Christianity 201

October 14, 2021

Are You Glass Half-Full or Glass Half-Empty?

Thinking Through Exodus 15

by Clarke Dixon

Are you a glass half-full kind of person or a glass half-empty kind of person? If you are not sure, your friends and family can probably tell you! In the Bible we come across a people who could be described as neither, but in a manner which might describe us even better.

Let us consider God’s people in the moments after they had just crossed the Sea and escaped the Egyptians:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name! . . . .

Exodus 15:1-3 (NLT)

And on the song continues with praise to God for the incredible rescue. And of course this is entirely appropriate, for God has pulled through for a tiny people in the face of a large powerful oppressor. Let us remember that they had been slaves for hundreds of years, they were not trained for battle, they were not prepared for battle, and yet here they were, with their backs up against the wall, or rather a sea, with a big trained professional army eager to follow orders to destroy them. Any bystander would know how this is going to pan out. Except that they wouldn’t, for God’s people had a secret weapon; God.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Exodus 15:9-12 (NLT)

The Hebrew people walked safely through the Sea, young and old alike, while the big bad army on the other hand, were sunk. This song was a “WOW” moment for God’s people, a moment of praise and thanksgiving for what God had just done.

While they stood and reflected on the miracle they had just experienced, they also looked forward:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people you purchased pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O LORD, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

Exodus 15:13-17 (NLT)

The song began with what God had just done, but closes looking forward to what God promised to do. The miracle at the Sea was a “WOW” moment, and the promises are “WOW” promises.

So are God’s people glass half-empty kind of people, or glass half-full kind of people? God’s people as we find them in Exodus 15 are something else altogether, they are a glass quite-full kind of people!

For three days . . .

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded

Exodus 15:22-24 (NLT)

Then a little later, and a little further into the wilderness,

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

In no time at all, God’s people went from glass quite-full kind of people to glass knocked-over kind of people.

Perhaps that might be a good description for us. We may be neither glass half-full nor glass half-empty kind of people, but glass knocked-over kind of people. Our moods, thoughts, and attitudes may be all over the place and depend on situations and circumstances. We might be going along quite well with our glasses quite-full, life being good, then we get focused on the problems at hand, or the people in our face, and over the glass goes. We go from hopeful about the future to anxious, from confident in the present to nervous, from relaxed about life to stressed out, from ready to take on the world to unprepared to even get out of bed. From glass quite-full to glass quite-empty in the time it takes for a glass to fall over.

Is there a better way?

How might things have turned out if God’s people kept singing that song from chapter 15 while in the wilderness? What if that song was not a top-of-the-pop-charts-for-just-one-day kind of song, but one they sang every day in the wilderness?

When they ran out of water, if they were singing about how God helped them in the past despite the odds being seemingly stacked against them, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. If God can deal with the army problem, God can do something about the water problem.

When they ran out of food, if they were singing about God’s promises for the future, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. Since God had rescued them in the past and made promises about their future, then just maybe they could trust him with today instead of assuming the worst?

What about us?

Are we singing songs of praise and thanksgiving enough? Are we remembering God in our lives, that when trouble hits, God is our first thought and not our last resort, that when life gets rough, trust in God is something we just do, and not something we must try to muster up? Are we continually getting our hearts and minds in tune, ready for what is next, whether good or bad?

If God’s people could sing of being rescued from Egypt in Exodus 15, we have an even greater rescue to sing about. The Lord has rescued us from all that separates us from Him. The Lord has rescued us from death, though Jesus.

If God’s people could sing about the promised land, we can sing about even bigger promises now. The Lord has promised to be present with us. The Lord has promised eternal life with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us His Kingdom coming, and leads us to move toward it in the here and now.

Thinking of our tag-line at Calvary Baptist Church of “helping people walk with Jesus,” it can feel like an uphill battle trying to get people excited about the possibility of walking with Jesus. It should be harder to convince Jesus to want to walk with us. But Jesus takes no convincing, on the contrary, Jesus “took the nails”. That’s God’s love, that’s God doing what God does because God is love.

That’s a song worth singing, a tune to get stuck in our heads! So when trouble strikes, and it will, we know God is going to get us through it, because God is not some idea we contemplate from time to time, but One with Whom we walk every day in a trust relationship.

Thanksgiving may be just one day in the year, but gratitude is a song we can sing daily, bringing focus on the reality of God walking with us in the past, future, and present, bringing focus to the reality of God and the reality of God’s love. Praise and thanksgiving remind us that we can trust God. When we live a life of gratitude to God, trust will be something we do daily and will not be something we must muster up when hard times hit.

Perhaps this is worth an experiment. What if for a week, or a month, each morning we think of something God has done for us in the past, plus something God has promised for our future? We might want a Bible and a notebook handy! What if we start each day with a “song” of praise and gratitude?

A life lived in praise and gratitude is a life anchored to the reality of God’s love for us. When we are anchored to the reality of God’s love for us we won’t be glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of people, we won’t be full glass-knocked-over kind of people, we will be cup-runneth-over kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This devotional is based on a sermon which can be seen here.

October 11, 2021

Thankful for Everything

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This is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. After 30 minutes looking for an appropriate devotional to share with you, I came across Joy in the Everyday, written by Janet who lives on Canada’s east coast.

Click the header which follows to read this at source, then take a few minutes to check out more of her writing..

give thanks

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. 1 Chron. 16:34 NLT

Wishing all of my Canadian friends a Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m sitting here enjoying the aroma of roasting turkey and anticipating a lovely dinner with family and friends who are family. Pumpkin trifle is awaiting final touches and I am relaxing until last minute work must be addressed. Admittedly, the last couple of years have not been easy ones, but I truly have so much to be thankful for.

I re-shared the give thanks graphic on Facebook this morning and thought of this post from way back when…

Have you ever been challenged by this quote:

“What if you awoke today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

I am guilty of taking little things and big things alike for granted.  While I am thankful for my wonderful family, a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back, I do not always remember to show my gratitude to my Heavenly Father.  He is the giver of all good gifts.  And these items would definitely be on my ‘good gifts list.’

What about the little things?  I have never read Anne Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, though it’s on my mental list of books I’d like to read … I can imagine from the title and gleaning from the thoughts of others that she challenges us to see beauty in the ugliness, and in the commonplace.

I’ve seen this quote: “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle.”  Am I truly filled with thankfulness in each magnificent sunset?  For a day filled with love and opportunities to fulfill His purposes for me and in me? For that first sip of morning coffee?  For that hug and “I love you”  from my boy?  For my husband who reaches over to hold my hand?  For mounds of laundry…because this means my home is not empty, and we have the necessities of life, and the benefit of brilliant imaginations so that I don’t need to do laundry by hand?  For the opportunity to serve a sick neighbour, to show the love of Jesus? I’m trying to learn this lesson well, as the name of my blog suggests.  I pray that I would not only find joy in the everyday, but I would be thankful in it. A life lived in thankfulness is a life that is content and full of joy.

It’s easy to be thankful for good things.  FaceTime with grandlittles.  Visits with friends and family.  The precious gift of salvation.  What about the hard things?

I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us “in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  We’ve talked (here, here and here) about difficult circumstances being occasions for God to draw us closer and to make us more like His dear Son.  I can certainly be thankful that He hears me when I cry out to Him in those troubling times, He sustains me in my trials and walks beside me as I face those hard things.  I do not face them alone.

God is good. May my heart be filled and overflowing with thankfulness to Him.

October 5, 2021

Fearing and Trembling

Over the past year, in the wake of differing opinions on everything from health issues to politics, I have seen a great proliferation of new books being published on how Christians should work out their differences with other believers.

It’s hard to do this, because the answers are not always black-and-white; not always crystal-clear. Two people can have different answers to the WWJD? question. (We’ll get to that in a minute!)

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT) states,

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, just as God now knows me completely.

Philippians 2:12 advises us to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.” As other translations make clearer, this references what was translated elsewhere as “fear of God.”

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

…Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. (MSG)

But sometimes, you find yourself fearing and trembling your fellow believer, especially when the “working out” means that you walk away from certain scripture verses with a different take on them than that of a brother or sister. I know fear of your fellow man wasn’t what the verse intended; but sometimes life seems to be play out like that.

In the early days of my other blog, I would spend over an hour some days catching up with moderating and reading and responding to reader comments. With a few of them, I would reach a point where we clearly agreed to disagree. But hopefully neither of us were being disagreeable.

It’s hard not to be passionate about our pet doctrines. I can easily fall into that trap. But it becomes even more difficult when people have grown up without exposure to anyone who feels different about a particular element of theology than their own.

And then there are the people who shut everything down with, “Well, that’s not in the Bible;” expecting that the scripture would provide crystal-clear guidance on things that weren’t invented or didn’t exist back then.

Guess what? You’re right. It’s not in the Bible. But other things are, and we can interpolate where the dots connect by reading what the Bible does say about very similar things.

Especially one thing: The mind and heart of God.

The popular bracelets, buttons and bumper stickers from two years ago asked the question, What would Jesus do? Sometimes we have to (with fear and trembling) figure that out by asking the question, What did Jesus do? Knowing how he did respond (and teach us to respond) gives us an idea how he would respond to what we face today.

We’re so quick to say that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship;” but many people fail to express their faith in relational terms. To which I would say maybe you are missing out on something. To know what God feels about things in our modern context, you need to first know God as a friend. I have friends who I haven’t seen physically in a long, long time; others who I haven’t so much as e-mailed; but I know how they would respond and react in certain situations because I know them.

At this point however, it can still be a standoff, because the other person may feel they have as deep a knowledge of God and His will as you do. We know that while we may all stand in personal relationship to God; or if you prefer, to Jesus; the dynamic of that relationship may be quite different for different people.

So work out your doctrine with fear and trembling.

Work out your personal ethics with fear and trembling.

Work out your systematic theology with fear and trembling.

Work out how you respond to others with fear and trembling.

But remember, that all around you are other Christ followers — seeing as through frosted (or fogged up) glass — who are doing the exact same thing. With the cross of Christ in view, we will eventually find ourselves drawing closer to each other. But it may take time.

Our closing words are from the next chapter of Philippians. Here’s what Paul says in 3:12-14 (NLT)

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.


So should we just clam up and say nothing ever? Tomorrow we’ll look at the idea of “preaching to the trees;” affirming our faith in declarations even when it seems nobody is listening.

October 4, 2021

Truly Recognizing Sin and Guilt

Off and on the last few days, I’ve been looking at material from C201’s first year, and while the length, formatting, and sometimes lack of scripture content rendered those early articles ineligible for re-using today, I’ve used them as “blog prompts” to direct my thoughts on the same subjects in the context of what we now do here daily.

On one of the devotionals, I began with a story that was playing out where a military official was found guilty of murdering two women. Because the story was so significant in Canada, the media broadcast his confession, which ran 9.5 hours, and begins more in denial territory, and then over time he realizes that his guilt has been established. It’s a foregone conclusion.

The interrogator is very skillful in bringing the accused from thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we sometimes call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women.

One of the more simplistic devices — and there is always discussion about the danger of using “simple steps” devices — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.” Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God. Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as fairly good people. (This one of the major takeaways from Brant Hansen’s book The Truth About Us; we tend to grade ourselves as better than we are.)

To say this another way, we who have chosen to follow Christ recognize that before granting him lordship of our lives, we were positionally in a condition we call dead in sin. But for some who genuinely want to experience the peace and purpose we have, an admission of our natural fallen state is akin to suddenly changing the topic.

I wondered watching the news coverage of the story how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process. It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt. They’re “good.” They’re “nice.”

But similar to the case of the televised confession I watched, the evidence has been weighed in the court of heaven, and the guilt has already been established: All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

We can only live in denial of our sinful condition for so long. Eventually we need to do a self-assessment. We have to realize that in order to get to where we want to be, we need to look in the spiritual mirror and fully realize where we are.

Perhaps you are reading this and God is asking, “Where are you?” It’s not because he doesn’t know.

Or if you have a friend who truly desires to join you on the journey of faith, but no matter how good and nice they are, it begins with an acknowledgement of where all of us are when we start that journey: Sinners in need of mercy and forgiveness.

That’s not a concession to one particular doctrinal system’s soteriology, it’s just the way, with God, that things work.

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?

 

October 1, 2021

Whose Name Is Slandered? Translations Vary

This is an amended version of one of the devotions posted here eleven years ago, when C201 was just starting out. It’s also one where we see clearly that not all Bible translations read the same on all verses, and a quick reading will leave readers walking away with different impressions as to what the verse refers.

James 2: 5-7 (New International Version)

5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Verse seven of this passage says it is the rich who drag you into court and slander… well, who do they slander? Is it the name of (a) God, (b) Jesus, (c) your family name, i.e. surname (d) your name?

I got curious after reading the new CEB, Common English Bible:

Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

I guess I read this in the context of certain cultures where the baptism of an infant is also a “naming ceremony.” With John the Baptist, this took place when he was circumcised at eight days old. (Luke 1:57ff)

The NASB has James 2:7 as:

Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

The Message has:

Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—”Christian”—used in your baptisms?

The NLT reads:

Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

The ESV renders this:

Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

The NKJV has:

Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

The NCV puts it:

And they are the ones who speak against Jesus, who owns you.

The TNIV says:

Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

The Louis Segond reads:

Ne sont-ce pas eux qui outragent le beau nom que vous portez? [name you are called]

The Amplified Bible blends the two aspects of this:

Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called [the name of Christ invoked in baptism]?

I have to admit, I like that last one. The Amplified Bible seems to cover all the bases.

So what’s in a name?

The context of the passage is the rich exploiting the poor. That this is an insult to the character of the poor man so exploited.

Our name embodies who we are; our character is embedded in that name. And in addition to blending the two dynamics of this, The Amplified Bible (which I don’t use a whole lot) introduces the phrase, “name by which you are distinguished.” Your name marks you as different from everybody else. (Unless, I suppose, your name is John Smith…)

But we also bear another name, the name of Christ.

Any insult to us; any exploitation of you or me is an insult to Christ. I think the answer to the question I asked here is truly (e) all of the above.

But James isn’t just saying that we poor people are exploited. The earlier context (including verses 1-4) say that in the larger equation we are the ‘rich’ person in the story when we show favoritism, or when we marginalize those poorer than ourselves. (I wonder if some of the translations quoted take those earlier four verses into account?)

It’s easy to miss verse 6, sandwiched between verses 5 and 7. We’re actually the rich person in the story; it is us who are slandering the character of the poor; and thereby slandering the name of Christ by which they are called.


Here’s a different take on the subject of names from 2017; click here.

September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

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

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


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

September 25, 2021

The Safety and Protection David Knew

For a weekend reading, we’re introducing another new source to you. Salty Saints are a husband/wife team that’s been serving our Lord Jesus Christ together for 14 years. Their tag line for the blog is, “Sprinkling some salt and shining our light all over this world for Jesus!” Angela, who does most of the writing, is currently in a series on the Psalms. Click the header which follows to read this there, and then explore more well-written, thoughtful devotionals.

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

11 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
12 Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence.
13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

This Psalm really resonated with me this morning. With all that is going on in this evil world right now and the fear-driven agenda that’s all around us, the best thing we can do is remind ourselves of God’s character and goodness and the safety and protection we find in Him, just as David did. The dark and the unknown are things that scare us, but we need to remember that the Lord is our Light and our Salvation, our Fortress and Protector. No matter what may come, we can remain confident that He will take care of us always.

Even if we get to a point where we are surrounded by enemies, attacked, and suffer violence for our faith, we can rest assured that God will guide, guard, and keep us. We can be bold in the face of whatever lies ahead.

Three things that I notice that David did: He

  • reminded himself Who God is (built himself up in his faith),
  • he desired more than anything else to worship in the Lord’s presence, and
  • he prayed and waited on God.

These are all the very same things we can and should do when we are facing trying times. These are the things we should do at all times, actually!

As followers and disciples of Christ, we need not fear what tomorrow holds for we know Who holds all tomorrows! So let’s work on building up our faith in these days by seeking the Lord consistently through His Word and becoming a living sacrifice, worshiping and honoring and giving Him praise in all things, and communicating with Him in prayer about everything. There is nothing we can’t go to Him with and He already knows our heart and all of our thoughts, so let’s talk through those things with Him and receive His peace, joy, and direction.

As David had assurance that God would always be with him and never leave or abandon him, we can be sure of this too. No matter who else may leave our side, He won’t. No matter how hard things may seem and how alone we may feel at times, He sees us and feels great mercy and compassion toward us and He offers us comfort and even joy that passes all understanding. He IS a good, good Father and verse 10 says, “He will hold me close.” That’s awesome to think of, isn’t it? I imagine Him just holding me in His arms close to His chest as the kindest, loving Father in such a warm embrace and just never letting me go.

This also says that He teaches us the way we should go. We have to be constantly seeking Him in order to be guided along life’s journey by Him. He will show us which path to take and it will always be the narrow one. Remember that broad is the way that leads to destruction and MOST are on it. So we must stay on the narrow path that leads to life, even if it’s a lonely path because everyone else seems to be on the other one.

David was confident that he would “see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living” but he knew that he had to be brave, courageous, and patient. This holds true for us as well.

We are sure that we will see His goodness, in life and in death, and we must face both in this same way. We do not need to give in to fear, for that is Satan’s number one tactic. We must be brave and courageous…these are characteristics that God has always instilled in and demanded of His soldiers. Cowards have no place in the Kingdom of God and Heaven. And much patience and endurance (to the end) is going to be needed for all that lies ahead until we meet Jesus face to face and are ushered in and hear that long-awaited, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

These are just some thoughts I had as I read this beautiful and encouraging Psalm this morning and thought I would share with all of you. I hope you have a blessed day in the Lord! Remember, let’s be about the Father’s business!


Read more: Here’s another shorter devotional from Salty Saints based on Psalm 29: Click here. (Actually, all of the recent articles we looked at are really good!)

September 18, 2021

Ever Been Called, “Spiritual?”

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

Today we are highlighting and featuring the writing of Michael Pircio who is appearing here for the first time. Michael’s life took a strange turn about two years ago, and while he doesn’t give us all the details, you can read a quick summary here. His blog is named Something Extraordinary. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Christian Apologetics.

The article we chose was the first of two (so far) in a series called “Society’s Assumptions.” Send some traffic his way by clicking the header which follows and reading today’s devotional there.

Society’s Assumptions: Christianity = Spiritualism?

NIV.Eph.2.8a For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith

I was sitting with a friend the other day, whom many may define as a good person.  He told me “You know Mike, I’m not sure I could have gone through what you’ve gone through without your Spirituality, It’s a good thing you have it.” This is interesting, simply because I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t consider Christianity, God, Christ, good or evil spiritual things. I consider them just as tangible as you or I. The reason I believe in God is the same reason I believe in trees, or water, or the sky, no I can’t touch him, but I can see His work. I can’t hear Him, yet I can read His words. I can’t see him, but He knows where I go.

Likewise, Christ was a real man. He is still God. Many of historians from antiquity have written about Christ and the Christians or “followers of Christ”, so I know He isn’t just a myth. The same can be said for good and evil. Human beings, since the beginning of time, have considered whether there is good and evil, and what that looks like. They question such things as “Are humans substantially more evil than good?”, “Can people choose good without a benefit?”, or my favorite “Why is there evil if there is a benevolent, all-powerful, deity?”.

Dictionary.com gives us more modern interpretations of words and how they are used colloquially or in other words, as common words in  conversation. The site defines “Spiritual” in definition 6 as “of or relating to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature.” And I would have to agree in this use of the word, as many people, especially my age may define themselves as “Spiritual, but not religious”. As a Christian, I should be neither spiritual nor religious in my beliefs. If I define Christianity as a tangible faith, then how could either of those (religious or spiritual) bring me closer to my Creator?

Neither of them can. Religion, is a system made of rituals and practices associated with worship. Christians should not practice religion. God doesn’t require us to sing or do anything except love him. As I went over in my love series, that means being the best ambassador of Heaven on Earth. We are to study about Him and read His word. We are to pray and talk to Him, just like any relationship, and we can embark on artistic ventures about Him if we want to, in order to worship him, such as music or artwork; however, if we aren’t talented like that, we should worship Him with diligence in doing “all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:13)

God doesn’t even require us to have corporate worship, we however are commanded to gather with like-minded believers as that encourages us in our faith, but that doesn’t mean we have to go to church. God requires a personal relationship with us first, and then by that relationship we will want to spend time worshipping and fellowshipping with other like minded individuals.

So what’s the issue with someone calling us Spiritual? It seems harmless doesn’t it? It’s all about pluralism. Pluralism allows someone to serve two masters. It separates innate curiosity of the divine from the animalistic instincts that keep us from perfection. It allows us to follow man-made principles in satisfactory fashion allowing for our superficial concern over eternity to be quenched, but also allows for humanity to continue indulging in vices, questionable morals, and blatant rebellion without much consequence if any. People who are spiritual may believe in “God” as a higher power, but also subject themselves to eastern ideas such as karma and nirvana. They may even call themselves Christian, but when tasked with explaining their faith they can’t expound on it much more than being raised in a church.

People who are Spiritual consider themselves good people, and they have a morality that they believe to be right; Christians on the other hand cannot consider themselves to be good people, because we know we aren’t deserving of the title as sinners.

The whole point of this blog is to pierce right through what the church has neglected in so many years. Churches have gotten hung up on being “Spiritual” focusing on music, worship teams, and nice messages about how being good will please God, and following God’s rules make you a good Christian. As Christians we really need to take a stand against what society thinks of us and correct them. We are not spiritual, we simply serve a very real being who cannot be seen because of His holiness, who cannot be touched but can change lives in a very real way, and cannot be heard but has written down His word in a guidebook for our lives.

We are Christians, because we follow the Son of the being, known as God, who was sent to tell us exactly how His Father thinks, as He and the Father are one. We don’t follow Him because of His good ideas, or His compassion, or His Death. We follow Him because He is God.

Out of all this, the takeaway is Christianity isn’t spiritual, it’s not religious, it’s faith; a faith that is very real based on personal experience with a divine being who reached out to choose us to love Him and follow His plan on this Earth. While other religions espouse that they received their words from angels or men, we and our Jewish brethren are the only ones who can say we’ve received word directly from God himself.

September 10, 2021

An Anniversary: A Time to Remember

Thinking about the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack in the United States got me wondering what we posted ten years ago on the 10th anniversary. Here’s what we talked about that day.

September 11, 2011

Seen enough of the TV specials? Tired of hearing of “9/11?” You should know there’s a good reason why we need those programs and magazine features and internet tributes:

People Tend to Forget

Jesus understood this. Scripture tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

But you already know that. Those words from I Cor. 11 are often the most-repeated words in most churches during the course of a church calendar year. “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you;” is somewhat how I think the KJV renders it. The section from verse 23 to approx. verse 30 forms what is called “The Words of Institution” for the communion service aka Lord’s Supper aka the Eucharist. Even if you attend a church where things are decidedly non-liturgical, these verses probably get read each time your church observes “the breaking of bread;” and even if your pastor leans toward the New Living Translation or The Message, it’s possible that he lapses into King James for this one.

Why did Jesus institute this New Covenant, Second Testament version of the Passover meal?

Because people tend to forget.

Want proof?

Let’s look at the section we almost never read when we gather around the communion table, Luke 22. In verse 19 and 20 he tells them to remember. He tells them his life is about to be poured out for them. What a solemn moment. A holy moment. But unfortunately, a very brief moment.

In verse 24, Luke makes it clear that he’s trying to capture an accurate picture of what happened that night. Even if it makes the disciples look bad. It’s the kind of stuff that you would never include in your report to Theophilus if you were merely trying to make Christianity look good. If you were writing propaganda.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

I don’t want to be disrespectful here, but Luke might as well have written, “At this point, one of the disciples looked out the window of the upper room and announced, ‘Guys, you gotta come here for a minute; there’s a girl out there that is totally hot.’”

I’m serious. It’s that much out of place with what’s just happened. Jesus is telling them — trying to tell them — all that he is about to suffer in order that a plan laid out from before the foundations of the world will be fulfilled. And they’re arguing about who is Disciple of the Month. How could they go from one extreme to the other so quickly? In a matter of seconds?

Easily.

People tend to forget.

Whether it’s what happened in New York City, Washington, and that Pennsylvania field ten years ago; or whether it’s what happened in Roman occupied territory in the middle east two thousand years ago; we need to continually rehearse these stories in our hearts and pass them on to our children.

This is a day that is about remembering and like the upper room disciples, we can get so totally distracted. September 12th comes and everyone moves on to the next topic or news story. We must not let ourselves lose focus so easily. We must not forget.

Deuteronomy 4:9
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Tomorrow, in another flashback to an earlier post here at C201, we’ll look at the idea of creating memorials to remember times of both hardship and blessing in our lives.


Read more about the cross at Ground Zero in this special-edition article we ran in August, 2011.

September 4, 2021

Moving Past an Inherited Faith

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

A year ago we introduced a new author to you, Hannah, who writes at Morning Glory Journal. Of three articles I looked at, I chose this one for us today, but you can discover more by clicking the link in the previous sentence, or the one in the header which follows.

Genealogies: Pitch Our Tents Near The Well

When neither of your parents are around you suddenly have to decide who God is to you. You suddenly need to figure out if you think He was just a fable they believed in, or if you will believe that He is real, alive, and loving just like they always told you. I think the journey starts while we are with our parents; that’s where the foundation is set. But it’s when we are alone that we decide if we believe in that foundation or if we will give in to our deceptive senses.

Abraham had lived a full and satisfied life. After Sarah’s death, he had married another woman named Keturah. With her he had Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. His son Jokshan had two sons Sheba and Dedan. And Dedan had three of his own: Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. Midian, another of Abraham’s sons from Keturah, had five sons whose names were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. Now, because Isaac was the promised son, Abraham left everything to him. It was while he was still alive that he gave gifts to his other sons. He then sent them away towards the east, away from Isaac.

Genesis 25:7-11; NASB
7 – These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, 175 years. 8 – Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. 9 – Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 – It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi.

He’d lived a good life and, just like God said he would in Genesis 15:15, Abraham died in peace at a good old age. The first man mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, one who was called God’s friend, was put to rest. And so, the torch was passed on to his son Isaac. Both of his parents were now dead, buried in the same cave. By now he must have been around his 40’s. But without his dad around, would he still follow God? Since his parents weren’t around to influence his decisions, would he still choose God?

I like to think he chose to simply because of verse 11. Let’s look at it again: “It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi.”

Where did he live? Close to “the well of the living one who sees me.” He and God were already building a unique relationship. He believed in the God who saw him in the midst of all the sorrow and pain that comes with life. Where will we pitch our tents? God wants to build a unique relationship with each of us today, right now. He’s not a blind god but the God who sees you and me. Let’s put our tents up near Beer-lahai-roi and start to really get to know the God we’ve heard so much about.

 

September 2, 2021

In Repentance and Stress is Your Salvation?

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

Thinking Through Isaiah 30:15

by Clarke Dixon

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

For many people, the Christian life does not seem like a restful life, but a stressful life. It is a life of continual guilt, and when you do not feel guilty, you feel guilt for not feeling guilty. It is a life preoccupied with sin.

Repentance can be defined as remorse over wrongdoing or sin, feeling shame and regret. We might assume that the Christian life is to be a life of constant remorse, regret, and shame.

And so some have found Christianity to be stressful. Isaiah 30:15 may as well read, ”in regret and stress is your salvation.”

Is this the way it should be? Is the Christian life best described as a life preoccupied with sin?

Thinking through Isaiah 30:15 will help. So let’s dig in.

The prophet here is speaking to a specific situation in Old Testament times when God’s people in Judah were under threat of invasion by Assyria. When small nations are under threat from bigger, more powerful nations, the most natural thing to do is make an alliance with another big nation. We do this as Canadians, seeking national security by being part of NORAD and NATO. If anyone wants to mess with us, they will have to mess with the collective might of so many other nations including the military might of the Americans.

So God’s people in Judah did what small nations do, they sought an alliance. What did God think of that?

“Woe to the obstinate children,”
declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;
who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.
Though they have officials in Zoan
and their envoys have arrived in Hanes,
everyone will be put to shame
because of a people useless to them,
who bring neither help nor advantage,
but only shame and disgrace. ”

Isaiah 30:1-5 (NIV) 1

Making an alliance with Egypt? Bad idea!

The right thing to do, would be to seek God, to remember the covenant with God, to lean into that covenant with greater passion, trusting that God is faithful and will carry out His covenant promises. To sum up God’s covenant promises, “stick with me and I’ll stick with you and you will live and flourish in the promised land. Don’t stick with me and you are on your own (and remember you are a small nation stuck between big bad enemies, so invasion and exile is how that will go).” Therefore turn to God, and not Egypt.

This is where verse 15 comes in:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

To paraphrase; in turning, or rather returning, to God for help, rather than turning to Egypt for help, and in resting, putting your future as God’s people in God’s hands, rather than trying so hard to ensure safety through an alliance, will be your rescue from the Assyrians. In a quiet confidence in God and trusting in him rather than the Egyptians will be your strength.

The Hebrew word translated “repentance” here in the NIV is not the word meaning “feel ashamed of” or “regret.” It is the word for turning as recognized in many translations, including the NRSV: “In returning and rest you shall be saved”.

So in context, repentance here is not so much a feeling of regret or shame over sin as we would normally think of it, but a decisiveness, a decision to depend on God rather than Egypt. Yes, feeling guilty over not sticking with God and his ways would happen, but the more important thing than the emotions involved is the decision to stick with God. As my wife and I have often said to our children, “it is not an apology we are looking for, but a change in behaviour.”

Given that Isaiah 30:15 was written for a specific occasion, what does it have to do with us?

Does this mean that we as Canadians should not turn to allies like we do with NORAD and NATO for security and defence? Does this mean that we should not turn to doctors when we fall ill, or scientists and their vaccines when there is a pandemic? Does this mean we should trust no one but God alone?

Well, no. Remember the prophet was originally speaking to a specific people who were under a specific covenant with specific promises, about a specific patch of land, during a situation that was specific to them. We are not that people, those are not our promises, Canada is not that land, we are not living under that covenant.

That being said, we too have the opportunity to be in a covenant relationship with God; the new covenant through Jesus. He died for the forgiveness of our sins. God’s promise to us is eternal life with God, beginning with his presence in our lives now. When it comes to these spiritual realities that are a matter of eternal life and death, what can be said about the old covenant, can be said about the new covenant:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

Isaiah 30:15 (NRSV)

In turning to God and in resting in what God has done for us in Jesus is our salvation, in quietness and trust is our strength. We don’t depend on ourselves, on our own capacity to impress God with how good we are. We live in relationship with God, trusting Him, trusting in His love for us. We rest in God’s love, we live in a quiet confidence. The Christian life is not a life of preoccupation with our sin, and our imperfections, but of preoccupation with God and God’s perfect love.

There may well be things in our lives that we should feel ashamed of, that we should regret. Repentance is part of the Christian life and an opportunity for growth. However, framing the Christian life as a life of constant shame and regret, as a never-ending preoccupation with sin, is itself regrettable.

The Christian life is a life of trust and living in God’s love, of resting in God’s loving embrace.

It is not “in regret and stress is your salvation” but “in turning to God and rest is your salvation.”


Join us again tomorrow for a “catch up” post now that Clarke is back from vacation. Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursday and is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Clicking the header which appears just above his name takes you to his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

August 26, 2021

Making a Fall Commitment Reset

With regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon still on holidays, we mined his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon for something we had not presented before. This one appeared on the Labor Day weekend of 2021. Clicking the link in the header below takes you there directly.

When We Feel Not So Into It

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15:58 NIV)

Here is a verse we may read and think “I could not be described as a person who gives myself fully to the work of the Lord.” And of course this does not mean we should all quit our jobs and become pastors or full time missionaries or ministers of some sort. If we all did that I’d have to wonder where my salary was coming from. I depend on people committing, or in the case of the retired, having committed, themselves to regular jobs. We all do! And we should not make the mistake of thinking that Paul here is only speaking to the full-time professional minister. All Christians are called and invited ‘excel’ in the Lord’s work as another translation puts it. This means serving the Lord with passion in everything we do, including our ‘secular’ jobs, or put another way, serving the Lord as sacred people in the midst of a secular world. So what happens we find ourselves lacking in Christian spunk and fervor? What might we do as we read this verse and find ourselves faithfully serving ourselves and our own ambitions, or those of another person rather than our Lord?

First thing is to check your faith in the resurrection of Jesus. We do well to read the rest of 1st Corinthians where we find it all begins with teaching on the resurrection of Jesus. The ‘therefore’ that introduces verse 58 is key, as is the concluding reminder that the resurrection hope means our service to the Lord is not in vain. We serve a risen Saviour, to quote a familiar hymn, precisely because He is risen.

The 20th century was a time when many church goers got quite vague on what the resurrection was all about. Many turned their backs on anything sounding supernatural in the Gospel accounts right up to and including the resurrection of Jesus.

This leads naturally to a very vague kind of faith where one might say “I believe there is perhaps some sort of God, who I guess loves us”. Theology becomes very vague as the Bible fades into the background (taking Jesus with it) and faith is built only on reason, tradition, and experience, becoming a “build your own” kind of thing. And how easy it is for the Christian today to forget that our faith, our theology, and therefore our ethics are all founded upon and center around the resurrection of Jesus.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, Christianity is dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, I wouldn’t bother being a pastor, indeed I wouldn’t even bother with being a Christian. Many in my own generation think likewise, and some, not having a solid sense of the resurrection of Jesus, are leaving the pews empty today. All the contemporary music in the world won’t help a church that has forgotten that Jesus lives.

So if you find your dedication waning, or your commitment lacking, check the place the resurrection of Jesus takes in your faith. Paul could always be described as giving himself “fully to the work of the Lord”, and little wonder when you consider his experience of meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. The fact that Jesus is risen changes everything, and for Paul, and millions since, everything changed.

If you find you are not “fully giving yourself to the work of the Lord”, perhaps it is time for a fresh encounter with our risen Saviour.


Bonus scriptures for today’s theme:

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
 – Galatians 6:9 NLT

But those who trust the LORD will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired.
 – Isaiah 40:31 CEV

Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged… Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
– 2 Corinthians 4:1,16 NET

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 – Romans 12:11 NIV

 

August 11, 2021

Do Bible Principles Need to be Stated Twice to Matter?

It began with a conversation I had four years ago at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column, the bottom of the page, or at the end of the verse itself where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB expresses it as:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, HCSB)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

And at risk of stating the obvious, there’s 2 Timothy 3:16, which reminds us that all scripture is inspired. (Italics added; four expressions of this verse may be found at this link.)

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

August 7, 2021

Lessons from Peter

Another new source for you! The blog By Leaps and Bounds  is an outreach of Arise Ministries, which is based in West Virginia. The author of today’s thoughts is Dave Snyder, a retired Church of God pastor who now serves in prison ministry.

Faith, Failure, and Good Sense

And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:23-32).

The Christian life is a journey. It is like a marathon and is so different from a sprint. Always, it is a walk of faith.

Sometimes along this journey, we fail. Anything from failing to pray to struggling with sin hinders us and feels like it will defeat us.

During these times of failure, good sense has to kick in. We remember that we cannot and do not have to do this alone. Then we call out to the One who desires to help us.

Faith, failure, and good sense are all necessary components of the Christian walk. Let us briefly examine each one.

Faith is the key ingredient to the Christian life. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We must have faith to do three important things.

Look at the call given to Peter and Andrew.

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he said unto them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).

These men left their nets to follow Jesus — without knowing where that path would lead them. It takes faith to simply answer the call to follow Jesus.

Obviously, if we are going to follow Jesus, we must have faith to believe He is who He says he is. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered with an emphatic statement of faith, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There is so much power in declaring to our Savior, “You are the Son of God.”

Finally, it takes faith to leave our comfortable place. Peter was a man used to the sea- including times of turbulence. Surely, he had encountered stormy seas previously. It would seem to be more comfortable in the ship than out of the ship. When he stepped out onto the water, he left what comfort there was at the time. So it is with us. Faith requires stepping out of the ship to experience the greatness of God.

Down through the years, I have heard people criticize Peter for failing to complete his walk on the water. However, his failure is a reflection of the failure we all experience during our lives. Like Peter, we look at the storm around us and take our eyes off of Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” When we become distracted by all that surrounds us, failure is inevitable. This is when good sense has to come to the forefront.

When Peter began to sink, he did the most sensible thing he could have done. He cried out to Jesus — the One who had the power to save him. The Psalmist was so correct when he wrote, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” We should be so glad that our Lord hears us above all the noise that is around us. One other use of good sense is repentance.

When our actions deny that we know the Lord, repentance is in order. After denying Jesus three times, Peter remembered that Jesus warned him of this great failure. He had boasted that he would never fail in this way; now his heart was broken. Again, good sense was exercised. Peter went out and wept bitter tears of repentance. There are times when we must do likewise.

Matthew 14:23-32 definitely links faith, failure, and good sense together. It takes faith to step out in the first place. Once we step out, our human frailties get in the way and failure shows itself. This is when good sense tells us to cry out to the Lord who can help us. Good sense also tells us to make things right so our journey of faith can continue.

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