Christianity 201

January 2, 2023

When it Feels Like God Has Left the Building

This is our fifth time at Before the Cross, but this time around we’re highlighting a different writer, Daniel Barber. You’re encouraged to visit the page where you’ll find teaching videos and articles. Click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Feeling Forsaken

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a)

It’s a question we as Christians find ourselves asking throughout our lives as we encounter various trials. God feels light-years away from us as yet another year passes of our weighty prayers going unanswered. We pray diligently, believing that at any moment of any day God will finally answer our requests beyond our wildest dreams. We’ll get that cool job with all the benefits, flexible schedules, and laid back bosses we’ve always wanted. The spouse, whose physical characteristics, personality and theology match everything we wrote out on our lists to a tee, will find us and fall madly in love with us overnight. The doctor will tell us every trace of our cancer has completely vanished. But, these things don’t happen. So we wait. We pray, read our bibles, regularly attend church and bible studies, and we wait.

During this period of waiting, we see others receive the very things we’ve been diligently praying for. People we deem as “less deserving” of God’s miraculous grace. Three months after accepting Jesus Christ as their savior, the newest member of our church is engaged, promoted at their job, and singing on the worship team. We know we should be happy for them, but something is holding us back. We think to ourselves “I’ve been in church seeking the Lord for years, doing my best to honor God in all that I do, and the biggest prayers of my life have gone unanswered. Meanwhile, this person comes in off the street and receives everything I’ve ever wanted. How is that fair?”

Bitterness begins to take root in our hearts. The growth is slow at first, but over time we begin to lose faith. God can’t truly love us. He must have something against us. Why else would he cruelly parade others amazing lives in front of our faces, while we face nothing but hardships and deafening silence?

“Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:2)

But then, we begin to see God’s provision. A friend offers to pay for our lunch, not realizing our bank account is down to double digits. We find a new place to live and get the help we need moving, all on a week’s notice. A tornado lands less than a mile away from our workplace and we don’t even realize it until the next day. God is providing for our needs and protecting us from harm. He must love us.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” (Psalm 22: 3-5)

“God, I know you answer prayers”, we say while down on our knees, “So why have you not answered THIS prayer? The most important prayer of my life?” While some may blame our unanswered prayers on a lack of faith, we know that’s not it. According to Matthew 17:20, all we need is “faith as small as a mustard seed” to move mountains, not because of any inherent power tied to the size of our faith, but because of the omnipotent power and infinite size of our God. Even the most infinitesimal amount of faith is all that God requires to work wonders in our lives. Psalm 135:6 says “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps”, so we know that no matter how much we may want something, if God doesn’t want it, or the timeline in which we want it doesn’t match His, He won’t do it.

This is a particularly hard concept to grasp when what we desire is a good thing. Doesn’t God want us to have spouses with whom we can better serve Him, good jobs in which to provide more for our families and pay better tithes, or an end to our various forms of physical suffering? While we may think we know what God should do and when he should do it, which is usually whenever we want it done, Proverbs 19:21 tells us that “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand”, and no purpose of God’s can be thwarted (Job 42:2).

Sometimes we may receive the good thing we want when we want it because it lines up with God’s timing, but sometimes we may not. We must come to terms with the fact that God’s ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). Who are we to question the one who has commanded the morning since our day began (Job 38:12) or make demands of one who can “send forth lightnings” (Job 38:35)? As highly as we may think of ourselves when the sin of arrogance gets the better of us, we cannot honestly claim to have these abilities or any other of the imaginable and unimaginable abilities of God. Because we are so completely powerless by comparison, why don’t we leave our desires in the mighty hands of the one who is the source of all power?

So yes, we should pray without ceasing about every need and want in our life, but we should not be anxious about any of them. Through this prayer and supplication, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” will guard our hearts and minds in Jesus (Phillippians 4:7).

When we find ourselves yet again asking God why he has forsaken us, let’s remember He has not and will not ever do so. Jesus is the “friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) who has numbered the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). We may be stuck in the pain of the here and now, but God can see our future, and knows that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Instead of fretting over whatever it is we think we lack, let’s “we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Even when our prayers go unanswered and we begin to doubt God’s love for us, we can rest in the fact our feelings aren’t truth. God’s Word is truth.

January 1, 2023

Building a New Year with Materials that Last

The illustration which follows is not meant to be a description of how heaven ‘works.’

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

It continued like this until the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As we start a new year, I want us to produce something of substance. Sometimes I get feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the ‘Goodnights’ are said or the computer is turned off and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value or significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration (or self-evaluation) of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written or spoken on podcasts is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance; something of a more lasting quality than what I was producing on my other blog at the time; something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only people in our sphere of influence, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level or what I would term Christianity 201. And just as that name propels me to go beyond the basic, the elementary, the minimum; I encourage you to set up whatever reminder you need this year to do the same.

In the quotation of the lyrics from a very familiar worship song, I’ve highlighted four of the lines:

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

When our works are “tested by fire” what is going to be left. Wood, hay and straw will be consumed, but gold, silver and precious stones can withstand the test by fire. Then we will have treasure in heaven.

December 17, 2022

The Trinity Both Is and Isn’t in the Bible

Just hours ago I had a conversation with someone who is trying to avoid Bible commentary written from a trinitarian perspective. It’s not the first time I’ve had that discussion, but the trinity is something that is so central to historical Christianity that it forms the centerpiece of the major creeds.

In some ways, I get it. The word isn’t in the Bible. Which means it’s not in your concordance, either.

But personally, I would argue the doctrine is there, somewhat unambiguously, even if the concept is difficult for us to wrap our heads around.

That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

In November of 2014 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley worth checking out… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion at Thinking Out Loud and noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

For that article… continue reading here.

In January of 2017, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

For more of that article… continue reading here.

Finally, here’s a link to a video teaching from Ruth Wilkinson. Shes looking at one of the most overtly trinitarian hymns we have, Holy, Holy, Holy, and an analogy you may not hear as often. Click the link for Part Two – Trinity

December 16, 2022

The Gadarene Missionary

Because of the graciousness of the writers whose content appears here, we give our articles a different post title than the original, so as to differentiate if someone is using a search engine to find the original. The first thing you’ll notice when you read the title which follows, is how it’s different — if not completely opposite — to the title we’ve given it. However (spoiler alert!) both descriptions are true. This man has a before-and-after story. Isn’t that the essential element of salvation? ‘I once was ________, but now I’m ________.’

Today’s devotional uses the King James Version of the Bible. If you’re a fairly new Christian, a person for whom English is a second language, or you just struggle with KJV texts, read the story first at this link.

Randy Livingston is a police chaplain in Florida who writes at From the Chaplain. You’re encouraged to click his title, to read this where it first appeared. This is his second time appearing at C201.

The Gadarene Demoniac

In Mark 5:1-20, the gospel writer records for us Christ’s encounter with “a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:2-5). The magnitude of this man’s evil predicament is that a multitude of demonic spirits had taken residence in him. We know this because when Christ had commanded the evil spirit to come out, he answered “My name is Legion: for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

The fact that a multitude of demons possessed this poor man was inconsequential to the Lord. They knew who Christ was and submitted immediately to his authority. “And all the devils besought him [Christ], saying, send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea…and were choked in the sea” (Mark 5:12-13).

Those in the region having heard the news of the swine came out to see what had become of the man. They found “him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). After his great deliverance, the man sought to go with Christ back across the sea to Galilee. But the Lord gave him this command. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19).

There are two important points for believers to take away from this record when it comes to our witness for Christ. The first is the sphere of our witness. We are to “go home to thy friends.” Our primary sphere of intended witness is right where we live day to day and among those whom we know and see most frequently. Each one of us has a unique sphere of encounter and influence. God intends for us to “bloom” where he has planted us and “brighten the corner where we are.”

The second point is the content of our witness. We are not required to give some deep theological testimony of Christ’s great salvation. Rather, we are to “tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” Note the words “for thee” and “on thee.” We are to tell what Christ has done for us! Yes, we declare that he can save. But, more importantly, he saved me. He died for me. He forgave my sins. Consequently, he can do the same for those to whom we testify.

Do you struggle with telling others about Christ? Begin by telling them what he has done for you. God will use every earnest testimony from a grateful child for his glory.

November 28, 2022

First Century Cancel Culture

A couple of times in our earlier years we featured the writing of Claire in New Zealand at the blog One Passion, One Devotion. I’m not sure how we broke that continuity, but today, after a long break we’re catching up. Click the title which follows to link to this article at its source, and then click that blog’s header for some really excellent articles.

Influenced – Blind Bartimaeus

You don’t have to be on the internet for more than 2 minutes to know about cancel culture. Some of its valid – they should cancel certain people for certain things – but others you’re like,  ‘Come on!’ …

Let’s jump into the bible and see where the crowd tried to cancel someone and how they didn’t let that crowd influence them and stop them from encountering Jesus.

Mark 10

Jesus and his disciples went to Jericho. And as they were leaving, they were followed by a large crowd. A blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was sitting beside the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus from Nazareth, he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” 48 Many people told the man to stop, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, have pity on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him over!”

They called out to the blind man and said, “Don’t be afraid! Come on! He is calling for you.” 50 The man threw off his coat as he jumped up and ran to Jesus.

51 Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man answered, “Master, I want to see!”

52 Jesus told him, “You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.”

At once the man could see, and he went down the road with Jesus.

I love it when we read the bible – it’s not just a story locked into the pages – it’s God showing us what He is like and what He can do and we can ask Him to speak and show us what He wants to say today about our lives and what He wants to do to and through us.

So Jesus has been in Jericho – doing miracles, healing people, teaching.  Because of this a large crowd had started following Him.  He’s the man, He’s amazing.

But there is a difference between following Jesus in the crowd and being a follower of Jesus.

The crowd were buzzed about all the cool stuff Jesus was doing.  But followers declared Jesus was Master, Lord, Saviour and their lives completely changed because of His influence.

So Jesus is leaving Jericho and the crowd is following.  Crowds are noisy right – unless you’re in one doing a minute’s silence – there is always some level of noise.  People talking. People yelling. People moving.  In this case there were probably people bustling to get closer to Jesus, to hear what He was saying or to get Him to touch them and heal them.

There is a blind man sitting by the road – this was his spot where he would have been dropped off every day, or maybe he slept here, and it was where he would beg for money and food.   They didn’t have health insurance or disability allowances back in those days.  Bartimaeus heard all the noise and the buzz of the crowd and asked someone what is going on? What’s happening?

When he was told Jesus was walking past he called out loudly JESUS SON OF DAVID, HAVE PITY ON ME!

What he is saying here is important.  Son of David is one of those spiritual titles for who Jesus is – that he is the son of God, the messiah.  So Bartimaeus KNOWS who Jesus is, he knows his true identity.    He has heard of his great fame, he has heard of the great things that Jesus has done and he has made up his mind that this is the one who has the power to change his life and heal him.  He has made up his mind that this is God Almighty.

And the crowd tried to cancel him. They told him to sit down and shut up.  They tried to block him from meeting Jesus.

Sometimes when we’re Christians people will tell us to sit down and shut up.  The world have tried to cancel Christians and call us intolerant and narrow minded.

They’ll try to cancel us because sometimes what we believe is counter cultural.  It’s upside down to the world.

It’s bless your enemies instead of get vengeance.

It’s serve not be served.

It’s deny yourself instead of follow your heart.

It’s righteousness and holiness instead of whatever feels good.

It’s purity instead of player.

It’s self control instead of whatever I want I want it now.

It’s seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness instead of building my own kingdom.

It’s grace instead of guilt, hope instead of hopelessness.

Disclaimer here:  Being a Christian isn’t about rules and to do and to do don’t lists.  It’s about a relationship with God, its about peace with God, and when its like that we make God our greatest influencer because we see He’s worth it and His way of living, while hard and upside down sometimes, we do it in response of how good and loving God is.  Knowing Him is worth everything.

Bartimaeus didn’t let the crowd cancel him. In fact, he got louder. He called out even louder.

The cool thing is that over all the noise of the crowd Jesus heard Bartimaeous.  There would have been hundreds of people potentially calling out His name, but there was something about this man calling that grabbed His attention.

Have you ever thought about how God hears us when we pray even if the 8 billion people on the planet all prayed at the same time? He cares about you and what you have to pray.  Prayer doesn’t have to be special words at special times, it is us talking to God, listening to God and about us connecting heart to heart.  We can be honest about how we’re feeling.  If you read Psalms you’ll see often that David, author of probably over half of them, talks about how life sucks, how he feels like he’s drowning, that everyone is against him, that he’s alone, scared, frustrated, angry.  They’re emotional!  They’re raw!  But he always ends it by realizing that in it all, despite how he feels, in the middle of the mess, God is right there, God rescues Him, we can call out to Him and He will hear and respond.  God hears you when you pray.  If we could see what happens when we prayed, how God turns His attention to us we would want to pray more.  If we could see angels move in response to our prayers, we would want to pray more more more.

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him over!”

They called out to the blind man and said, “Don’t be afraid! Come on! He is calling for you.” 50 The man threw off his coat as he jumped up and ran to Jesus.

Now I want to pause here and point something out.  Minor details in the bible can have major meaning.

Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and jumped up and ran to Jesus.

That cloak wasn’t just a jacket, wasn’t just a jumper, wasn’t just a hoodie or an item of clothes.  It was an item of clothing, a cloak that defined that he was a beggar.  It was like his permission slip to be sitting there asking for money.  If you were wearing a cloak like that it showed the people around you that you were a beggar.  It was his identity.  In biblical days, being blind was often seen as a curse. There was really no way to support yourself financially, so beggars were given cloaks, which gave them permission to beg. Beggars were defined as such by the cloak they wore. Usually, the cloak was the beggar’s one and only possession and their only source of income.

Bartimaeus threw off his cloak. He threw off his old way of life. He threw off his comfort zone. He was done being defined as a beggar. He didn’t just toss aside a jacket or sweater, this was life or death. It was sink or swim time; either he was going to be healed or he would have nothing. His faith was remarkable; he was so desperate for change he went to Jesus expecting a miracle.

When he encountered Jesus he threw it off and left it behind.  Jesus changes us – he gives us a brand new start.  He takes off our old life and gives us a new one.

It’s like how we talked about last week with our panel – God gets to define our life.  He gets to say how we do it.  He gets to say leave this behind and live differently because He is good, wise, great and most importantly because He loves us.

So Bartimaeus meets Jesus.

51 Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man answered, “Master, I want to see!”
52 Jesus told him, “You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.”
At once the man could see, and he went down the road with Jesus.

What do you want me to do for you?  Surely Jesus could tell this man was blind?

But He asked.

Loaded question potentially.

He’s asking the blind man what do you expect me to do?  What do you believe I can do?   What do you have faith in?

Jesus asks us the same question.

What do you believe I can do?  What do you want me to do for you?

Now we don’t turn this into a Christmas list for Santa situation where we reply with our wish list, a Lamborghini, to be 5 foot 5, doc martin boots, a swimming pool….

Psalm 37:4 says Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Philippians 2:13 says: for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

It’s like God places His dreams in our heart and the Holy Spirit transforms us that our desires become His desires and His desires become our desires.  It is God at work in us to make us willing to do His will.

But its also an invitation.

What do you want me to do for you?

How big can you believe God for?   How big can you dream?  How big can your vision be?

God wants to do amazing things to and through our lives.  We are not made for normal.  We are not made to blend in.   We follow an amazing God who is the creator of the universe, who loves us so much that He gave His son Jesus to make the way for us to have peace with God.   Nothing is impossible for God.

So how do we make this real in our lives?
1.  Position yourself where Jesus is – Bartimaeus was on the main road where everyone has to pass through.  In the same way, get yourself where God is.  River Youth.  Camp.  The Guys Group, Glow  Church.  We don’t put these on just because we like to have fun together, but because we believe that when you position yourself where God is you meet Him and He changes your life.

2.  Call out to God.  The bible says that everyone who calls out to God will be saved. Calling out to God can look like prayer, can look like worship, can look like getting prayed for, can look like fasting.

3.  Leave the old behind and follow Him.  Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and left that identity behind and left everything that was familiar to follow Jesus.  He became a disciple.

God is inviting each one of us into that adventure.

The challenge is the same.

Will we see Jesus for who He really is?

Will we fight the cancel of the crowd telling us that this is crazy?

Will we hear Jesus calling us to come closer?

Will we believe He can do what He can do?

Will we throw off our old life and follow Him?

November 27, 2022

Costly Sacrifice

Ever stood at a doorway with someone who insists you enter first, while you are insisting that they go first? Today’s story is more like two people insisting on paying the tab at a restaurant.

II Samuel 24 (NLT) : 18 That day Gad came to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”

19 So David went up to do what the Lord had commanded him. 20 When Araunah saw the king and his men coming toward him, he came and bowed before the king with his face to the ground. 21 “Why have you come, my lord the king?” Araunah asked.

David replied, “I have come to buy your threshing floor and to build an altar to the Lord there, so that he will stop the plague.”

22 “Take it, my lord the king, and use it as you wish,” Araunah said to David. “Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and you can use the threshing boards and ox yokes for wood to build a fire on the altar. 23 I will give it all to you, Your Majesty, and may the Lord your God accept your sacrifice.”

24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.” So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen.

25 David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

David wants to buy the land where he will erect an altar to atone for his disobedience in doing something God had told him not to do. (The reason God didn’t want him to take a census at that time is the subject for another study, suffice it to say he was disobedient.)  But Araunah is making an overly generous generous gesture to simply give the king the land. But then it really won’t be as much of a sacrifice on David’s part will it? Talk about substitutionary atonement. (No, not really; though we could go in that direction, too; but like other analogies, it doesn’t fit perfectly.) So David pays for the land.

So David voices the well known statement, “for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” (v. 24b, NASB)

In 2018, we quoted Jentezen Franklin on this passage:

The old Anglo-Saxon word for worship is worth-ship, which is the act of ascribing worth or value to a person or object. What’s the point? It’s this: When it comes to serving God, if it doesn’t cost—it doesn’t count! God knows we can’t all give the same amount. But what He’s asking for isn’t equal giving, but equal sacrifice! The Bible says, Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything (Pr 3:9 NLT). So whether you’re worshiping, serving, or giving, make sure you’re giving God your best.

I like that; “If it doesn’t cost, it doesn’t count.”

Our word worship means worthship. We worship those things/people we ascribe worth to and in doing so we are saying these things/people are important to us. So as we sacrifice to worship, we’re saying that God’s worth it.

In that same article, we quoted the blog of Covenant Life Church of God:

We recognize His worth-ship, His value and we openly worship Him. If He never did another thing for us, He is still worthy of our worship. His whole being is so wonderful and beautiful we can’t help but respond to Him. That is worship, the acknowledgement of who He is, without any reference to ourselves. He is still magnificent without anything personal involved, simply by existing.

The website Truth or Tradition reminded us that

[P]erhaps we do not worship God as we should is that it often takes so much time, and we are already busy. Let’s face it—prayer, reading the Bible, and sharing our faith all take time. Also, sometimes there does not seem to be much return for the effort spent on things we do for God. There are times we pray for our country, yet things seem to go from bad to worse; we read the Bible, but not are not inspired by it; or we go to church, but do not seem to benefit that much from the experience. Ironically, our word “worship” derives from “worth-ship” (Oxford Etymological Dictionary), and sometimes we wonder if “worship” is “worth it.” But it always is.

Part of the process is putting God first.

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

There is much to be gained from using different translations. For example, take

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (NIV)

The phrase in question has to do with putting God first, or giving Him first place in our lives.  Modern options include:

  • Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness(Phillips)
  • Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. (Message)

It’s important that we don’t think of this purely in financial, or worse transactional terms. In an 2014, we quoted Ken Idleman. Here’s his challenge, to us and to himself!

So what are some of the ways we can put God first in our lives that aren’t related to financial giving to our church and ministry organizations?

  1. I am really trying to discipline my mind to start the day with some kind of prayer; asking God to use my day for His glory. If my thoughts are getting sidetracked, I just quickly get out of bed and do a re-start so I can try the thought focus again.
  2. I am endeavoring to make the devotional website I read each day the first internet page that is opened in my computer.
  3. I am trying to begin my day at work by asking God to use my workplace to reach my community. This isn’t easy. The first thing I have to do when I walk in is shut off the alarm system, and sometimes the message light is flashing on the phone system.
  4. I am trying to be more intentional about the emails I write and things I post on Twitter. That’s hard because I am already a bit of a Bible-nerd, so with a faith quotient that’s already high, I have to separate things that are about Church life or ‘religion’ in general from things that are about Jesus. I have a long way to go on this one.
  5. I am trying to put God’s kingdom agenda in the words I write and the words I speak so that the wisdom I offer is not earthly wisdom, but are filled with truth, hope, and encouragement.

I Chronicles 21:24 (parallel passage)

But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

November 25, 2022

The Dual Nature of Jesus of Nazareth

TheMessage.Philippians.2.5-7 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.

I like today’s article because it is willing to delve into a tough topic, and also because it gets my brain working! I went back and read several of the paragraphs a second time. I hope you’ll do the same.

Today we’re visiting, for the first time, a blog called Living as a Christian in This World. The blog is normally written by “Raymond the Brave” who calls himself a “Biblical Unitarian.” (We carry a wide swath of writers here at C201, so I decided, ‘Why, not?’) Today’s article is actually written by Sean Finnegan. You may click the link in the title below where you’ll find an email address for Sean if you want to ask questions or seek clarification.

Is Jesus Both God and Man?

“…How in the world could Jesus be omnipresent if he couldn’t be in two places at once?” I asked. “How could he be omniscient when he says, Not even the Son of Man knows the hour of his return? How could he be omnipotent when the gospels plainly tell us that he was unable to do many miracles in his hometown?” —Lee Strobel, Case for Christ, p. 158.

In the foyer of our church, is a tract that says on its cover “Did Jesus Think He Was God?”

Below, I have reproduced the chart found in it, enumerating 11 points as to why Jesus could not be God.

If Jesus is God then…

  1. How could he have a beginning (Matthew 1:18; Romans 1:3), since God has always existed (Isaiah 43:13)?
  2. How could he keep “increasing in wisdom”(Luke 2 : 5 2 ), since God’s “understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5)?
  3. Why did he say, “I can do nothing on my own initiative” (John 5:30), whereas God “can do all things” (Job 42:2)?
  4. Why did he spend “the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12), as there is never a time when God prays, but only receives prayer from others?
  5. How could he learn obedience and become perfect (Hebrews 5:8 and 9), since God invented obedience and is already perfect (Matthew 5:48)?
  6. Why doesn’t he know the day and hour when he will return, and yet his Father, God, does know (Matthew 24:36)?
  7. Why didn’t he know who touched him (Mark 5:30), whereas God knows everything (Isaiah 46:10)?
  8. How could he be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1), yet “God cannot be tempted by evil” (James 1:13)?
  9. How could he die (Philippians 2:8), if God “alone possesses immortality ” (1 Timothy 6:16)?
  10. How could he be in subjection to the Father [if he were the Father] for all eternity, (1 Corinthians 15:28)?
  11. Why was he asleep on the cushion (Mark 4:38), yet God never sleeps or slumbers (Psalms 12:14)?

Though these reasons may appear very conclusive to most Unitarians and non-Christians, they are not by most mainstream Christians. When I speak to orthodox Christians along these lines, the person often responds “You misunderstand the dual nature of Christ.” Their reasoning continues, “In his divinity, he is God; but in his humanity, he is man. When he performs miracles, that is a manifestation of his deity. When he suffers or is limited in any way, that is a manifestation of his humanity.” Thus, a dual nature proposition is given as the explanation as to why Jesus did not exactly match the attributes recorded of God.

But why is this doctrine necessary? Why do people believe that Jesus is God? The main reason given for why Jesus would be God is that he did things that only God can do–he raised the dead, walked on water, exorcised demons, forgave sins, and lived perfectly. Each of these will be taken in its turn.

Jesus raised the dead. Jesus raised Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son. If raising the dead makes Jesus God, then Elijah, Elisha, and Peter are also God, because they also raised the dead.

Jesus walked on water. Jesus confessed the source of his miracles when he said, “the Father abiding in me does His works” (John 10:25, 32, 37; 14:10) and, “the son can do nothing of himself” (John 5:19). Jesus walked on the water because God empowered him to do so. (And Peter walked on the water also.)

Jesus exorcised demons. Often, Jesus came face to face with the spiritual forces of wickedness. He never struggled but cast them

out with a few words. However, he is not unique here either, the 12 also cast out demons, as well as the 70. Besides, Jesus clearly stated, “I cast out demons by the spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28). God empowered His Messiah to do these things.

Jesus forgave sins. When the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, he said, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). It is alleged that since all sins are ultimately an affront to God (Psalms 51:4), that only God can forgive sins. This reasoning is logical, but what if God conferred His right to forgive sins onto His earthly agent–the Messiah. “But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8). Similarly, the disciples of Christ are authorized to forgive or retain sins (cf. John 20:23).

Jesus lived perfectly. Adam was made in God’s image–perfect. God’s plan was for him to stay sinless, live forever, cultivate the garden of Eden, rule over the earth, and produce many children. Jesus also was made in the image of God (Colossians 3:10). He was divinely created [begotten] (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:20) in the womb of his mother, Mary; Adam was also divinely made (Genesis 2:7). Thus, Jesus falls in the category of one who began as perfect and who needed to maintain his perfection (i.e. the second Adam), rather than one who had inherited the fallen sin nature. Because of what Christ has done, we can now mortify the deeds of our old man and live as he lived (Romans 8:10, 13).

One other argument that often surfaces is that if Jesus was not God, then his sacrifice would not have been sufficient to redeem all of humanity. This assertion seems logical on its surface, but there are four problems with it.

  • Nowhere in the Bible is this stated.
  • God cannot die (1 Timothy 1:17 says He is immortal).
  • A sacrifice is sufficient because God accepts it, not because its value equals the offense.
  • According to their view, only the body (the humanity) of Jesus died; his spirit (the deity) continued to live. Thus, the God portion of Jesus did not die.

Besides, is it fair to split Jesus in any way? If Jesus were fully God and fully man, then everything Jesus experienced, both his divine and human natures also experienced. For example, if I could ask them, “How can Jesus be God if he doesn’t know everything?” They would respond, “In his humanity he didn’t know, but in his divinity he is omniscient.” However, this is impossible. One cannot both know everything and not know everything at the same time! If Jesus had claimed ignorance about his second coming when he was really omniscient, would this not be deceptive? To illustrate this, consider the analogy below.

Fred asked Laura for $5, and she responded, “I don’t have $5.” But then 10 minutes later, Fred noticed that she was holding $5 in her hand and questioned her why she had lied. Laura replied, “When I said I didn’t have $5, I meant in my right hand I did not have it; although it is true that in my left hand I do have $5.” Would this not be immediately exposed as deception? Either the person has the $5 or not. One cannot both have and not have $5 at the same time.

Jesus always spoke the truth. If he said he did not know something, then all of Jesus did not know it. If he died, then he was not immortal. If he slept on the boat, then he cannot claim to be the God Who never sleeps, etc. All of this confusion can be avoided if we understand Jesus as a human–a sinless man who, like Adam, was directly made by God but, unlike Adam, did not grasp at equality with God. There is nothing complicated about that. Jesus is a real human who really died for our sins.

Our entire faith depends on this truth. It is a simple fact: if the whole Jesus did not really die, then the whole of our sins are not really paid for. Thanks be to God who would not leave us in such a predicament.

November 19, 2022

A Promise with a More Sure Foundation

Wondering what this place we call “Earth” looks like at the end of time? You don’t have to read Revelation at all (though it helps!) to get a picture of what God has in store when he declares this chapter of our story done, and moves on to the next.

Today we’re back for a second time at the site Following Jesus Today, and the writing of David W. Palmer, who with his wife Rosanna are involved in itinerant ministry in Melbourne, Australia. Clicking the original title of today’s article below will allow you to read it where it first appeared in 2018.

Tribulation, Trumpet, Treasure, Triumph

(Matthew 24:29-30 NKJV) “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (30) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Reading of Jesus’s triumphant return never gets old: the sun and moon will go dark, stars will fall, and powers will shake. Every eye will see the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” At that point, those in rebellion against his rule will have indescribable regret. Wow! I sure don’t want to be in their shoes.

Thinking about Jesus’s “coming on the clouds” helps us keep our focus on the big picture; which in turn, motivates us to keep our confession, walk in the spirit, and remain upright:

(2 Peter 3:10-12 NKJV) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (11) Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, (12) looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?

The Holy Spirit reminds us of the greatness of our majestic Lord, and our need to keep ourselves blameless and without spot:

(1 Timothy 6:13-15 NKJV) I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, (14) that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, (15) which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

We see that in this passage, the Holy Spirit urges us to keep “this commandment without spot.” What is it?

(1 Timothy 6:11-12 NKJV) But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. (12) Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The Holy Spirit urges us to stay out of worldliness, to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness, and to “fight the good fight of faith.” He also reminds us of the incomparable and exceeding majesty of our glorious Lord, calling him “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

When our magnificent Monarch returns, he will gather us out of the world before he does anything else:

(Matthew 24:31 NKJV) “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Our “gathering together unto him” is going to be a glorious event; we are Jesus’s treasure—his bride. We sure wouldn’t want to miss the gathering he initiates, or be left out by any angelic neglect or laziness. (I’m not at all suggesting that any of God’s trusted angels would ever neglect their duty; I say it somewhat jokingly merely to set up a stark contrast in preparation for a point that’s coming.) Here’s what the Holy Spirit says about this “gathering,” meaning, “complete collection:”

(2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NKJV) Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, (2) not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had [already] come.

Interestingly, the word for “gathering together”—used here for his gathering of us—is used again in the New Testament. But this time, the emphasis is on us gathering ourselves for worship and fellowship meetings:

(Hebrews 10:25-27 NKJV) Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (26) For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (27) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

When Jesus’s angels gather us together at the sound of the trumpet, we sure don’t want to be forgotten, left out, or simply overlooked. Similarly, Jesus doesn’t want any of us to be absent when he calls us to gather ourselves together, regularly; he also wants a complete gathering—no one absent by neglect or laziness.

Why is he so motivated in this? The Holy Spirit says that when we gather—for church meetings, home groups, or fellowship with trusted, likeminded people of the same heart and spirit—he wants us to “exhort one another.” He also wants us to “motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24 NLT). The Greek word behind this means: to incite or provoke each other into living right.

In Hebrews 10, the Holy Spirit follows his urgent directive about regular meetings with a warning. It begins with the word, “for,” implying that what follows is the reason we need to keep up the uncomfortable confronting meetings. What’s his reason? “For if we sin willfully after … certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” Wow! This is heavy. The Holy Spirit implies that neglecting the meetings—where our feather’s are ruffled and our love is encourage—is the first step into “willful sin.” Let’s stay in the light, endure the correction, and put right what we need to. This, according to this passage, is necessary for staying out of willful sin.

The stakes in this are very high. If we stay in love and good works, and if we remain in Christ, walking in the spirit, and by his grace living a holy life, his return will be a glorious graduation into triumphant splendor and eternal rewards. But if we are drawn away by the rampant temptations in the season just prior to Jesus’s return, we will face the same fate as the world: “fiery indignation.”

Jesus assures us that God’s warnings about these things is not only very solemn, but that it is also absolute and final; it is more durable than even “heaven and earth:”

(Matthew 24:34-35 NKJV) “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. (35) “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

To “endure to the end” through all of this, we will need God’s grace. Thankfully, our wonderful God has made this available, and we can access through faith at his “throne of grace” by his “Spirit of grace” and the “word of his grace” (See: Rom. 4:16, Heb. 4:16, Zech. 12:10, Heb. 10:29, Acts 14:3, 20:32).

What’s more we need—yes, according to the Holy Spirit we need—some other people in our lives who know us well enough to be in our face confronting us when necessary. For our success, it is essential that we have good, holy, sincere people for serious regular fellowship—those with whom we can formulate ways to exhort, provoke, and incite each other to holy living—love and good works. We need partnership with genuine believers with whom we can create a culture of Bible study, word meditation, prayer, worship and confession.

Today, we conclude with Jesus pressing us to “learn” and to be aware of the season:

(Matthew 24:32-33 NKJV) “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. (33) So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!

And … remember that the word is permanent, the earth and the world’s system are no, so let’s focus on what is “more sure:”

(2 Peter 1:19-21 TLB) So we have seen and proved that what the prophets said came true. You will do well to pay close attention to everything they have written, for, like lights shining into dark corners, their words help us to understand many things that otherwise would be dark and difficult. But when you consider the wonderful truth of the prophets’ words, then the light will dawn in your souls and Christ the Morning Star will shine in your hearts. For no prophecy recorded in Scripture was ever thought up by the prophet himself. It was the Holy Spirit within these godly men who gave them true messages from God.

 

 

November 18, 2022

Why Was the Widow Down to Her Last Pennies?

In my part of the world the penny (one cent coin) was eliminated several years ago. Not having it certainly speeds up cash transactions, although most purchase payments are done electronically anyway. In the narrative today, a widow is down to her last few cents, and while her response to that situation is to be generous, you have to wonder how she got that low on funds.

Today we’re back for the eighth time at the website Borrowed Light, and for the seventh time with Mike Leake. Click the title to read this where it first appeared.

One Way Spiritual Abuse Happens

“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.”Mark 12:42

Jesus goes on to tell us that she gave “out of her poverty”. She put in her last two cents. Yes, he commends her. But Mark also wants us to know that Jesus “sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put”. Mark places Jesus in opposition to this whole racket.

This text is not only a commendation of the widow’s offering. It’s perhaps even more an condemnation of the temple system. We should be asking, “why is this widow down to her last two cents?”

This is another one of those places in Scripture where the subheadings distract us from meaning. We’re supposed to read Mark 12:40 with this text: They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers…” As one of the most vulnerable members within what was supposed to be a God-reflecting society, she should have been flourishing and not down to her last couple pennies.

I imagine this widow to be a sweet and devoted woman. We have several of these women in our church. They are often the backbone of our ministries. Often they are bound by duty and dedication. It’s no surprise that Jesus commends this widow’s offering.

If we were to interview her about this gift she’d likely say something like, “it was my duty to do this. The leaders have told us that this is a way in which we can honor God. So I give because I love God. This offering is a gift to my LORD, and a reminder that He will take care of us.” As she says this she points to one of the religious leaders—adorned in gold, flowing robes, sitting at important seats and places of honor—“they help us know how to obey God”.

What is Spiritual Abuse?

What I’ve just described to you is spiritual abuse. Here are a few of the better definitions (source):

“Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.” (Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993)

“Spiritual abuse is when a Christian leader causes injury to others by acting in a self-centred manner in order to benefit themselves.” (Nelson, Spiritual Abuse: Unspoken Crisis, 2015)

“Spiritual abuse happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship with God, to control behaviour for their benefit.” (Diederich, Broken Trust, 2017)

You can see each of these definitions at play in the story of the widow giving her final two cents and Jesus’ words of condemnation for the Pharisees who are devouring widows’ houses. They used their spiritual authority for their benefit and not for hers.

Spiritual abuse is one of those things that happens not only at the hands of one particular person but it can happen through multiple hands within an unhealthy church culture. And often it is subtle. It can, at times, be hardly recognizable.

There are many ways in which spiritual abuse can happen, but today I will share with you one way in which it subtly happens within churches and communities of faith.

How does spiritual abuse happen?

We are on the road to spiritual abuse whenever we equate our ideas with the Bible’s imperatives. Let me explain.

Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we are to “not neglect to meet together” but instead we should be “encouraging one another”. From, this text you are safe to give this general principle: gathering with other believers is a vital component to being encouraged in the faith. Or to put it more bluntly, we are commanded by Scripture to encourage one another.

Biblical imperative: encourage one another through gathering together.

That is a non-negotiable. But watch what happens…

As a pastor I come along and take that biblical imperative and match it to a ministry idea:we should meet in weekly small groups for the purpose of encouraging one another in Christ.

Ministry idea: Small groups help us encourage one another through gathering together.

I might say something like, “at Calvary we believe God calls us to gather together to encourage one another, we obey this through weekly small groups.”

That sounds good, right?

Except nowhere in Scripture does it say, “obey this through weekly small groups”. It’s a great idea. I think it does help you obey this imperative. But the ministry idea itself does not have the authority of Scripture.

It turns into spiritual abuse whenever we use our authority (whether it be pastoral authority or the church’s cultural authority) to force obedience of a biblical imperative through our ministry idea. And people are wounded by this type of thing all the time. They experience loads of false guilt.

These things are subtle too. It is incredibly easy to merge a biblical imperative with a ministry idea, so that over time the ministry idea become synonymous with the biblical imperative. It happened to the Pharisees. And it happens within so many of our churches.

Conclusion

There are, I believe, two main solutions.

First, it would be good for leaders to slow our roles. We are not to be faith handlers. We must have the humility to acknowledge that our suggestions for how to obey an imperative do not carry the same weight as Scripture. We can be firm on what the imperatives are, but we must be humble in the specific way these are carried out.

Secondly, it is good for all of us to stop and ask questions of every thing we assume is an imperative. What exactly did God say? Part of the deception for the first couple was when they added, “we shall not touch”. God never said that.

As we begin to melt away some of the dross it is important for us to remember that imperatives really do matter. We should have a heart to obey what Christ has commanded us. But also the humility to let ourselves and others relationally work out what obedience actually looks like.

I am His.

So are you.

November 14, 2022

Bible Teaching on Chronic Pain

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we played the search engine game so you don’t have to. Here’s what we found on the first three pages of results.

From the website Faith and Health Connection a look at Psalm 38 from the NLT with key words emphasized:

1 O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance……

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
facing constant pain.  

The writers there also note that verse 3 and verse 5 attributes the suffering to sin; noting that:

[S]ometimes the pain can be caused because a person is in internal conflict with God and/or with them self because they have sinned or are living in intentional sin. This internal conflict can cause tension in the muscles and other body tissues. This soft tissue tension can sometimes compress the tissue or bone against nearby nerves and can result in pain. Sometimes chronic pain… [I]f the pain is rooted in the inner conflict or guilt that stems from sin, the treatment or pill may well not cure the pain.

From the website Beyond Today:

It is easy to assume that if one seeks to live by God’s will and loves Him, God will always relieve that one’s physical suffering. Yet, there you (or those you know and love) are—still bound by pain, disease or disability. Does the lack of physical relief mean that there is something wrong spiritually?

I would like to take you on a brief survey of the Psalms of the Bible to challenge that assumption. Many of us regularly read the Psalms for comfort and encouragement, but I wonder how many have noticed that several of these beloved songs, speak about people of faith who suffer from chronic illnesses.

Before looking into Psalms, let’s lay a little groundwork with two references from the second letter to the Corinthian Christians. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the apostle Paul assures his readers that they—these are Christians, remember—have the opportunity to experience spiritual comfort from God when they endure troubles. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Therein lies a concept that is foreign to many: Christians can have enduring and chronic troubles…

The writer then goes into a detailed look at quite a number of Psalms. This is an excellent article.

The website GotQuestions.org (which we use frequently here) has several articles which address questions surrounding pain and suffering. In this article they state:

The word “pain” or some form of it appears over 70 times in Scripture. The word’s first usage explains the origin of pain in childbirth: “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16, NASB). The context here is that Adam and Eve had sinned and the pain of childbirth is one of the consequences of sin. Because of sin, the whole earth was cursed, and death entered in as a result (Romans 5:12). So, it may be concluded that pain is one of the many results of the original sin.

…[M]edically we know that pain is a gift. Without it we would not know when we needed medical attention. In fact, the absence of pain is one of the problems associated with leprosy. Children would never learn that touching a hot stove is a bad idea, nor would we be alerted to a dangerous medical condition without the pain associated with it. Spiritually speaking, one of the benefits of pain is expressed by James: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). According to James, when we endure painful trials, we can take joy in knowing that God is at work in us to produce endurance and Christ-like character. This applies to mental, emotional, and spiritual pain as well as to physical pain.

… Consider what Paul said: “And He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was speaking of a “thorn in his flesh” that was troubling him. We don’t know what it was, but it seemed to have been painful for Paul. He recognized that God’s grace was being given to him so he could endure…

It’s not fair to lift too much content from GotQuestions.org and you really need to visit their website to read all of the article above, and especially the one below, in full. If this subject touches you at a point of need right now, I really want to encourage you to read all of the article excerpted below. Click to read this article in full.

…When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He gained renown for healing the crippled and the chronically ill (Matthew 4:23). He sometimes went out of His way to alleviate the chronic pain of an individual, revealing His compassion for the suffering (Luke 13:10–12; Matthew 9:20–22). Jesus said that He did nothing of His own accord, but only what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19; 14:10), so from this we learn that the Father also has great compassion on those who suffer and can heal them.

But pain relief was not Jesus’ main mission; nor is it the Father’s. Sometimes chronic pain is the result of sin or foolishness. Sometimes it is merely the fallout from living in mortal, imperfect bodies in a fallen, broken world. Whatever the case, our suffering is not wasted. God has a purpose in it. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him about a man born blind, Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1–7). He then healed the man, but only after the man had suffered from blindness his whole life up to that point. So Jesus’ attention to the chronically ill shows us that God knows about our chronic pain and cares that we suffer. However, for reasons known only to Him, He often allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves…

The website Vibrant Christian Living links to 19 different verses about experiencing joy in the middle of pain. Perhaps some of these apply in a more general sense, and some didn’t resonate with me on this particular subject, but I appreciated their intent, which is that on our journey with Christ we would be able to possess an underlying, abiding joy. Their version of choice is the New Living Translation:

Romans.5.3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

John.16.33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Col.1.11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy

1Peter.4.12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.

With a little imagination, you can figure out why I chose this topic today. Your prayers are appreciated!


Worship music video: Yesterday, I posted for the first time in several months at our flagship blog, Thinking Out Loud. I was writing about a worship song which has impressed me (and others) and it really fits today’s theme as well. Because the song is 8 minutes long, the article is called A Worship Song I Can’t Edit.

November 13, 2022

Quotations: Thoughts on Grace

The difference between mercy and grace? Mercy gave the prodigal son a second chance. Grace gave him a feast.

~Max Lucado


The Law tells me how crooked I am; Grace comes along and straightens me out.

~Dwight L Moody


While our various guest writers’ material appears here only once, I do permit myself the luxury of a few “reruns” of some of the original devotionals here. That said, I’ve never circled back to any of the series of quotations by different writers or on different themes. Today’s quotations appeared in two different pieces, one from 2011 and one from 2012. (Apparently some were longer back then!) The authors are attributed on some (not all) where they’re linked with their names, just click.

Grace is at the heart of the Christian faith. It’s our distinctive. Part of our mission is to make people understand that salvation is not earned, it is the gift of God made available to us through Jesus Christ.

A scripture focus for today may be found at this August, 2015 blog post.


Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it you are bound forever to the Giver, and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like, Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give.

~(Eli) E. Stanley Jones


We tend to give an unbeliever just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ. Then we immediately put the gospel on the shelf, so to speak, and go on to the duties of discipleship. The grace that brought salvation to you is the same grace that teaches or disciplines you. But you must respond on the basis of grace, not law.

~Jerry Bridges


“The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

~Philip Yancey


‘He’s prone to stoop. He stooped to wash feet, to embrace children. Stooped to pull Peter out of the sea, to pray in the Garden. He stooped before the Roman whipping post. Stooped to carry the cross. Grace is a God who stoops. Here he stooped to write in the dust.’

~Max Lucado


“Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness… Verse 28 says: For those loving him, God works together all things for good. …Earlier in Romans 8, Paul discusses how things fall apart because the world is burdened with evil and sin. Things are subject to decay. Everyone will eventually experience the decay of their bodies; that’s the nature of things. The little grains of sand on the beach used to be a mountain. Everything falls apart; things do not come together. This verse tells Christians to get rid of the saccharine, sentimental idea that things ought to go right, that things do go right, and that it’s normal for things to go right. Modern, Western people believe that if things go wrong, we should sue, because things ought to go right. But Christians have to discard that idea completely. Christians have to recognize that if our health remains intact, it is simply because God is holding it up. If people love us, if someone is there to hug us or squeeze our hand, if someone loves us in spite of all our flaws—if someone loves us at all—it’s because God is bringing all things together. God is holding it up. Everything that goes well is a miracle of grace.”

~Timothy Keller


Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks. A good night’s sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace.

~Frederick Buechner


Grace is the incomprehensible fact that God is well pleased with a man, and that a man can rejoice in God. Only when grace is recognized to be incomprehensible is it grace. Grace exists, therefore, only where the Resurrection is reflected. Grace is the gift of Christ, who exposes the gulf which separates God and man, and, by exposing it, bridges it.

~Karl Barth


“…Jesus’ approach toward a decadent Roman empire, as well as toward individual sinners who must have offended him deeply, seemed almost the opposite of the self-righteous attitude of many evangelicals.  As I studied Jesus’ life, the notion of grace kept hitting me in the face.  All his stories made the wrong person the hero: the prodigal son not the responsible older brother, Lazarus not the rich man, the good Samaritan not the Jewish rabbi.  And I began to see grace as one of the great, often untapped, powers of the universe that God has asked us to set loose.  Human society runs by Ungrace, ranking people, holding them accountable, insisting on reciprocity and fairness.  Grace is, by definition, unfair.  That intrigued me.”

~Philip Yancey


Who can estimate the value of God’s gift, when He gave to the world His only begotten Son! It is something unspeakable and incomprehensible. It passes man’s understanding. Two things there are which man has no arithmetic to reckon, and no line to measure. One of these things is the extent of that man’s loss who loses his own soul. The other is the extent of God’s gift when he gave Christ to sinners…Sin must indeed be exceeding sinful, when the Father must needs give His only Son to be the sinner’s Friend!

~James Charles (J. C.) Ryle


“Most every cult you could name is a cult of salvation by works. It appeals to the flesh. It tells you, if you will stand so long on a street corner, if you will distribute so much literature, if you will sacrifice so much of life, if you will be baptized, if you will contribute your money, if you will pray or attend numerous meetings, then your good works and hard effort will cause God to smile on you. Ultimately when the good is weighed against the bad on the Day of Judgement, you will finally earn His favor. The result in that, I say again, is man’s glory, because you added to your salvation.

“Grace says you have nothing to give, nothing to earn, nothing to pay. You couldn’t if you tried! Salvation is a free gift. You simply lay hold of what Christ has provided. Period. And yet the heretical doctrine of works goes on all around the world and always will. It is effective because the pride of men and women is so strong. We simply have to do something in order to feel right about it. It just doesn’t make good humanistic sense to get something valuable for nothing.

“Please allow me to be absolutely straight with you: Stop tolerating the heretical gospel of works! It is legalism. Wake up to the fact that it will put you into a bondage syndrome that won’t end. The true gospel of grace, however, will set you free. Free forever.”

~Charles (Chuck) Swindoll


“You are loved by your Maker not because you try to please him and succeed, or fail to please him and apologize, but because he wants to be your Father. Nothing more. All your efforts to win his affection are unnecessary. All your fears of losing his affection are needless. You can no more make him want you than you can convince him to abandon you. The adoption is irreversible. You have a place at his table.”

~Max Lucado


 

November 3, 2022

Lessons We Can Learn

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.Romans 15:4 NIV

NLT.Heb.11.32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39a All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith…

Scripture offers a wealth of examples of those who trusted God through difficult circumstances, including those recorded in the First Testament, who never lived to see all of the fruition of their faith, which only arrived with the appearing of Jesus Christ.

It’s important, I believe, to use the term narrative to describe their exploits, because in our time, the word stories conveys a fictional or mythical “once upon a time” sense.

These narratives need to be rehearsed periodically because we live in a time in history when Biblical literacy is on the decline, and familiarity with these Bible personalities is ebbing away.

There is a term used among professional classical musicians, “knowing the literature,” or having “knowledge of the literature.” It refers to the situation that there are certain piano concertos which every great pianist knows by heart; there are symphonies that every clarinet player can play without printed music. A lifetime of interaction with those compositions means that the mere mention of those pieces starts an internal audio file playing.

Are we as familiar with the Bible’s literature?

Years ago an acquaintance was describing his ordination exam. This is where a candidate is tested by a body of senior pastors and denominational leaders to see if they are fit for the term, “Reverend.” The chairperson started out by asking, “Tell us about John’s gospel, chapter one.” The next question was “Tell us about John’s Gospel, chapter two.” And so on. You get the pattern.

I don’t know if he had been given any warning that the ordination council would take that route, but that day he needed to have that level of familiarity with John’s Gospel.

Sometimes the Bible narratives — and here you might want to compare not just the Hebrews passage cited above, but all of Hebrews 11 — are written with a concision or brevity that requires us to interpolate details not provided.

A month ago I listened to a sermon wherein the account in Mark’s gospel was very stark. The pastor speculated as to the circumstances surrounding an encounter with Jesus, even to the point of giving the key character in the narrative a name.

A friend who was there objected strenuously to this speculative manner of presenting the encounter. When I told him that this is called narrative preaching, he very much condemned the entire genre.

But I believe it’s important to do whatever we can — within limits, of course — to spark these Bible snapshots to life. If the Bible teacher pictures an overcast day, it doesn’t threaten the integrity of the story to add that. What matters is that the core elements of the narrative remain intact.

We do this to help people remember the scene presented.

We do this to help people be able to apply the principles waiting to be extracted from the Bible text.

Our key verse in Romans (above) reminds us that all these narratives were written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

The best narrative preaching I’ve ever witnessed is that which invites the listener to through the use of their imagination, place themselves in the middle of the scene. That’s when the genre is being utilized at its best, where the hearer finds themselves immersed in the unfolding drama.

In Christian Education, one approach is to read the text like the one we heard preached that day (a) from the point of view of the person having the encounter with Jesus, (b) from the viewpoint of the disciples, (c) from the vantage point of the crowd and (d) from the perspective of the person having the encounter with Jesus.

If you wish to try this exercise, a great text is Jesus healing the man born blind, because you’ve also got (e) the man’s parents, and (f) the Pharisees.

Again, the goal is to remember and then to apply.


Related reading:

Several years ago we shared this quotation:

“A spiritual community that does not transmit its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction.”

Read more at Generation Lost from 2014.

also, consider this quotation:

Of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.

Read more at Jesus Began with Text from 2012


Our roving Thursday devotional correspondent, Clarke Dixon is on assignment and will be back next week.

 

November 2, 2022

Letting God Do the Driving

One year ago we introduced you to the blog called Basic Bible Thoughts where the writer is simply credited as S. Joiner. This time around we’re back with an older post, written nearly two years ago, but one which we selected after reading several other worthy articles. (There’s a really good series from Spring ’21 on the subject of faith, for example.) Click the title below to read this one when and where it first appeared.

I Am A Passenger

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have recently had knee replacement surgery. With that process comes the fact that I cannot drive during my recovery, I have become a passenger. Being the passenger has removed an aspect of the journey that I enjoyed more than I knew. The control that comes with being behind the wheel of my journey; hands on the steering wheel, foot on the gas and ready to stop when I decide. But being the passenger forces me to live under the control of the driver.

Galatians 1: 14                                  ESV

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

The Apostle Paul reflecting back on the time when he drove his own life as Saul of Tarsus. This passage is just one example of how that man was in control, we would call him driven. Judaism was his way of life but also it was his career and he excelled at it. He was a rising star inside the ranks of Judaism.

I also, relying on my own strength, worked my way up my career, personal, and spiritual ladder. I pushed hard and showed my worth and abilities to all who could assist me in the climb. I quickly learned that the ability to increase the value of those above me drove my ascent even faster.

Philippians 3: 4b-6                            ESV

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 

I have mentioned in past Blogs that I grew up in church. If there was a job to fill, I was the one to fill it. I taught classes from children to adults and often on the same Sunday. I filled seats on leadership boards, I started ministries from the ground up, and my last name brought extra attention inside the church we served in, it was a family achievement.

What did all that hard work and respect get me? Church became more of a job than it was a place of worship. I walked the halls with my head up high. One day it all became increasingly clear – I was all about what I was doing to assist God and not what He was accomplishing through me. It broke me and I cried for days just thinking about how I had twisted the very purpose that God had designed me for.

Acts 9: 3-5                            ESV

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 

Riding on his horse and directing his team on their journey to destroy those troublesome Jesus followers. A light bulb moment happens, and it completely knocked Paul off his horse. Laying on the ground and unable to see, he hears a voice. He hears what others are unable to see, the voice of Jesus.

Acts 9: 13-15                       ESV

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel

Ananias was a follower of Jesus; Paul was coming to make him renounce his faith in Jesus or die. Instead of driving his own journey, Ananias became an instrument of God’s mercy toward Paul. Yes, Ananias did raise a concern but once God said go, the instrument sounded clearly as Ananias went. Before Paul’s encounter with God’s life changing light, his name was Saul (meaning ask or question). God changed his name to Paul (meaning small or humble).

I have never known an instrument to make a noise by itself. Someone must properly work and create the noise with the instrument. I learned quickly that I was not making God look better by the work I was doing; He was using me to play music that leads others to Him.

This blog came into being this week not because I am creative but, because I wrote something that resounded through my soul. A friend posted at Thanksgiving with an eye over this past year, realizing that her biggest blessing in 2020 was being forced to slow down and focused on Jesus. Then God placed this note in my heart, “The best place to be is understanding that God is directing your life and you find yourself in the passenger seat.”

October 24, 2022

Prayer: Erring on the Side of Audacious Expectations

John 14 : 14 (NIV)  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 16 : 23 (NIV) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

John 16: 24 (NIV) Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16: 23-24 (The Message) “This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!

It can be hard to find the balance. On the continuum between, at one end, half-hearted prayer that is more doubt than faith, and the other end, believing that as your day began God was like a genie ready to grant you your daily three wishes.

We are commanded to go to God with our needs — our prayer petitions — and leave them before him. But what are our expectations of what happens next?

There are many people who believe that God’s intervention in the affairs of humankind are an extreme rarity, if he intervenes at all. The world is simply what it is, and that is the answer to the question, “If God… why all the suffering in the world?” We live in a fallen world where there is bound to pain and sorrow; flood, fire and famine; doom, defeat and despair. (That wasn’t a cheery sentence; but it was rather alliterative.)

There are other people who believe that God certainly hears our prayer requests and that this is the end in itself: That God wants to be in communication (or fellowship) with us. This is the idea that just as a father behaves towards his children, God wants us to tell us when and where it hurts. He wants each situation to bring us back to him. He wants us to come to him when we are ‘burdened and heavy-laden.’ But it’s about keeping the channel of communication open, ‘without ceasing.’

Still others believe that while God’s intervention is rarity, miracles do exist; they just don’t happen every day. We’re talking about genuine miracles here, not things contrived for the glare of the television lights or the crowd in the arena. So God is indeed a miracle working God, it’s not (as with the first group) a complete rarity, but just don’t get your hopes up.

Further up the ‘hope’ ladder are those who would say, ‘God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give us what we ask.’ Why this doesn’t happen may be related to the complexities of other situations we can’t see, or a lesson that we need to learn before the answer comes. But absent those factors, God’s default position would be to give us what we come to him asking. I wrote about that this time last year:

A former pastor of ours used the phrase, “God is positively disposed and favorably inclined” to hear and answer our prayers. Many are praying right now for the world to be set right (or as N.T. Wright phrases it, “set to rights.”) It might appear that God is not answering. I believe that’s why we’re told to be tenacious about our praying. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. (Matthew 7:7 even spells out the acronym ASK!) But it doesn’t say that if we ask enough times we’ll get a ‘yes.’  Even as many are praying, we would appear to be living in what a songwriter called, “the mystery of unanswered prayer.”

And there are those who believe that God is constantly orchestrating more details in the lives of his people than anything we can possibly imagine; that there are constantly situations where God is even giving us ‘answers to requests we haven’t made;’ or that life consists of many seen and unseen coincidences, defined as, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”  This view ranges — depending on the person — from the dramatic holding on to the hope of healing even when doctors say the situation is incurable; to the trivial belief of some that God is truly willing to intervene in life on Planet Earth so that you will get a parking space next to the big box store entrance.

…Parking spaces notwithstanding, I fall into the latter camp. I have to pray believing that my prayer is not only keeping the lines of communication open, not only making a difference in me, but making a difference also in the situation. Regardless of statistical odds or past prayer performance, I have to go to him with an ultimate faith that he is willing and able to execute deliverance from whatever situation is pressing in. This is the faith of children; what it means to ‘come as a child,’ and it’s a faith that is not double-minded, but believes without doubt (See James 1:8 and 1:6 and Mark 11:23) and without wrong motivation (see James 4:3).

(Deliverance might be a better way of defining the situation. If you are praying for money for a specific need you are praying for a deliverance from poverty with respect to that financial issue!)

…The greatest danger I see is in not asking at all. Not coming to God to bear our souls and cry out for help or mercy because the petitions we brought before him last month were not answered in the affirmative. I believe God will respect our tenacity in prayer; our willingness to go to him even in the absence (so far) of the answers we sought before.

He longs to see faith that is lived out in a concrete assurance of things not apparent (Hebrews 11:1).

Right now, we hear a lot about deconstruction or to say it slightly different, people deconstructing their faith. I think some of this has to do with is termed “the mystery of unanswered prayer.” (We wrote about that here in this 2020 devotional.)

Some of this may have to do with the ‘big one’ that God didn’t answer. Maybe the request was indeed to audacious, or our motives were wrong, or God clearly had another plan and granting the request would have been to our peril.

But I also think we need to consider what our general expectations are when we pray. Where do we fit in with respect to the above five categories of what we think God can do, is doing, or will do?

October 22, 2022

Abraham Had No Idea Where He Was Going

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Today’s highlighted writer was referred to us from another blog. Brandon Bentley writes at The Beacon Post and is currently working his way chapter-by-chapter through the book of Romans. Clicking the title/header below will take you there.

Romans 4

“For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’” – Romans 4:3

“But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” – Romans 4:5

“Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous – even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are counted as righteous because of their faith.” – Romans 4:11

Faith. It is the foundation of everything in Christ. It is the path of righteousness. The life of Abraham, as Paul lays out for us in this chapter, depicts the perfect example of faith leading to righteousness, which leads to obedience to the Lord. Abraham’s faith in God was so strong and so deep that, even when it may not have made sense, he trusted God enough to do what He said. This is true faith that leads to righteousness. The kind of faith that says, “God, I know You and I know Your promises. I don’t know how we are going to get from here to there, but I know that You are faithful to do what You have said You would do. And because of that, I will do what You say because I have faith in You and Your power.”

Our faith in God, our pursuit for God, is not always going to make sense. Think about it. Abraham was living the life with his family. All of the sudden, the Living God, whom Abraham had never met prior to this, comes in and says, “Hey, I want to do something amazing and prove My sovereignty to the world. And I want you to be the guy through whom I accomplish My plans. I’ve got this land that I want to show you. In fact, I am going to give this land to you and your descendants to inhabit for all of time. What do you say?”

Ok first off, you can never tell me that faith isn’t blind. Abraham had no idea where he was going. He just knew that he had been chosen by God Himself to do something amazing! So, not knowing where he was going (and really not yet knowing Who he was following), he left everything behind him. If you are afraid to follow what God is telling you to do because you don’t know what’s going to happen, then you are relying on your own way of thinking and you don’t actually have faith in God like you say you do.

Second, Abraham’s faith was being shown to us from the very beginning when God called him out. God, give us the faith of Abraham! Gives us the eyes to recognize that You are faithful even when we can’t see what’s going to happen.

Now hear me in this, Abraham had some mess-up moments. Yet he was still counted as righteous before God. Why? Because even with those moments of messing up, his faith in God never wavered. And because of his unwavering faith in the Lord, he recognized his mess ups and he repented of them, ensuring that he remained in faith with God. THIS is what righteousness is! Abraham didn’t make excuses for his faults. He didn’t remain in his mistakes. He recognized them for what they were, acknowledged his responsibility in the situation, and returned back to walking in step with the Lord rather than doing things his own way.

And this is where we find ourselves in the American Church. We have turned to doing things our own way rather than doing them God’s way. We have decided that we know better than God. Well, look where that has gotten us. We have plenty of buildings that are decorated with radiant, earthly things. Yet they are void of the Lord’s presence.

We have these “experiences” that happen on a weekly basis where people gather to hear their favorite worship leader or pastor, yet these are all void of the glory and power of God.

Yet, we have the audacity to pray for revival and think that God is actually going to give it to us when we are focused on and caught up in all of the wrong things?

Revival will come. But it is not going to go to the ones who want to remain where they are. No, God is going to pour, and in fact He already is pouring, out His Spirit and glory of revival on those who are willing to step out in the faith like that of Abraham and say, “God, I don’t know where you are taking me, I just know You said to come. I don’t know what any of this is going to look like, I just know You told me to follow. I don’t care if anyone else comes with me, I just know that I need You and only You.”

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