone who still lives in the home they were born in. This is now the longest I have lived in any one dwelling, at nine years. Yet whether nine months, nine years, or ninety years, these are nothing compared to being at home with God forevermore. This raises the question, how much do we really want to invest our lives in something we will be saying goodbye to? How much more do we want to invest our lives in being at home with God?

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to possessions. I have seen pictures of a motorcyclist being buried on his motorcycle. He won’t be riding that where he is going! We have possessions that may be very meaningful to us now, but when we stand before the Lord in the hereafter, when we realize how meaningful Christ is to us, the significance of much we invest in and concern ourselves with now will fall away. How much do we want our lives wrapped up in things we will say goodbye to? How much do we want our lives to be wrapped up in Christ?

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to people. People come in and out of our lives. Saying goodbye can be very difficult when close relationships are involved. Saying goodbye can be particularly painful when those goodbyes are unexpected and happen far too early. Grief is something we can depend upon experiencing in our journey. Let us learn how to manage it and lean into God through it.

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to particular ways of thinking.  To give an example, some people are raised, or come to Christianity, with the understanding that every word of the Bible should be taken as historically and literally true. However this does not give space to the fact that there are different genres of writing found in the Bible. Different genres require different approaches in understanding. To give an example, there are those who see a big gap between science and faith based on a very literal and historical understanding of Genesis chapter 1. Some of us, however, have an interpretation of Genesis 1 which sees no war between faith and science (please see this post from the past for more on that). While we make space for those who think differently, a life of faith is a journey of understanding, which means sometimes saying goodbye to ways of understanding that we may have treasured in the past. That can be difficult.

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to this life as we know it, these poor old bodies as we know them. There are those who get to the point of “goodbye and good riddance.” I remember one dear elderly saint who often said “I’d give anything for a slice of toast.” She lost her home, her health, her independence, and even the ability to eat. She was ready to say goodbye and told me so.

The apostle Paul was also ready to say goodbye:

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

When we think of our home being with God in the here and now, we have courage for the journey, even that final journey home in the hereafter.

In conclusion,

Knowing that our home is with God means being on a journey, and a journey entails much change and many goodbyes. So let us hold onto everything lightly. Let us grasp onto God tightly, knowing that in Christ and through His Holy Spirit, God has a firm grasp of us.

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16 (MSG)


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This sermon can be seen preached here.

 

October 3, 2021

Getting Younger with Each New Day

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
 – Isaiah 40:29 NIV

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
 – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

Years ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy who I figured to be at least a decade older than myself. When the conversation ended he left, but then he returned and said he just wanted to share a verse with me. He then quoted II Cor 4:16 to me from the KJV:

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day.

Most of you would know this better from the NIV:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

He then went on to tell me that he has been told, and has felt that he is “getting younger.” He said he felt more rejuvenated, and more energetic than at any time in his life.

This is not the first time an older follower of Christ has told me something like this. A woman told me that she’d noticed that the new hair growth on her head was coming in darker, replacing the grey hairs.

Looking for a way to respond somehow, I told him — and I hope this didn’t sound too new age — that he was simply filled with fresh passion about his faith and that he was drawing on the energy from that passion. He didn’t argue that point.

That’s the kind of faith to aim for; a faith that is vibrant and exciting and informs the other areas that make up the four parts of you: your mind, your social interactions, your emotions; and even your physical body. (See this four-part division in Luke 2:52.)

Renewal Means Being Made New

There was once an SNL skit by the comedian who played a priest in which he talked about a planet where people reached a certain age and then started getting younger. The punchline was something to the effect that “you didn’t know if someone was coming or going.” It’s not applicable here except insofar as it introduces “outside the box” thinking. Renewal — if you really think about it — is just that; being made new.

Paul tells the Corinthians,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (II-5:7)

I once heard someone say that the Greek on this passage is not talking about a metamorphosis like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but more like a caterpillar turning into a “winged elephant.” In other words, anyone in Christ becomes (his words): “a species of being that never existed before.” So we are all not who we were, we are changed and are being changed.

The idea of “getting younger” goes against the basic rules of science, but with God anything is possible. In John 3:3, Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the idea of being “born again.” In the next verse Nick asks the obvious question,

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
 – NIV

In the upside-down kingdom Jesus brings, the new birth isn’t quite that dramatic, but it’s just as significant. The man I met said he is “getting younger” and frankly, I have no reason to believe he is not.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
 – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Renewal Means the Dead are Made Alive

A parallel comparison can be constructed from the more central idea of scripture that, rather than looking at the aged recovering youthful vigor, we should be looking at those who are spiritual dead — which was all of us at one time — being given new life.

This is the message of 1 Corinthians 15:22

Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. (NLT)

A new energy. A fresh start. A clean slate.

How can anyone walk way from that offer?

 

August 20, 2020

Have You Moved?

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

Clarke Dixon is away this week, so we’re diving deep into his blog archives for this article from August, 2011, long before we started carrying his articles here on a weekly basis.

by Clarke Dixon

Have you moved? This is a question that I could answer ‘yes’ to many times. While we did not change church families too often (my Dad being the pastor), we did move house quite often, so much so that I cannot recall how many homes I have now called ‘home.’ But on last count I attended six different public schools (in two different nations), three different high schools (in three different towns/cities), one college and two universities. And since then, I continue the life as a nomad… So yes, I have moved, and got quite good at it! In fact I now have little patience when helping others move who don’t know how it is to be done. Ever heard of boxes?

But the question put to the congregation recently… was not ‘have you moved house?’ It was really ‘has your soul moved?’ As Christians we are led by the Spirit of God:

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” Galatians 5:25 (NIV).

As we are led by the Spirit of God, we should expect to see change in our character:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV).

Now sometimes this strikes Christians as being somehow either unrealistic, or unfair. “We can’t expect people to be perfect.” “We should accept people just as they are.” “People cannot change, nor should we ask them to.” That kind of thing. True enough, we accept people just as they are, but we should be asking ourselves, and each other if we are really watching out for one another, ‘have we moved?’ Have we seen a change in character? Is it evident to others, so evident it is like fruit on a tree, easily visible, and attractive not to mention life giving?

Yes we accept people as they are, but we can no more be led by the Spirit of God and remain the same, than the Israelites could be led by the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night and remain in Egypt (see the book of Exodus). If we are led, we are moving. If we are not moving, it is not because God has stopped leading us, it is because we have stopped following. Perhaps we like Egypt too much. Perhaps we have found a comfy spot in the wilderness short of the promised land and have decided to settle in the desert. Perhaps we mistakenly thought we were being baptized in the Jordan, with the promised land just over there easily within reach, when really we were baptized back in the Nile, with quite the journey ahead of us.

There is a Spirit-led journey ahead of each of us. And I don’t believe any of us ever really reach the ‘promised land’ of Christ-like character in this lifetime. But the question is not “have you arrived?” The Lord knows I have not. My wife knows too. And so do those who need my help moving and who have not packed properly, as previously mentioned. The question is ‘have you moved?’ Are you different now than you were ten years ago? Five years ago?

Whatever your answer is, I know what mine needs to be: Let’s get moving!


Adapted from a sermon preached August 2011 in Ottawa, Canada. Today, Clarke is a pastor in Cobourg, a city on the north shore of Lake Ontario in Canada. Church website.

April 29, 2012

Doers…and Not Hearers Only

Or then again,  maybe we should have titled this,

Hearers…and not Doers Only.

I was surprised to discover today that we had yet to include Talbot Davis in our collection of Bible study and devotional writers.  His blog, The Heart of the Matter is now entering its fifth year.  Talbot is pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, a modern congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina. You’re encouraged to read posts here on C201 at source, where this one appears as What “Doers Of The Word” Teaches Us About The Bible

James 1:22 is one of the more familiar verses in Scripture.  I love how the King James version translates it:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

We get the “doers of the word” part — most of us Methodist are more than eager to put our faith into some kind of meaningful action.

But note the contrast — “and not hearers only.” 

If we gave it some real thought, most of us would contrast “doing” the word with “reading the word,” wouldn’t we?

In our mind, the sin James rebukes here concerns people who read, study, and underline their bibles but don’t then live their bibles.

Except James couldn’t write his letter and give this exhortation with that sin in mind.  Why?

Because the people in James’ church didn’t have their own personal copies of the bible.  In fact, the majority of them couldn’t read.

They encountered the sacred text in church, in community, and out loud.  So most people in James’ church heard the word without ever reading the word.  James writes with that dynamic in mind.

Which brings up the larger point:  the bible is a collection of books — a library as we call it at Good Shepherd — written for people who are by and large illiterate.

Books for people who can’t read?  You bet.  That’s why the books in the bible are written more for the ear than for the eye.

So try it.  Read it out loud today.

And the book of James wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

~Talbot Davis

In many parts of the world, oral transmission — orality — is the dominant medium by which the scriptures are heard.  If you wish to know about a ministry organization producing oral texts for both major and obscure language groups, check out this article about Megavoice.

February 13, 2011

First Faith Lessons

I want to go in a totally different direction today.  I literally stumbled onto this blog and you gotta love the title: Becoming Me: Living a Life of Surrender — The Triumphs and Struggles of a Young Christian.  Sometimes the fresh take of a young believer can give us a perspective we might otherwise miss.  She calls herself Kicking and Singing (!) and titled this post Lesson 114.

I’m really happy to be back and I’m honored that you take time to read my blog. I don’t even know where to begin… I’ve learned so many lessons…here’s what’s on my heart at the moment:

A good friend told me that studying won’t speed up the process, because it’s all in God’s time. I knew that, but it didn’t stop me from trying! I have dreams, big dreams. My dream is to become the woman God created me to be. I want every gift and power released and manifested in my life and I want the generations that follow to be blessed beyond measure.

That’s fine. The issue is when a pure passion becomes perverted. Perversion occurs every time I try to do it myself. Don’t judge, most of the time, I don’t even realize when I’m stepping into Daddy’s (God’s) boots.

Like a child, I only know that I admire Him and I want to be just like Him when I grow up…that’s why I keep asking him, “When am I going to grow up?” I know I’m making progress and that’s great, but when I read the Bible and see glimpses of who He created me to be, I get excited and say, “I want to be her!..now.” Well, that time hasn’t come, so I tried to transform myself, then God justly disciplined me publicly….I got the message that time.

So prayerfully, I’m going to slow down and stop trying to read 6 books at a time. I’m going to love and accept myself for who I am and where I am right now, flaws and all. Why not? Jesus does.

I’m learning that this journey is not about perfection, it’s about the finished product.  So don’t be so hard on yourself, if we could perfect ourselves, we wouldn’t need Jesus.  And don’t try to fix yourself, it won’t work.

Let your mind be renewed, cast out pride, seek humility…

Humility=Awareness, Acceptance and Appreciation of one’s own true worth and value, ability to transfer glory, ability to control knowledge and power even though you know its yours to exercise. (From: Mrs.Green)

He’s the Master Potter: Be Clay
Thank God: He’s Not Finished With Me Yet

Check out Kicking-and-Singing at Becoming Me

December 28, 2010

Additonal Thoughts on “Little Deaths”

Because I personally found yesterday’s interview with Rick James so fascinating, I thought we’d continue today with a piece which appeared on his blog, under the the title La Petite Mort.

La Petite Mort

The French have a phrase, La Petite mort, or “the little death” which is roughly defined as “the period of melancholy resulting from having spent one’s life force.” I’m embarrassed to tell you where the expression comes from, but if you must know it refers to the emotional lull that proceeds sex. I apologize for the bluntness, but one must make certain allowances for the free expression of artists, poets and . . . the French. Life is a series of little deaths, a million black dots, major and minor, of varying duration, culminating in a glorious crescendo—“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). We are always rehearsing for that final movement.

In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul describes his trials in similarly poetic terms, though not with the potty mouth or innuendo of the French. In stating that “death is at work in us” (2 Cor 4:12), Paul is referring to his trials as a series of little deaths, or an ongoing death experience. But Paul is a poet in the way that George Bush is a poet, that is to say, not at all. Besides an occasional doxology or engrafted creed, issues of clarity not aesthetics govern Paul’s word choice. So, if Paul observes that trials are like “little deaths” it’s because there are important reasons for seeing them this way, not because “hey, isn’t it kinda cool to think of our trials as, like, little deaths and our prayers as mini-screams and our bodies as tiny coffins.” Here then is Paul’s description of trials as perpetual dying or little deaths:

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

So why refer to trials as “little deaths”? Paul has commandeered the words “death” and “dying” from the lexicon and used them as synonyms for the word “trials.” For Christians the idea of “death” is always coupled to “resurrection;” they are virtually two syllables of the same word. If I were to ask you to complete the sentence: “the death and (blank) of the Lord Jesus Christ,” I doubt you’d labor over it like a crossword puzzle inserting different words to see which fits best. You know it’s the word “resurrection:” “resurrection” always sits across from “death.” Paul wants us to see trials as “deaths” because he wants us to see God’s resurrection power at work in them.

Death (or trials), to Paul’s way of thinking, is raw fuel which God uses to generate spiritual life. It is the principle or dynamic of Genesis: light out of darkness, form out of void, life out of death. This is the principle at work in us as God takes the death of trials and transforms them into life. Paul wants us to see trials as a consumable resource like firewood that can be burned and transferred to heat.

The alchemists invested their time and genius trying to transform waste into gold. Noting its bullion color, Hennig Brand, for example, left 60 buckets of urine to putrefy in his cellar in hopes a residue of gold would be left when it evaporated. It didn’t—though we can thank Brand and his vile experiment for the discovery of phosphorus. The idea of turning raw sewage into something as precious as gold was not insanity: the idea that man could do it was. Few things allow us a vantage point from which to view God’s glory and power than the transmutation of life’s sewage (trials) into life. Who but God could take our trials, our little deaths, and turn them in to spiritual life and vitality?

—the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalms 118:23)

October 26, 2010

Renewal Means Being Made New

I had an interesting conversation today with an older guy.  I figure him for late 60s or early 70s.    When the conversation ended he left, but then he returned and said he just wanted to share a verse with me.   He then quoted II Cor 4:16 to me from the KJV:

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day.

Most of you would know this better from the NIV:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

He then went on to tell me that he has been told, and has felt that he is “getting younger.”   He said he felt more rejuvenated, and more energetic than at any time in his life.

This is not the first time an older person has told me something like this.   A woman told me that she’d noticed that the new hair growth on her head was coming in darker, replacing the grey hairs.

I told him — and I hope this didn’t sound too new age — that he was simply filled with fresh passion about his faith and that he was drawing on the energy from that passion.

That’s the kind of faith to aim for; a faith that is vibrant and exciting and informs the other areas that make up you:  your social interactions, your emotions; and even your physical body.  (Compare with Luke 2:52)

There was once a skit by the comedian who played Father Guido Sarducci in which he talked about a planet where people reached a certain age and then started getting younger.   The punchline was something to the effect that “you didn’t know if someone was coming or going.”    It’s not applicable here except insofar as it introduces “outside the box” thinking.    Renewal — if you really think about it — is just that; being made new.

The idea of “getting younger” goes against the basic rules of science, but with God anything is possible.     The man I met today said he is “getting younger” and frankly, I have no reason to believe he is not.

August 8, 2010

The Power of a Testimony

I want to continue where I left off yesterday, but in entirely different terms.

Contemporary church services don’t allow for what was once called “testimony time.”  We did a thing in our church years ago called “The Witness Stand,” which brought individual stories from the Sunday night service up into the morning service, when a greater number of people attended.

These days, you tend to hear stories in church only from people who are (a) being baptized or (b) going to or returning from a missions trip.

Even our songs — much as I love the ‘vertical’ quality of modern worship — no longer tell a story, either literally or poetically.   Maybe you’re old enough to remember:  “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore; very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.  But the Master of the sea heard my dispairing cry; from the water lifted me now saved am I.”  Or maybe those words just sound quaint and foreign, but they reflected a storyline no longer present in our worship services.

Maybe the words in “Victory in Jesus” that talk about the time “he plunged me to victory” don’t work in the 21st century, but there’s got to be a “before and after” song out there besides “Amazing Grace.”

So when I wrote yesterday about not letting anyone take away your story — or your very name — I wasn’t talking about identity theft.   I meant instead the importance of hanging on to all that God has done in your life.   That may mean keeping a journal or even starting a blog.  (Or writing a song.)

In the NLT, John 21 ends with John affirming his own story:

24 This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.

…but I much prefer what I believe was the older version in The Living Bible which has John boldly affirm — after chapters and chapters of loose references to “the disciple that Jesus loved” — his place in the story with, “I am that disciple!”

What a climax to the story!   In other words he’s saying, “It was me!  I was the one who shared those moments; I was part of that inner circle!   It was James and Peter and I to whom he told those stories and hinted at some of the secrets of the Kingdom.   I was there!”

The biggest lie the Devil would have you believe is that some of the greatest moments of spiritual victory you experienced never really happened.   As I wrote a few days ago, when you “take this bread” don’t just remember all that Christ did on the cross all those years ago, but remember what He did in you and through you because of the cross.

July 23, 2010

Conditional Promises


If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

May 30, 2010

Only One Life

Only one life, ’twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ will last

I’m having a birthday today.   Mixed feelings.   I just keep feeling I’m light on accomplishments.   I want to do more, but of course, Christ wants me to be more.   Furthermore, I think I’m trying to overcompensate for the lack of being by trying to increase the doing.   But perhaps this a chicken-and-egg thing; in fact, maybe opportunities to do more aren’t presenting themselves because again, Christ is concerned with who He is using.