Christianity 201

February 28, 2020

Signs of a Healthy Church

Last Sunday, I attended the annual meeting of the church where my wife is employed, and where I’ve also been attending for nearly two years. It was my first such business meeting in a church of this denomination. Though required by law, the AGM (Annual General Meeting) is also a good opportunity for churches to step back and see the ‘big picture’ of church life, consider what God is doing through their efforts, thank God for His provision and look forward to the future.

The danger of course is to reduce meetings like this to statistics; to pie-chart and bar-graph church life to extremes. Often we rejoice in the reports of individual departments, but then the meeting really kicks into high gear when attendees are told to turn to the financial reports. Generally AGMs are all about numbers.

I doubt the first century church did this kind of record-keeping, and the Apostle Paul — who had a great mind when it came to understanding justification and atonement — was somewhat fuzzy on if or when he had baptized people.

Years ago we published an excerpt from an annual report from a UK church which began by reminding people of the marks of a healthy church. (The source blog is no longer online.) Check it out:

1. People are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Our missions program is expanding locally, nationally and globally.
3. People are making public professions of faith through baptism.
4. Attendance in worship services is increasing.
5. The worship experience is vibrant, enthusiastic and intergenerational.
6. There is broad participation in serving throughout the ministries.
7. New ministries are beginning as God imparts vision.
8. Guests are being connected to church life.
9. Covenant membership is increasing.
10. Our budgetary needs are being met.
11. Leaders are being developed and placed in ministry roles.
12. Scripture is central to our message.
13. Staff relationships are healthy.

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of; though I think the eleven hour round trip would take its toll after a few Sundays. Although it represented a larger church, I believe these goals are viable at some level for churches of all shapes and sizes.

What else does a healthy church look like? I want to leave us with a look at how The Message translates two familiar passages describing the early church. Take your time with this:

Acts 2:38-39Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

43-45Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Acts 4:31While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence.

32-33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

February 21, 2020

Refusing Your Inheritance Would Be Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you. Alisa has been writing at On the Housetops since 2014. As always, click the header below to read this at her blog.

Helping Others Obtain Their Inheritance

Finally, they were here. After centuries of holding onto God’s promises, the Israelites had reached the land that He had sworn to give them.

Actually, they had reached it 40 years prior, but their parents had felt intimidated by the task of conquering Canaan. They lost their faith in the LORD’s power, and He lost patience with them! The nation was sentenced to wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years, until all that generation had passed away, and a new one had grown up – wiser and more trusting of God’s provision.

And now the time had come for the children to succeed where their parents had failed. The long wait was over – it was time to step forward with boldness and claim what had already been promised to them!

The lots were cast. The inheritance lines were charted on the maps. The armies were mustered. A few skirmishes were won. And preparations began to cross the Jordan River and launch the major parts of their campaign.

During this time, a few of the tribes (Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh) sent their leaders to Moses with a request. See, their inheritance had fallen on this side of the Jordan. Could they take possession now and not cross over the River?

Moses was rather indignant. Would it be fair for Israel to go off to war while 2 1/2 tribes sat peacefully at home? That would be just as wrong for them to do, as it was for their parents to refuse to enter the land at all!

The tribes then clarified (or perhaps altered) their intent. They would like to take possession of their inheritance, get their families and flocks settled safely, and then all their soldiers would cross the Jordan with the rest of the Israelites to help them obtain their inheritance.

We will not return to our homes until every one of the children of Israel has received his inheritance,” they promised (Numbers 32:18, NKJV).

To this proposition, Moses agreed. “If you do this thing. . . then afterward you may return and be blameless before the LORD and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:22-23, emphasis added).

Application

As Christians, we too have an inheritance that has been promised to us. Not land or money, but an inheritance that is “incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for [us]” (1 Pet. 1:4).

In a sense, we have already obtained this inheritance (Eph. 1:11), but in another sense, we won’t fully receive it until Christ returns to fully gather His people to Himself (Eph. 1:14).

So then we find ourselves in the shoes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. We have begun to inherit salvation, but there are many other people who haven’t yet.

So do we sit back and enjoy our inheritance without giving a thought to all those souls who have yet to obtain theirs? How selfish and sinful is that!

And yet most Christians. . . myself included . .  . are guilty of this very thing.

God has called us to a spiritual battle, not just for ourselves, but for those around us. He has sent us to “open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in [Jesus]” (Acts 26:18).

Let’s cross that Jordan River and help others to obtain their inheritance of salvation and glory. As Moses said, it would be sinful not to.

 

February 12, 2020

Walking with Integrity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we’re back at the the blog My Morning Meal, written by Peter Corak. You can encourage the writers here by reading the various posts at their sites.

My Integrity, Your Faithfulness

Don’t know what was happening in the songwriter’s life when he composed the twenty-sixth psalm, but whatever it was, he cries out to Jehovah for vindication. Sounds like there were some accusations made that weren’t true. Rumors being spread that were false. A smear campaign being conducted about the sorts of people the songwriter hung with and the kind of company he kept. A “he said, they said” sort of situation. And so, he prays for God to insert Himself as judge and preside over the proceedings. To investigate the accusations. To render a decision.

The evidence presented? The songwriter’s walk. His manner of life. His motivation and mission.

And the witnesses presented to the Judge of all the earth? “My integrity,” he says, and “Your faithfulness.”

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in Your faithfulness.
(Psalm 26:1-3 ESV)

They said that he hung with men who were liars and ran with those who were hypocrites. That he gathered with those bent on wickedness and evil (26:4-5). To which he responds, “I have walked in my integrity.”

While not pleading perfection, the songwriter does present the evidence of his intent. That structurally, his motivational ambition has been sound and pure. That though he may have stumbled along the way in step, he had not wavered inside as to desire. That he has sought to conduct himself throughout his life in a manner consistent with trusting the One who had given Him life.

And so he invites the Judge of all the earth to examine evidence that only an all-knowing Judge can examine. To test the inner-workings of his heart. To review the unspoken thoughts of his mind. To prove the completeness and fullness of his longing to trust in the Lord.

For I have walked in my integrity.

But integrity, consistency of purpose, and undivided desire is of little value if it’s consistently pursuing the wrong thing. If it’s aligned to an errant purpose or set on a corrupt prize. And so, while the songwriter could say with clear conscience, “I have walked in my integrity,” the judiciary weight of such evidence is that he walked in the Lord’s faithfulness.

Having trusted in the Lord, he would follow the Lord. Wanting to walk in a straight path, he wouldn’t rely on his own internal GPS, the way seeming right in his own eyes. Instead, we would seek the way of the One who had already brought him safe thus far, having already shown His steadfast love toward him.

And so, with singleness of mind, He would continue to trust that His God really was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He would walk in his integrity and He would walk in Jehovah’s faithfulness.

But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.
(Psalm 26:11-12 ESV)

But as for me, too. I have walked, and I shall walk in my integrity.

And, I walk in Your faithfulness.

By Your grace. For Your glory.

February 5, 2020

When Jesus Was Suprised

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I have only two devotionals which I personally subscribe to, and one which I read online. One of the daily emails is titled “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

In view of more recent discussions we’ve had here and elsewhere about open theology there is the question of Jesus being genuinely surprised at the faith of the man in the story. The various translations however, seem to support the idea of Jesus in wonder, being taken aback, being amazed, or being truly surprised.

How can we amaze Jesus?

Matthew 8:9-10, NIV
For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

The answer to today’s titular question is found in today’s scripture, and is very simple: ‘understand authority’. I love this simple account of a centurion approaching Jesus and asking Him for a miracle for one of his servants. Notice what he says to Jesus: ‘For I myself am a man under authority.’ What was it about this statement that amazed Jesus in such a way that He would then boast about this man? Let’s have a look.

It was not the first part, where he states his gender: ‘I myself am a man.’ This would not have impressed Jesus as He dealt daily with many men. Yes, as a centurion, he was probably a strong man, maybe even a real ‘man’s man’! But it was not this that turned the head of the Lord.

It was when he said the next bit: ‘a man under authority.’ What was he saying in this statement? Simply that he was a man who acknowledged, respected and understood what authority looked like and how it worked.

Maybe it was good parenting, or the fact that he was in the military, that had taught him these things? Whatever it was that had been his classroom, he had certainly learned well. He then begins to relate his understanding on how authority worked in a simple yet profound way. ‘I have people under me, I ask them to go and they go, to do and they do.’ Then he says, ‘Just say the word, Jesus.’ It was this that impressed Jesus the most – that the man knew that the word of Jesus, and the authority it contained, was enough that he did not even need the person with authority to be present at the place of need to get what he desired!

This man’s understanding of authority notably impressed Jesus. He commended him even to the point of saying, ‘I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’ What a huge commendation for this man! They had never met before, and Jesus was not a person that He would exaggerate or say things just for the sake of it. He always meant what He said, even when He compared this man to a whole nation. Wow!

Again, let me underline – Jesus was not impressed by the fact he was a man or that he was a centurion; He was impressed by the man’s understanding of what true authority looks like in a person’s life and how it works.

May this simple account today get us thinking about authority. What is our understanding concerning it? Would how we see authority be enough to amaze Jesus? All authority comes from God and is set into position by God, and how we respond to authority dramatically determines the boundary lines of our life and what we will experience.


Optional further reading: The next day, Andy continued the theme of authority…


God sets authority in the home

Ephesians 5:22-26, NIV
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.

…So if we want to fully understand faith and the working dynamics of His kingdom, we must be able to understand, and be able to submit to, authority.

We may not always like it but it is vital that we understand that it is God who sets authority into position in our lives. It is He who watches how we respond to it, whether we will choose the healthy road of submission or the destructive roads of rebellion and pride. It is God who sets correct authority in the home, and society seems to be ever trying to remove it. I don’t know about you but I have made up my mind, as for me and my house we are going to do marriage and family God’s way!

As we see in today’s text, He sets a clear authority within marriage. This is not so a man can rule over his wife in some authoritarian way, but rather that he can lead, guide and protect her as the co-heir of the gift of life that she is. Call me old school, I really don’t mind, but I still believe that, in a marriage, the man is set in position by God to be the priest of the household. Let me say again, not to dictate, dominate or abuse but rather to lift his spiritual arms and natural arms to protect, nourish and bless. Every godly husband needs to realise that God has called them to be the priest of the household. In the same way, I believe that it’s God who positions parents in the household to have authority over the children – again, not to be abusive and mean but rather to raise, nurture, protect and lead in a God-fearing way.

I fully understand that as I speak about marriage, home life and parenting, other people’s personal experiences or preferences may be different to mine. and that’s okay. I just want to encourage you, wherever you may be at, to be ever making God’s Word the guiding light in your home concerning who has authority. Today, take time to think about what godly authority looks like in your home, whether you are a husband, wife, parent, single parent or child. God has a perfect way for how your household should function. Let’s not lay this aside for the cheaper, non-effective ways of a fickle society that is totally out of control. God’s ways, when lived out properly, still work; they still produce strong, lasting marriages and families…

January 20, 2020

Devotions: Breaking Out Into Song(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is an archived article which appeared on the writer’s blog in 2016. Julie Meyer is the author of Singing the Scriptures (Chosen Books, 2018) and we were referred to her blog, Into the River.

Spontaneous Worship

For years, part of my personal devotions have been to simply open the Bible and sing the Word. I have found that it is possible to be in the most depressed state of mind – where hope is far away and frustration is knocking at the door of your heart —then I begin to sing the Word – suddenly that song – those words of life actually get inside of me and literally  begin to stir up my heart, mind and spirit to take hope in God. Spontaneous worship and singing the Word of God are powerful tools we all need in our tool belt.

David says it over and over in the Psalms. He writes with complete honesty regarding his feelings, his hopelessness, his discouragement, his despair. Then David begins to sing beyond his feelings. It’s as if this spontaneous song, this prayer that David in complete honesty is writing and singing before God – he begins to stir his heart, his emotions, his mind to remember God. He begins to sing out and write down the questions that he is feeling. He writes down & sings out the answer to the questions. Remember to hope in God. Don’t forget God!

In Psalm 42, David bring us into the whole journey. As I was reading the Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 42, he writes the titles do not tell us who the penman of this psalm is, but most probably it was David. And then David presented it to the ‘Sons of Korah’ to sing this song to the congregation.

David writes,

‘My heart is breaking’. He goes on to write, ‘I am deeply discouraged, yet I remember you God.‘

In this Psalm, we go on a journey with David in his spontaneous prophetic worship where he writes down every emotion and sings our every discouragement, but he does not stop in his downcast state. He also gives the answer to his discouragement.

He is writing down quite possibly what his eyes are beholding, a storm over the seas;  he sees the raging seas and the storm.

I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

Possibly his emotions identified with that storm and he began to sing of the storm within his soul, his heart and his emotions. But he doesn’t just write the negative – he also – because of the spontaneous worship that he lived a life of – he began to sing the answer.

Then suddenly the Psalm begins to turn and he begins to sing the answer, bringing great hope to His soul, heart, mind and emotions.

Why am I discouraged?
Why am I so sad?
I will put my hope in God;
I will praise Him again!

David was possibly encouraging his own heart from the Torah. The Word of God that He had in his days. We have David’s songs, prayers, and cries today so we can sing the same words. They do the very same thing to our own heart, emotions, mind, and soul.

This is the powerful effect of prophetic spontaneous worship. We can simply open the Living Word of God, sing these same words, and have an encounter with Hope that will bring anyone out of the deepest despair. This is the power of singing the Word; the wonderful simplicity of just opening the Bible and beginning to sing Words that are already written down.

This Spontaneous Prophetic Worship is for everyone.

Oh Lord, make us like David!

January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

Perhaps that has some appeal. As I write this, the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) in Jerusalem is cloudy with sunny breaks and a high of 10°C (about 50°F for our U.S. readers.) Certainly milder than what’s predicted where I live.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this: City, then state (province), country, entire world.

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour from where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you buy milk who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.

So perhaps you’re thinking, okay, I am going to be a missionary to Jerusalem (so to speak) and I’ll let you be a missionary to Judea. I don’t think it’s that simple. True, in a church setting people may find themselves specializing in different mission fields, but I believe each of us, over the course of our lives, is to be open to be finding ourselves in ‘Samaria situations.’

All David was doing was delivering a ‘care package’ of food to his older brothers, but he found himself on the front line of the battle against the Philistines, and in particular, their MVP, Goliath.

I believe a Christian life, lived to the full, will involve all four types of battle: On the home front, further afield, to the place we don’t necessarily want to go, and to those in places involving 30-hour flights or multiple airport connections.

At the very least, let’s be open to all of these.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story. The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.

January 6, 2020

The Word of Knowledge in Action

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The situation described in the story below is probably beyond the experience of many readers here. But because Christianity 201 describes itself as a “melting pot” or a “potpourri” of the various expressions of Christian faith, I wanted you to have exposure to this one. For those who are new, cessationism is a belief in Protestant theology that the supernatural gifts (such as described in I Cor. with speaking in tongues receiving most frequent mention) ceased when the original apostles died off. It’s opposite is continuationism which believes that those gifts are still operative today. Today’s article would be written from the latter perspective.

Tim Halverson blogs at The Lion’s Head Café. Click the header below to read this there.

No Risk, No Reward

“For to one is given . . . the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:8).

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in the Bible in I Corinthians 12: 4-11. They are the super-natural work of the Holy Spirit through the Body of Christ. These nine gifts could be classified in three groupings of three gifts each: 1) The Word Gifts: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues. 2) The Revelation Gifts: the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, the discernment of spirits. 3) The Power Gifts: faith, healings, the working of miracles. Remember this factor: faith is spelled r-i-s-k.

It is my observation that to flow or operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit will involve risk-taking. I’ve been sputtering and misfiring (to use an auto mechanic’s terms, which I are one) with these for decades now but am seeing a big increase in my function in them lately. This seems to be chiefly due to watching on-line since February Catch the Fire – Toronto, where the revival went through my screen and into me somehow. I want to relate a short story to tell you what I’m learning, and that is about risk.

Last night I attended a Bible study with about ten people. Before it even began I had a feeling that God was up to something more than just the study of Acts 14, which is sufficient for me in itself. At the end we prayed about some things. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t really see many faces. As we prayed I really tuned in to God and he showed me in a word of knowledge something only he could know. This impression took several minutes, a basic thought that grew as I considered it. It was this:

“There is someone here who is still suffering because of persecution that happened to them when they were testifying of Christ (I know this is vague but it’s none of my business to know the details of what happened in this case). The devil took advantage of you in this vulnerable moment to say, If you ever speak of Jesus again something worse is going to happen. Plus, we all know you don’t have the courage to do it anyway. The person feels whipped, condemned, and stuck.”

It was a risk to say it but somehow I did. And after I said that with trembling, there came some more to the message:

“But Jesus is healing you right now of that awful experience, the Holy Spirit is upon you here and now, and from this moment on I am making you Lion-hearted. Take courage!”

There was a sort of hubbub for a moment that happened but I couldn’t see anything, and then the prayers went on. A minute later I was wondering if I had missed the Lord in this, so I determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and said, Excuse me, but could we re-visit that word I just had? Is that person even here? A short pause happened, and then a lady in front of me turned around and said, “You were describing me exactly, and God is working on me right now.” She was all red in the face, tears still streaming down, Kleenex in hand and radiant with joy as could be! I was ecstatic to put it mildly, though I covered it up pretty well by trying to blend into the curtains behind me, not wanting to be a spectacle. Too late. What a privilege to work with God. And yet I could have said no to the whole thing. But I took the risk instead which freed a woman of something she felt too embarrassed to talk about. Praise God.

January 2, 2020

2019 Bible Verse of the Year

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

With 35 billion chapters of the Bible read using their Bible apps in 2019, the people who bring us YouVersion have some impressive statistics to back up their announcement of the “verse of the year.” It is the most looked up, most highlighted, and most shared verse in the YouVersion community. So what is it?

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

This speaks to the fear and anxiety in today’s society, and since the app is used across the globe, the anxieties felt around the world. This verse was written by someone who had great reason for anxiety and worry, for people who had great reason for anxiety and worry. It is in a letter written by the apostle Paul from prison, always a place of uncertainty in that time and place, to the Christians in Philippi who were facing persecution. So what does Paul say? Let’s consider what the Bible says about worry here, beginning with verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

We rejoice, even though we may feel scared, mad, or sad. That might seem like an impossible thing to do, since we cannot normally choose our emotions. However, “rejoice” here is an imperative verb, it is an action rather than a feeling. According to Greek experts it is the activity of being glad or taking delight. It is possible to feel sad, and be glad at the same time. Paul is not contradicting himself when he says “we are saddened, but we rejoice” in 2nd Corinthians 6:10.

To give an example, I might be sorrowful that we are now in a Canadian winter and I cannot ride a motorcycle. But at the same time I can be glad that I have enjoyed motorcycling every year since 1991, and look forward to another season of riding in the spring. For another example, I am unhappy about my Mum having Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling distraught that she is now living in a nursing home. However, I am glad she is safe, and with our shared hope in Christ, I take delight in the fact that her best days are still ahead. My emotions have not changed, I am still feeling the emotions brought by grief, but I can focus my mind on things to take delight in. I don’t try to change my emotions from feeling sad to happy, but rather refocus my mind, engaging in the activity of rejoicing even while unhappy.

This is part of what happens in worship and praise at church gatherings. Whatever our emotions resulting from a difficult week, or a difficult season of life, in worship we focus on the big picture, the reality that is ours in God. There can be awful stuff happening in our lives which will result in negative emotions, but in worship all the awful stuff takes the background. The reality of God takes the forefront of our hearts and minds. We cannot change our emotions, but we can change our focus. We are told to “Rejoice in the Lord!” We focus on God. We focus on the big picture God paints for us which takes the focus off the limited perspective of our own field of vision.

Next:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

We keep our cool, even though we may be mad enough to blow our tops. If our emotions take the forefront, then our relationships will be affected. When we allow the worries of life to take the foreground of our hearts and minds, we can easily hurt others. We can “kick the dog” so to speak. The Greek word for ‘gentleness’ has the idea of fitting, appropriate, or fair. Our response to the troubles of life can make our family and friends suffer unfairly, not to mention the poor dog. It is much better when we relate to people with the reality of God in the foreground. We relate to people, not as wounded people flailing away with swords, but as healed and healing people, experiencing grace and love from God, seeking grace and love in the lives of others.

And now for the verse of the year:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

We can pray, even though worry seems like the best, or only, thing to do. When we rejoice, we put the big picture in the forefront. In prayer, we have the opportunity to get our concerns and frustrations back to the forefront. Our frustrations and concerns are important, so should not merely be hidden away as if they do no matter. However, we do not put them forward so they can consume us. We focus on them in order to name them and hand them over to God. What is the result?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NRSV)

We may be uncertain about many things, but in Christ we can be certain God is our Heavenly Father who works out all things together for good (see Romans 8:28). One very literal translation puts it this way: “The peace of God, the one surpassing in value all reasoning, will watch over your inner selves and your thoughts” (from Scripture Direct Interlinear Greek Bible). While many understand this verse to mean something like “the peace of God is beyond understanding,” another possibility is; “having the peace of God is better than having understanding.” In other words, it is better to experience the peace of God, than have everything figured out. That is often our trouble, we want to have everything figured out, we worry and fret when we don’t. We don’t need it all figured out! Give it to God, Who already has it all figured out, Who has the power to do something about it, Who has the love to do something good about it, even if we can’t see it or understand it. Once we have given our concerns over to God, we can then refocus the mind again:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)

We have something far greater than knowing every detail of the future, and the ability to control that future. We have a relationship with the One who holds the future. Instead of worrying, let us go to God, rejoicing in our reality in Christ, relating to others with that reality in mind, giving our concerns over to God, then refocusing on all that is good. Whatever emotions you may experience in 2020, may you know peace, especially the peace of God.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in Cobourg, Ontario about an hour east of Toronto. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

December 28, 2019

A Post-Charismatic Looks at Miracles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.John.4.23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

This is the second half of an article based partly on a news item from last week which continues to be the center of much discussion as I write this. I try to keep C201 articles somewhat timeless, using the other blog to discuss current events as they arise. But I thought this was well written and worthy of your consideration here. Click the title below to read the article in full. The author is Ethan Renoe who is now serving in Guatemala.

Dear Charismatic Sisters and Brothers

Subtitle: Strive for spirit AND truth; neglecting one will always be damaging

…Take, for instance, the recent tragic episode of a Bethel worship leader trying to raise her daughter from the dead: without going into the details of the story itself, a lot of Bible verses were thrown around out of context in order to prove one side’s point. This is obviously a detrimental way to build arguments and do hermeneutics no matter which side you’re on. This heart-wrenching event served to expose a lot of the beliefs of the charismatic church and the grounds upon which they build their theology.

Many people filled comment sections with Bible verses yanked out of context, not realizing that the other ‘side’ could just as easily yank a different verse to prove another point. Thus, it’s impossible to argue with someone who is throwing little pebbles of individual Bible verses in lieu of a larger structure on which to build their theological arguments.

Think of it like this: before I went to Moody, I had a string of small arguments strung together through various anecdotes or quotes from pastors’ sermons. I didn’t have much of a foundational theology on which I built the core of my beliefs. I had a series of small, adjacent city-states rather than a massive nation to draw resources from. And which is more sturdy—small clusters of thoughts, or massive, deep-rooted, well-established doctrine and belief?

That’s the impression I got reading a lot of comments on this event: People were pitching little verses like Matthew 10:8, where Jesus tells His disciples to raise the dead…all the while neglecting that in the same paragraph, He instructed them not to go among the gentiles. Clearly that imperative was meant for only that specific group at that time.

Others would talk about how, when Jesus died, many dead people got out of their graves, and use this as justification for why people can be raised no matter how long they’ve been dead. However, they left out the part that Jesus died when this happened. Clearly it wasn’t a regular thing. There’s a difference between prescriptive and descriptive passages of scripture and it’s important to delineate between the two.

Someone from the other side could just as easily have quoted Isaiah (“Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness”), or Ecclesiastes (“The dead know nothing; they have no further reward…never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”)

My point is not to argue for one side or the other, but to show that this method of building an argument is fundamentally flawed and it actually proves a lack of larger biblical/theological understanding. If one’s theology is pieced together with scraps of scripture apropos to the situation, that structure cannot stand when stronger, more robust arguments are presented, arguments which are not as dependent on the current situation.

The issue with building your beliefs on the foundation of miracles and supernatural occurrences—as I did for years—is that when they don’t happen, you are left with some anemic view of God. A better view of miracles would be thinking of them as sprinkles on the cake: they are not the substance or the core of my belief, but if they happen, they are sweet and we get to rejoice and praise God together. 

Of course, no charismatic person would say that they’ve built their system on top of miracles, but to be honest, that really was the driving force of my faith for many years. And movies like Finger of God and Furious Love—favorites among pentecostals—only serve to reinforce this culture of ‘miracle hunters.’ It almost felt like my faith wasn’t good enough because I didn’t see healings left and right as people like Todd White claim to. Again, I don’t think their hearts are insidious, or that they’re intentionally trying to mislead people; but this pursuit of spirit needs to be balanced out by a pursuit of truth. 

Perhaps a deeper understanding of miracles and scripture would help round out the times God doesn’t heal the leg, or eradicate the cancer. A sound theology of suffering will help comfort us in times of suffering. After all, it’s tempting to bypass passages about ‘taking up our cross daily’ in favor of those promising God giving us what we ask for, building anemic theologies of ‘open heavens’ and other false hopes for salvation in this life. Much of this, I eventually realized, was flat-out denial of reality. I can’t count the number of times my sinuses were ‘declared’ healed before I actually had surgery on them.

Perhaps charismatic brothers and sisters need to balance out their doctrine of resurrection with a healthy cruciformity: seeing life through the lens of the cross. After all, we are still in the Golgotha phase of our existence. It hurts and we suffer and die. Resurrection has yet to happen to us.

(There needs to be a balanced notion of “already but not yet” when thinking about the kingdom. Many preachers emphasize the “already” portion of the kingdom, leading them into over-realizing their eschatology which inevitably leads to health and wealth gospels contrary to the Bible. It needs to be balanced out with “not yet”: the kingdom is not here in its fullness and we live in a very broken world. But again, that’s a post for another day.)

After all, if we hope for miracles in this life, even if they come, we will ultimately be let down. One speaker at Moody once shifted my perspective when he said:

“You know what the greatest miracle of all is? Salvation. All other miracles are temporary. If your knee gets healed, it will eventually break down again. Even Lazarus died again.”

Neglecting this as the center of Christian faith and hope will always disappoint us. What good is rejoicing at a miracle if it will one day inevitably be undone? This is why the core of our faith must always continue to be unio Cristi, knowing Christ as He is and introducing others to Him. This means explaining that their life won’t get better just because they know Him. In many cases, it will get much worse, yet Jesus did not leave His followers unprepared for this. “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Our hope is not that this world will bring healing, or that it will satisfy us. Our hope is that Christ is with us, that He has us in His mighty hand, and will not let us go. May we not get sidetracked by focusing on temporary miracles, but continually focus on the one that will not end: knowing Christ and Him crucified, joining Him in His suffering that we may one day, somehow, join Him in His resurrection.

December 25, 2019

A Devotional for those who Don’t Celebrate Christmas

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” – Isaiah 7:14

Increasingly among people with whom I come in contact, are those who, while they are committed followers of Jesus, do not celebrate Christmas in any form. After a half hour of discussing many faith related topics, one such individual reminded me, “We don’t do Christmas.”

In many ways these people have my sympathies. Let’s face it:

  • We can be almost 100% sure the date is incorrect.
  • There is no denying that many aspects of Christmas (and Easter) have their roots in pagan festivals taking place at the same time(s).
  • The commercialization of Christmas is rampant; a celebration of materialism and greed more than Jesus; something which we should all grieve.

That said however, in my personal life I find that with each passing year:

  • I am not celebrating the birth of the baby I came to know in Sunday School, but I am celebrating the notion of incarnation, the idea of God with us.
  • I am continuing to marvel at the grand story arc of scripture; a redemptive plan that was set in motion long before Adam took his first breath.
  • I am increasingly aware of God’s invitation to experience intimacy with him; that this is a God who can be known.

The story arc ends with God and mankind in absolute, unclouded, undistracted fellowship. Revelation 21:3

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

But eternal life with God starts now. John 1:14 states:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

In the first part of that verse, Eugene Peterson famously renders it as

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.

Biblical commentators take this one step further and say, “God pitched his tent among us” as a shepherd would among the sheep in his care. Also, the comparison here between tent and the tabernacle of the Hebrew scriptures is not to be overlooked, and the appearance of tabernacle above in the verse from Revelation.

This is amazing! Marvelous! Beyond our scope or imagination!

While this is an Old Testament quotation, I believe it expresses God’s heart throughout time, Ezekiel 37:27:

I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

There are, I suppose many ways in which Jesus might have come among us, however he chooses to live, 100% completely, the reality of human experience beginning from birth; birth in an obscure place, at an obscure time, in less than ideal conditions (in so many ways.)

While you might not do Christmas, my prayer is that each day contains reminders of the reality of God with us.

God’s revelation to humankind in the incarnation is a cause for celebration, not on December 25th, but every day of the year.


– today’s scriptures are NLT


In case you missed it from Monday: There’s no incarnation without atonement.

December 23, 2019

There’s No Christmas Without Easter

Or, if you prefer,

There’s No Incarnation Without Atonement

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)

I decided today to look at several things that were posted here during the first Christmas season of writing C201. I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service just days away. Then she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Hastily going through the files, we discovered that a short medley we’d done for 15 years prior. It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die. There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

There are key scripture passages associated with this time of year that answer the questions as to how Christ came into the world. The incarnation is key to Christian belief, so we need to define that. There are verses that explain where Christ came into the world. There are verses that explain who was around when Christ came into the world. But we need to get past what I call the “Linus” versus — the verses that Linus in the Peanuts television special quotes from memory to Charlie Brown — and think about why Christ came into the world.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

If you’re on Twitter, you know the phrase Direct Messaging. After years of speaking through the prophets, God decides it is time to send a DM, not only to his followers, but to all humankind.

John 6 gives us more details:

33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Verses 33 and 38-39 are key: Jesus comes to give life, and to see the salvation (although the word isn’t used here) of His children on the last day.

In addition to bread, the gospel of John is filled with other images. such as light:

John 3:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

The Apostle Peter talks about how angels longed to see the day when salvation would be offered in a new way:

1Peter1.3 …It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

As Jesus calls his first disciples, he ushers in this new way, an intersection of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm

Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

and urges his disciples this is the message they are to proclaim:

Matt.10.7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

Announcing the kingdom also is mentioned at the outset of Christ’s ministry, in his inaugural sermon:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

These verses should begin our thinking as to why Jesus came, but trying to encapsulate everything in a short article is impossible. So multifaceted was — and is — the ministry of Jesus Christ that our words cannot contain the whole of it.

It’s so much more than a baby’s birth, and as mentioned above, while summaries of the gospel are challenging, I want to close with Bruxy Cavey’s “Gospel in 30 words.”

Jesus is God with us, come to

• show us God’s love,
• save us from sin,
• set up God’s kingdom, and
• shut down religion,

so we can share in God’s life.


Note: We’ll continue this theme tomorrow with 15 reasons why Jesus came.

December 22, 2019

An Advent / Prophecy Mix

Today, an original article from some previously published material invites us to think of ways the second coming of Christ could be similar to the first. But as you read this, remember there will also be dramatic differences…

Consider for a moment two aspects of the advent of Christ as it might relate to his second coming:

  • The timing of His coming
  • The nature of His arrival

The timing of His coming

I’ve heard many sermons about the fact that before the time of Christ, we find what Christians call the “inter-testamental period” wherein the prophets seem to be silent. It’s a kind of ‘calm before the storm’ before Jesus breaks on the scene and teaches like no other rabbi or prophet ever.

Will there be a calm before the storm before Jesus returns a second time? The voices (prophets if you will) of our day are being silenced. In the east because of the rise of militant Islam or religious radicals in places like India. In the west because of the rise of militant atheism or political correctness. Could it be that the second coming of Christ will take place in a time where the voices of the prophets are not heard in the land?

The nature of His arrival

We tend to think of Jesus’ arrival on earth at Bethlehem, but really Jesus arrived so to speak when He began His public ministry. You can date this arrival by His submission to John’s baptism and identification by John as “the lamb of God;” or you can choose the wedding at Cana or the beginning of His teaching ministry.

We tend to think of Jesus’ second arrival as being signaled by the sound of trumpets and his appearance on a white horse.

I am not, in the following paragraphs, suggesting that it’s possible that Christ has already returned and is alive and on earth now; so please don’t write me off as a heretic.

For the next two paragraphs, play a game with me. Not because I personally believe this, but because it stretches our imagination.

What I’m wondering is, if it’s possible for Jesus to embed himself here on earth somehow for a short period of time, and then, suddenly, there is the sound of trumpets, there is the appearance of the conquering King on a white horse (as opposed to the submission symbolized by the donkey the first time around) and every eye sees and every ear hears. I say that only because that was the nature of His first coming. There was a beginning in Bethlehem that preceded — in this case by 30 years — the beginning of His taking up His spiritual office.

Before you jump all over this and find it full of flaws, remember, at the time of His birth, it is the belief of many commentators that nobody understood the “…then a virgin shall conceive…” passage as meaning exactly how we know today the story played out. There wasn’t the “messianic mindset.”

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, controversial author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned herself as being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior. Though all was quiet on the western eastern front, there was great expectancy. None of this type of speculation discounts the aspect of “being caught up to meet Him in the air;” the idea that the quietly building return should not have its moments of drama. (We can’t edit out verses of scripture just because they don’t fit with our particular model!)

I’m just saying it would be most consistent if, in addition to the timing of His second coming following the pattern of His first coming; that the nature of His arrival should also include something that has an element of ‘process’ to it. That perhaps instead of looking “up” we should be looking to the left and to the right. Scanning the horizon for the Lion of Judah who has massed his forces, or, more likely, will mass his forces, right here prior to that moment when every eye will see and every ear will hear.

Or perhaps it’s something closer to the more traditional view, but there is a physical presence — similar to the angels at Bethlehem singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ — followed by the taking up of the spiritual office. A period, a moment filled with signs in the skies followed by a dawning of the great significance of what is happening. Only instead of it taking up to a year for the Magi to arrive on the scene bearing gifts, we have CNN carrying the event live.

Either way of course, it will also be a dramatic intervention into world history on a par equal to His first coming; but seen and known by everyone instantaneously.

The point is, ultimately we just don’t know. However, though we don’t know “the day nor the hour,” we can know “the times and seasons.” And we can be prepared. Are you?

My point is to ask, “What if…?” We read scriptures with so many built-in assumptions — as I am sure Old Testament saints did with the writings available to them — and I think we need to be challenged to think outside the box, without tossing out the basic elements necessary for the Grand Story to play out to completion. Is it heretical to ask, “What if…?”? I think the next chapter will be full of surprises on so many levels.

I Cor 2:6 Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7 No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8 But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.” NLT

December 4, 2019

When Your Habits and Speech Have Morphed

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

Other than perhaps a much more liberal use of the word ‘crap’ in the last few years, I am somewhat guarded in my speech, at least when there are ladies, small children, or anyone else present.

As a writer, I’m also very conscious of changes taking place in language. So back a decade ago, I couldn’t help but notice the way the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington advanced the broadcast use of the expression, “Oh, My God!” The show’s final segment — called “the reveal” — would contain at least a dozen utterances of this phrase which, unless the participants were truly calling on God to give thanks for the new housing they were about to receive, amounted to a needless invocation of God’s name that I believe the third commandment is referring to.

The proliferation in print and texts of its abbreviation, “OMG,” unless it a reference to the Ohio Macrame Guild, is equally disturbing.

There are some lines I am very assured I will never cross, and speaking the OMG line in either form or using it print is certainly one of those lines. Still, I often find myself falling into an OMG mindset, where I don’t audibly say the words, but think either them, or something reflective of the spirit of them. Unless I am truly crying out to God — and I wonder how many of us today really cry out to Him — I shouldn’t allow that phrase to be part of my unspoken vocabulary.

But what do I mean by the “spirit” of that expression?

I can probably best illustrate that with another three-letter text gem, ‘WTF.’ If you believe this has something to do with a wildlife federation, then I envy you, since such ignorance is truly bliss. It means something else. (Go to the last letter for clues…)

WTF is somewhat of an attitude. It expresses a familiar kind of bewilderment, but is in some respects a statement of a kind of confusion or Twilight Zone moment that didn’t really have a previous equivalent in colloquial speech.

Which is why I was rather amazed to hear it in church recently.

No, it wasn’t uttered out loud — either as an acronym or fully — but the highly respected Christian leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it. You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place. The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the spirit of WTF. The attitude was 100% present.

For the reference, file away the phrase “Twilight Zone moment” when trying to describe something of this ilk.

Another point — he said, anticipating the comment — is that if we really believe that in all things God is working for our good, should we really ever experience WTF moments? If we are trusting, clinging and relying on God, while unexpected things happen, and while they do bewilder and confuse, should we embrace the WTF kind of attitude? (A friend of ours call these “sand in the gears” moments.) Aren’t these weird and wonderful things the cue for a “count it all joy” attitude? And what about the idea that Christians are expected to “maintain a distinct identity” from the world?

I think it is only a matter a time before OMG and WTF arrive at church. As shows like Extreme Makeover program opens the door, this type of speech becomes more entrenched, and other broadcasters will follow the trends, at which point it’s easy to predict OMG being on the tongues of people at Sunday worship.

Another translator — it might have been the old Living Bible — put the verse I started out with this way…

Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold…

November 20, 2019

It’s Safer on the Ground, but the View from the Mountain is Awesome

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Today we’re highlighting the thoughts of a writer who is new to us. Wes Barry is the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina, a church he planted six years ago. Clicking the header below will take to this article at its source, which you’re encouraged to do.

Enduring a Mediocre Life

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

It was a stupid idea to climb a 14,000 foot mountain with my wife. But the guidebook had called it a “distinctively charming route except the final 500 feet of loose scree.” So here I was frozen in fear clinging to the loose rock a few hundred feet from the summit. I wanted to give up and head back down. My wife, however, knew that the route down would take longer than summiting and then coming down. So she cajoled me forward. In the end, we summited the mountain and enjoyed the view.

Had we retreated, the end result would have been a mediocre adventure, and possibly a mediocre marriage and mediocre life.

Mediocre literally means “mid-mountain.”

The truth is that most of our lives are mediocre. We find ourselves grasping to the loose scree of life desperately trying to hold on. Though we may have spent years climbing and persevering, once the distinctively charming life gets hard, we freeze. We look for an escape route.

Our motivation wanes. We want the easy way out.

The way to transform mediocrity is not by motivation but through perseverance. At that moment, I had to throw off all the anxious thoughts that were holding me back. I had to overlook the disappointment and accept the reality that didn’t meet my expectations. It is at this point that we have to remember our commitment.

On that mountain, my wife made me recall that commitment. She told me I was not going to be satisfied if we turned back now. Then she just scampered on ahead, and as I watched her persevere I knew I had to finish the task that lay before me. I nervously fixed my eyes upon the trail she had laid through the scree field so I could follow it up. She endured so I could too.

What parts of your life are mid-mountain? How can you push forward in your marriage, your career, your parenting?

Consider how Jesus endured all things for you, and may you take heart to finish the race.


By the same author: This article has no specific scripture reference, but contains some great ideas to consider. Check out I Am Done Praying With You.

November 18, 2019

God is Sovereign Over Suffering

Today we have a new writer. Pastor Matthew Rickett leads Antioch Baptist Church in Portland, Tennessee in the U.S. He posts occasional devotional articles at the church website. Clicking the header below will take you directly to today’s article.

Our Faithful Creator

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Pet 4:19

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. All of it is profitable. Yet, some verses become elevated in our thinking because of the promises they contain, or because they speak to a certain season in our life, or because they succinctly declare Gospel truth. Unfortunately, other verses can get overlooked, though they are just as inspired, just as wonderful, and just as powerful. 1 Pet 4:19 is one of those verses. We touched on it briefly this past Sunday when discussing the context of our passage. I encourage you to read 1 Peter this week. Meditate on it. Especially 1 Peter 4:19. Why?

  1. It Affirms that Suffering is a Normal Part of the Christian Experience. Don’t be surprised by suffering. Why are these things happening to me? Why now? Why this? Why me? Don’t be surprised by suffering, says Peter (4:12). Suffering is never scheduled. It is never convenient. But, according to Christ, it is to be expected. Peter reaffirms this in this little letter. This verse brings to conclusion Peter’s thoughts on suffering by telling us how to react: Entrust your soul to a faithful Creator and continue to do good. I can’t answer, “Why?” But I can answer, “How.” God has not left us without instruction for the rainy season.
  1. It Affirms that God is Sovereign Over Suffering. Peter makes a clear distinction: You can suffer as a consequence of your sin (ex. drunkenness will lead to vomiting and hangovers. Gross.). Or, suffering might seemingly come from nowhere. Peter says, that the latter is according to God’s will. It’s shocking to think that suffering might actually be God’s will. Today, we are often told that God wants you to be happy, fed, and blessed. But, suffering is a part of God’s redemptive purposes, and as such, he is sovereign over it. Not a hair on your head will fall without the Creator’s signature to allow it. But, he often does allow it. This is ultimately for your good and for his glory. Jesus suffered. You were saved as a result.
  1. It Affirms that God is Faithful. God is faithful. He has saved you. He has redeemed you. He has forgiven you. He has declared you righteous. He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit. He has adopted you. He has accepted you. He has purified you. Why would he let you down now? When has God ever failed you? When has God ever not been there? When has God ever turned his back on you? When has God ever left you? Point: God is faithful. His steadfast love endures forever. You can entrust your soul to God because he is always, and has always been, faithful.
  1. It Affirms that God is Creator. God is your creator. He is omnipotent, even in the midst of our suffering. Often, our circumstances or our trials rule our thoughts. They become big and God becomes small. Flip it. God created man from dust and breathed into him the breath of life. Your situation does not have that power. Suffering creates in our minds the thought that this (whatever this might be) is too powerful to overcome, too strong, too mighty. Peter, on the other hand, reminds us that God created all things ex nihilo, what is too much for the God who creates?
  1. It affirms that Our Actions and Our Thoughts Precede Our Feelings. Suffer, says Peter, while doing good. You might not feel like doing good, but that’s exactly the point. Anxiety is a feeling- it’s a physiological response to our thoughts. When that response is triggered, anxiety takes over and we live our lives around this feeling. Peter is clear- we may not feel like doing good, but do it anyway. Your anxiety might be telling you to worry about this or that, but tell yourself the truth. To simplify: Tell yourself the truth of Scripture, do good… and eventually, the feelings will follow. Follow your heart? Nah, man… Follow the Word. Do the Word. Your heart will catch up.

Meditate on God’s Word this week. Commit this passage to memory. Open the Word- you might just find hidden treasures.

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