Christianity 201

April 27, 2021

When Your Faith is a Spiritual Mix Tape

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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While the use of cassettes is now quite rare, people still make personalized mix tapes consisting of their favorite songs on other formats. I think a phrase better understood now is personal playlist.

Spiritually, some people do this as well. The whole ends up being a bit of this and a bit of that, often fusing elements that have little in common. I’ve heard this called by different names, one of which is cafeteria Christianity.

I’m currently reading a 2002 book called And Beginning With Moses: Teaching Those Who Know Little or Nothing about the Bible by John R. Cross (Goodseed*). It begins with a horror story of a tribe which had gladly received the message of Christianity from missionaries, but had simply added it to their tribal beliefs.

In religious studies parlance, when this happens, it’s called syncretism. You don’t even have to go overseas to find it, in North America and Western Europe it’s possible to find people who are simply looking to add a dash of Christianity to their previously held beliefs the way a chef adds spices and mystery ingredients to an entree.

Here’s a short excerpt from the book. It begins with a horrific story of supposedly converted people reverting to pagan practices much to the shock of the missionaries present.

Syncretism in the Bible

Syncretism is not new. The ancient Israelites en route from Egypt to the Promised Land had problems in this area. God asked them a rhetorical question.

“Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel?”  Amos 5:25 NASB

The answer was, “Yes, they did.” They could make a legitimate claim to be following the true God. But there was something more. The next verse explains what they carried in their bags. God said…

“You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.”  Amos 5:26 NASB

These were pagan Assyrian gods. Israel was trying to worship God and idols at the same time. They were mixing two belief systems.

This problem of “mixing” seems innate to the human heart. When centuries ago, Gentiles settled in the heartland of Israel, the Bible says,

They worshipped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places.  2 Kings 17:32

Visiting the Middle East, I remember pondering those ancient high place altars, recalling God’s grief with the immorality and child sacrifice that was often part of idolatrous worship. The Lord said,

“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”  Jeremiah 19:5

Rightly so, such decadence had not entered God’s mind, but man’s mind seemed quite agile at mixing this evil and God’s good. The Bible says, ”

They worshipped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.  2 Kings 17:33

This is syncretism. Syncretism’s tenacity is illustrated in that, even after the Gentile “settlers” were instructed in true worship,

They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshipping the LORD, they were serving their idols. 2 Kings 17:40-41

Centuries later God had the Apostle Paul write…

“…I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”  1 Corinthians 10:20-21

Syncretism has plagued the church since its earliest days. Paul wrote the book of Galatians to sort out the confusion caused by those who were trying to mix religious legalism with the truth. The book of Colossians and the First Epistle of John were written for a similar purpose, this time having to do with a mixing of Gnosticism and the Bible.

In the following centuries, people syncretized true Christianity with ancient Roman, Egyptian and Babylonian paganism, creating various “mixes” dominated by error. Mohammed syncretized Arab tribal beliefs with Judaism and a Christian cult to form Islam. These religions in turn have syncretized to form others. The list is long. It seems very human to believe a mangled and mixed message.


*Goodseed is an organization I first encountered at a missions conference. Their signature book is actually four books, with the same material covered for four different audiences:

  • The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus – written for people who grew up with a Christian or Catholic perspective
  • All That the Prophets Have Spoken – written for those with an Islamic background
  • By the Name – written for readers with a Middle Eastern worldview
  • No Ordinary Story – written for non-religious people approaching with a secular worldview

You give someone the version that is right for them. I like the idea that they realized they couldn’t do a “one size fits all” book and did some radical re-writing of large sections of the material. You can learn more at goodseed.com

 

April 26, 2021

From Faith to Doubt to Faith Again

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Every pastor has a Bible character for whom they are able to tell his story in exceptional ways.  For Andy Stanley it’s Nehemiah. For the young preacher you’re about to meet it’s Thomas. Yesterday I listened to two full-length sermons by Tyler Staton. The first was sent to me in a link by a friend who wanted me to know that Tyler is replacing John Mark Comer as teaching pastor at Bridgetown. He’s moving cross-country from Brooklyn, New York to Portland, Oregon.

The second sermon I watched was focused on Thomas, so I was thrilled to discover that Thomas takes up a good one-third of Tyler’s book, Searching for Enough: The High Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith.

This devotional is adapted by the book and was first published by the Bible Gateway Blog, and appeared later at Devotions Daily. Click the title below to read at source, and click the link at the end to learn more about the book. Clicking the header below will also lead you to an audio reading of the book’s first chapter.

Stuck Between Two Unsatisfying Stories

Thomas is my favorite. He’s always been my favorite. I know Thomas. I am Thomas.

Thomas wasn’t a fiercely rational cynic. To think of him that way would be to minimize a whole life down to one single moment, which is always a mistake. This is a man who left everything behind to follow a self-proclaimed Nazarene rabbi. He risked everything for Jesus. He witnessed miracles that left him rubbing his eyes in wonder, but he also faced rejection, confusion, and public disgrace for associating so closely with one who was called a criminal.

The very week of Jesus’ crucifixion, Thomas steps forward in a critical moment to say he’s ready to die with Jesus. He was ready to die with his rabbi, but he wasn’t ready to live without him. And that’s exactly what Jesus asked Thomas to do when he wouldn’t say a word at his own defense hearing and took the death penalty like he was planning it all along.

Thomas isn’t a cynic or even a skeptic. It’s so much more personal than that. He’s disappointed. He’s hurt. Imagine pushing in all your chips, like he did on Jesus, and then the story ends in the kind of heartbreak so far outside of the realm of possibility that it blindsides you completely, leaving you in the kind of daze you never want to feel again. That’s the Thomas we meet in his famous declaration of doubt.

He’s hurting. He’s confused. He’s guarded. Life on his own terms wasn’t enough; that’s why he risked everything on Jesus in the first place, but how can he be the King of the everlasting kingdom from within a casket? Thomas isn’t a doubter; he’s a realist—calling it like he sees it.

“So the grave’s empty, huh? Well, that’s great, but I’m gonna need a lot more than that. If the rest of you are so desperate to believe, then go ahead, but I’m gonna piece together my actual life in the actual world. And if laughter, beer, and sex is as good as it gets . . . and if suffering is senseless and death is final and none of it amounts to anything more . . . then at least I had the courage to face it.”

Thomas’s resurrection reaction reads like God picked up a thirty-something from San Francisco or Berlin or Melbourne or Brooklyn and sat them down in first-century Jerusalem on that defining Sunday morning.

I’m not sure I understand the experience of seeing someone alive on Sunday who was definitely dead on Friday, but I certainly understand the skepticism of hearing other people spread a holy rumor like that one and categorizing it as religious well-wishing at best. I see myself in Thomas. I see my friends in Thomas. I see my city in Thomas. Stuck between two unsatisfying stories.

Now Thomas . . . was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24–25

In essence, Thomas is saying, “If God wants me, he can come get me. I’m not hiding.” Thomas was a realist—a strong-willed, fiercely logical realist—and that earned him a nickname: Doubting Thomas. That’s a modern invention though.

His given name was Didymus, but everyone who really knew him called him by his Aramaic name—Thomas, which translates to “twin.” The Twin—that’s what all the other disciples called him, and it suits him . . . because, in a way, he’s all of our twin.

Thomas is modern Western culture personified. A whole hemisphere is stuck between two unsatisfying stories. The citizens of the industrialized Western world enjoy more personal freedom, leisure time, career options, and entertaining distractions than anyone at any other time in human history, and yet the increase in personal autonomy and freedom hasn’t led to increased happiness and fulfillment. Diagnosed and medicated mental illness has grown almost exactly parallel to these factors. The world’s freest, wealthiest, most autonomous people are also the world’s most anxious and depressed people.

Is there anyone you can identify with more in the Gospels than Thomas? Regardless of how you’d categorize your particular brand of belief or unbelief at this particular moment, plenty of us could say right along with Thomas, “It’s not enough. The meaning I’ve tried to drum up for myself in this life is not enough to still my restlessness, but to be honest, I’m starting to think an empty tomb is not enough either.”

Two Stories Caught in a Single Frame

Early on a hot summer morning in the mid-1970s, Philippe Petit walked across a wire suspended between the iconic Twin Towers dotting the Lower Manhattan skyline. It was a spectacle.

Almost exactly 27 years later, two commercial flights were hijacked and steered directly into those same Twin Towers, bringing them to the ground with thousands of casualties. It was also a spectacle—of the very worst kind.

A photo was snapped during Petit’s jaunt across the wire that was meaningless for nearly three decades but then became iconic: a commercial plane caught behind the balancing man on the wire appears to be flying much too low, almost like it will hit the towers. Two moments that seem logically a lifetime apart are caught in a single frame. The stories overlap for just a moment.

That’s what happened to Thomas. The story of the world and the story of Jesus seemed incompatible on resurrection morning. It was wishful thinking for any true realist. Then, for just a moment, the stories overlapped in a small upper room hideaway in central Jerusalem. Thomas, disenchanted by an empty tomb, encountered the presence of the living God.

That’s the invitation for you.


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Zondervan Publishing. Used by permission.

April 20, 2021

“Don’t Be Afraid” – Not Comforting Words; It’s a Request

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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The title I gave our version of today’s devotional is my reaction to how this impacted me. It reminded me that the request Jesus made bordered on inappropriate, at least in terms of what you say to someone who has suffered great loss…

Today we return to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. Click her title for it which follows and read this at her site.

Just Have Faith

But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”
Mark 5:36

I have been putting off writing about this for a while, because the truth is I just don’t understand it half as well as I’d like to. I don’t understand how Jesus could tell Jairus don’t be afraid. Especially given the news Jairus had just received.

Let me set the stage…

Jesus had just arrived in Capernaum after being on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowed had already gathered around him by the time Jairus arrived. Jairus was the leader at a local synagogue whose daughter, only 12 years old, was at home dying. Having heard that Jesus was in the area, he found the crowd and fought his way through it to reach Jesus. He then fell at his feet, pleading with him to come and lay hands on her so she might live.

Can you imagine the relief Jairus must have felt when Jesus, the man who worked miracles, agreed to go with him to his home?

But on the way there, a woman interrupted the procession by reaching out to touch Jesus’s robe. This in itself is an amazing story, but for now I want to focus on the fact that Jarius was forced to wait while this other woman took precious time away from Jesus getting to his little girl. And as he was watching Jesus speak to this woman, the terrible news he feared arrived: his daughter had died.

This is where my faith is challenged. Because Jesus didn’t weep with Jairus. He didn’t console him. He simply said, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” But the thing was…his daughter had died. She was gone. In that single moment, the fear of her death became a horrible reality.

This is where I struggle. Because I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of Jairus. What if I had gotten news that my husband died and Jesus told me, don’t be afraid. Just have faith? I feel like I’d want to slap him. My grief would be more than I could bear. How could I not be afraid? How could I possibly have faith? This is a hypothetical situation for me, but it wasn’t for Jairus. And it isn’t for many people I know. So the big question is, how can this be encouraging? How can this be what Jesus tells Jairus? How can it put to rest my own fears of the future?

I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus said it – and it was recorded for us for a reason. And I also know that Colossians 1:15 says that “[Jesus] Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” If I believe that, and I do, I have to believe that even in the face of death and worst fears come true…we’re to trust Him.

Even though I don’t understand this and it feels like an impossible thing to ask of someone, the fact that Jesus said it means it warrants my time thinking about it and praying about it.

There is so much of God I do not understand. But I really do want to be a person who’s first instinct is to trust His word and act on it, find comfort in it, and discover His heart through it. I believe that good things lie on the other side of our obedience – especially when we obey without fully understanding.

My hope is that in the face of fear, both life threatening and none, my knee-jerk reaction will not be panic, but trust. I want my heart to be ruled by Him alone. I want his peace, which passes understanding. I want to be less like the people of the world, and more like the heroes of the bible – who took God seriously.

The bible doesn’t tell us how Jairus responded to what Jesus said. So I don’t know if he was full of faith or if he fell apart. But Jesus went to his house and healed that little girl – she lived again.

I know this isn’t the way all our stories end. How I wish it was. But I do wonder what is on the other side of our faith when we face these kind of horrifying situations. It encourages me to think about how much stock I put into what God asks of me.

This kind of soul searching and asking these kinds of questions is hard…but I think it’s well worth the undertaking.

 

April 16, 2021

Current Events Remind Us We Need Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Sin in this world is nearing critical mass
– from today’s article

Today another new writer to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle blogs at Musings from an Idle Mind. Because this just posted a few hours ago, I encourage you to click the header below and leave comments at his site.

Broken

O LORD, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.

For You have been a strength to the poor, A strength to the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm, A shade from the heat; For the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.

He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken. And it will be said in that day: “Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.””
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭25:1, 4, 8-9‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Broken

There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. The world we live in is irretrievably broken

I watched the last moments of the life of a thirteen year old boy, shot by a Chicago policeman. It was the tragic summing up of many evil moments, that came together to destroy a young life.

There was an older twenty-one year old who fired shots, who allegedly passed the weapon to the young boy so he himself wouldn’t be caught with the gun. Charges are less for juveniles, and it is common practice for criminals to use them.

There was a chase down an alley, with eternity bearing down. The boy tossed the weapon in an opening in a fence, raised his hands as he turned toward the officer. Eternity invaded as the adrenaline and the inertia of the moment, propelled finger against trigger and a life ended. It is going to be a long, painful, spring and summer.

We will hear the multitude of justifications and condemnations, along political lines, as pundits spout off on what happened. There will be riots, mostly peaceful protests, that seem to consume the nation. In the end all will be more broken, and still people will die.

In the midst of it all, there will be one all consuming truth: we need God more than ever.

Isaiah 25:1 entering my eyegate this morning as I prepared the meme for my church. It was a refreshing sight, as God invaded the sadness in my flesh and reminded me of His sovereignty. I felt compelled to worship. Our God is beyond the brokenness of this present world. Because I have been forgiven, I have a reality that is not fixed in the here an now, but eternally powered and my future is Heaven.

Sin in this world is nearing critical mass, as down is up and up is down. All people are being affected, as lost and saved alike entertain ideas that are evil. The sin that has broken our planet, is spreading like a virus, as people go about doing what they think is right in their own eyes.

There seems to be little consciousness of the evil that is being perpetuated, or any concern for the long term consequences. We have become a society of reactors, seemingly shocked when unintended consequences come.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭3:1-5‬ ‭NKJV

We are in those days.

We need Jesus!

All the brokenness that we are seeing should be prompting us to go forth and preach the Gospel. It is only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that change things. It is the transformation of each individual heart, of each individual mind, to help us to see as God sees.

Instead, we are drawn to political and march about finding no solutions.

The biggest problem that is infecting humanity, is our tendency to not see the human in front of us. We miss the creature just like us. We see only opposing forces, dehumanized. We have become a nation and world full of targets, and shooters, taking aim at each other as the evil one picks us all off.

For those of us who are in Jesus, we must stand apart from all the strife and be faithful to share the Good News of Jesus, who went to the cross, died for the sins of all mankind, was buried and rose again. We must endeavor to love across the battle lines.

It can easily seem as though the Gospel message will not be heard as our world is loudly careening to the abyss. There is so much noise!

People are consumed and distracted, just as the evil one intended. He knows his time is short, but we must be about the Father’s business. Souls are in the balance.

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭4:1-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In these dark times, I must keep looking up, focusing on Jesus. I cannot fix this world, but I know that Jesus will. He is coming again. There are so many things happening in our broken world.

“Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22:6-7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Come Lord Jesus!

https://www.allaboutgod.com/the-roman-road.htm

 

April 7, 2021

Who are you looking to in the middle of the storm?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today I skimmed about 50 devotional posts from previous years, but only investigated one site further because its name, 1014 Experience Street, caught my eye and I didn’t remember that we had sourced material there before. Writer Phillip Pratt covers various subjects — he’s currently doing a series of quotations from U.S. Presidents — but I found this article from October that I wanted to share with you today. Click the header below to read this at source.

“But We See Jesus”

I’ve been meditating on vision lately: physical, spiritual, prophetic, all that good stuff. When I was younger we were admonished to be very careful to guard our ear gates and especially our eye gates: we are visual-centric people, it’s a major portion our genetic makeup. What we see, what we focus on, determines our perceptions, our decisions, our faith.

Growing up, my folks used to have two vision-related sayings on their fridge:

“What you focus on becomes magnified”
and
“How you see Him is how you serve Him”.

When you focus on imperfections (your own or others), whether that’s a mole, a scar, a lisp, a limp or other things like weight, height… it can become so magnified that it affects behavior, self image, relationships, etc. Same as when you focus on circumstances, on lack, on empty bank accounts, on sickness and infirmities, on fear-based news, on what could happen; all of these things never lead to peace.

However, when you focus on the Lord; on His goodness; His greatness; His majesty; His love; His grace and mercy; His provision; His healing power; His plans and purposes; you walk in a peace that others covet. Spend a minute with a person or read their posts/tweets and you can always tell what they’ve been focusing on and magnifying. This is not an indictment on anyone, we’re all human, but so many are focusing on and being distracted by, the storm.

There’s prophetic insight to:

– see what’s going on in the storm
– look through the storm
– look ahead of the storm

We need to be people of God who look through the storm and are able to see the form of Jesus & what God is doing.

Here are some Scriptures on seeing [the form of] the Lord:

Numbers 12:8

“With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees (nabat = to regard with pleasure) the form of the Lord…”

Hebrews 2:9 “but we see (blepō = with the bodily eye, to discern mentally) Jesus…”

John 12:21 “…we wish to see (eidō = to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention) Jesus”

Luke 23:8 “When Herod saw (eidō) Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see (eidō) Him…”

Luke 19:3 “And he sought to see (eidō) Jesus…”

Hebrews 12:2 “Looking (aphoraō = to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something) unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”

Matthew 14:22-31

“But the boat [by this time] was already a long distance from land, tossed and battered by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night (3:00-6:00 a.m.) Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw (eidō) Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately He spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!”

Peter replied to Him, “Lord, if it is [really] You, command me to come to You on the water.” He said, “Come!” So Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw (blepō) [the effects of] the wind, he was frightened, and he began to sink, and he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus extended His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

This passage perfectly highlights the importance of focus: You can be aware of the storm but stop looking at the storm and magnifying it, keep your eyes on Jesus. There’s so much going on in this world and going on around us, so much fear, so many people looking at the storm but as people of God, “we see Jesus”.

What’s in your heart right now? What are your thoughts?

If it causes fear  = you’re looking at the storm.

If it causes peace = you’re looking at Jesus.

All the news reports, prophetic words, predictions, dreams, etc; do they cause fear or faith? Do they point you toward the storm or toward Jesus?

John 14:26 “let not your heart troubled, nor be afraid”

Philippians 4:8 “…think (logizomai = meditate) on these things”

I want to highlight two Scriptures that go hand in hand:

Isaiah 26:3

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed (camak = to lean or lay upon, rest upon, lean against) on Thee, because he trusts Thee”

John 13:23

“Now there was leaning (anakeimai = to lie at a table, eat together, comes from two root words, ana = in the midst, among + keimai = laid down, destined) on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.”

In that room, the noise of the city, the blaring sounds of commerce, crime and community were tuned out, even the room itself was loud with conversation and fellowship; during all of this a lone disciple managed to lay his head on the chest of the Prince of Peace, of Love Incarnate and listened to the heartbeat of Life Himself. There he was safe, there he found peace in the port of the storm of life.

“but we see Jesus…”

The author and finisher of your faith will not be found in the form of the storm, only in the form of Jesus. We see in part, we may not see everything that Jesus has done for us, given to us and happening around us “but we see Jesus”.

Interesting note on Matthew 14: the sea was not calm where Jesus walked, He could have easily had a 20 foot perimeter where it was calm, like glass, but He chose not to calm the sea immediately around Him. He walked on top of the waves, He could have walked a few hundred feet and perhaps even rode a few waves with some foot surfing, who knows?

Some storms we can rebuke, some we ride out, others we sleep through, but we are never utterly cast down nor destroyed.

Your faith is founded on the Rock, the Rock is not moved by the storm.

Our focus determines our direction, our decisions, whether we are paralyzed by fear or propelled by faith. It impacts not only us but everyone around us. It’s imperative in the storms of life that “we see Jesus” and our focus is Him and Him alone.

A Morning Like That

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Last year we introduced you to The Cove, a multi-site church in Mooresville, NC (Greater Charlotte) which posts weekday devotions on their website. This time around, the writer we’re featuring is Noelle McDermott. This was the Tuesday devotional in a series on the resurrection. Please support and encourage the writers we feature by reading these devotionals at the source site where we found them. Click the header which follows.

As the Sun Breaks Through

Today’s Scripture: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3, ESV

Theme: The Resurrection gives us hope for today and for eternity.

AS THE SUN BREAKS THROUGH…

Growing up in North Carolina, with its predominately sunny weather, I have come to strongly dislike the rain. When clouds roll over and begin to drizzle, I immediately miss the sun. I’ll complain about how sad I feel or how I can’t wait until the sun comes back. During a persistent period of rain, I was surprised—not because the sky finally cleared up—but because the sun was out, though it was still raining.

I stepped outside and marveled at two different types of weather colliding. I felt the warmth of the sun as the rain drizzled down and watched puddles of water slowly transforming into steam that the wind swept away. The sun eventually withdrew behind the clouds once more, but that brief moment of sunshine, even while standing in the rain, had lifted my spirits.

IN THE MIDST OF STORMS…

Mary Magdalene is initially introduced to us in Luke 8 in a list of women “who provided for [Jesus and the twelve disciples] out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). The passage specifically notes that seven demons had been cast out of her. She also witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:40) and visited His tomb on the day of His Resurrection (John 20:1). Although other Gospels mention two other women accompanying her and telling the disciples of the open tomb with her, Scripture does not mention their staying afterwards. Even Peter and John, who visited the empty tomb at the women’s urging, left almost immediately also. Mary Magdalene is the only one who remained at the tomb.

Overwhelmed by her grief, she wept. I cannot imagine what went through her head as she sat in the garden, nor the hopelessness she must have felt. Not only had her Savior died, but she could not even find Him and anoint His body. What would have been next for Mary? How else could she serve Him if she could not even find Him? As she wept, she encountered two angels and a Man she did not recognize, even after speaking to Him. But as soon as He simply said her name, Mary realized that Jesus was standing before her. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus resurrected and was entrusted to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

SO DOES HOPE!

The Resurrection renewed hope within Mary Magdalene and it can renew hope within us. How often do we weep and search for answers as Mary did? Distracted with questions and doubt, we sometimes fail to realize that the Lord stands before us until the very moment He calls us by name. We succumb to hopelessness and discouragement because we forget the “living hope” granted to us thorough Jesus’ Resurrection. He has already overcome, and in light of that truth, we have the assurance of hope. This living hope gives us the strength to keep the faith and persevere in difficult seasons, for we are being prepared for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) in this life and in eternity.

Make It Personal: As you reflect upon the Resurrection this week, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where you have lost hope in the Lord’s promises. Where have you begun to doubt and despair? Let Him renew hope in you.

Pray: God, thank You that You sent Your Son and resurrected Him. Thank You for the confident hope given to us by Jesus’ Resurrection. Through each season, remind me of the hope I have in You through the Resurrection. Amen.

Weekly Memory Verse: “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 1:19-20, NLT

Read: John 20:1-18; Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15:40; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

March 5, 2021

The Saddest Verses in the Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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There are a number of narratives in the scripture which can only be described as unfortunate, sad, or perhaps even tragic. One of these will be quite familiar to all of you, the other two might not.

Close and Yet So Far

This is where the line “almost pursaded” which forms the title of a hymn of a generation past originates. Philip Bliss, who lived only from 1838 to 1876 would have used the Bible of his day, the KJV, as an inspiration; as Paul tries to reason with King Agrippa, defending himself in Acts 26:

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” (26:28)

Here is just part of the fuller context in the NIV:

22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

The hymn in question is worth studying in full but we begin with verse one:

“Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
“Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
on Thee I’ll call.”

The second and third verses implore the hearer to respond, but by verse four, it’s already too late.

“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last;
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad that bitter wail—
“Almost—but lost!”

On a personal note, my mother’s faith was nurtured as much by the hymnbook as by her Bible. she often sang hymn fragments — isolated lines from rather obscure hymns — apart from their full context. The line, “Sad, sad that bitter wail;” was permanently embedded in her brain as a picture of the state of the lost soul. On my father’s side, his mother (my grandmother) played this as piano solo in a style I have never heard since.

Why was Agrippa “almost” but not fully persuaded to become a follower of “The Way” right then and there? The Enduring Word Bible Commentary offers three reasons having to do with three people in the room:

i. One answer was the person sitting next to him – Bernice. She was a sinful, immoral companion, and he may have rightly realized that becoming a Christian would mean losing her and his other immoral friends. He was unwilling to make that sacrifice.

ii. On the other side of Agrippa sat Festus – a man’s man, a no-nonsense man, a man who thought Paul was crazy. Perhaps Agrippa thought, “I can’t become a Christian. Festus will think I’m also crazy.” Because he wanted the praise of men, he rejected Jesus…

iii. In front of Agrippa was Paul – a strong man, a noble man, and man of wisdom and character – but a man in chains. Did Agrippa say, “Well, if I became a Christian, I might end up in chains like Paul; or at the least, I would have to associate with him. We can’t have that – I’m an important person.”

He Walked Away Sad

This is the more familiar of the three passages, the narrative of the “rich young man,” “powerful young man,” or “rich young ruler.” The encounter with Jesus appears in both Mark 10 and Matthew 19.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, click here to read.

Teaching points on this text usually include:

  • the man’s opening address to Jesus as “Good teacher,” and how Jesus responds,
  • Jesus sets the bar low, asking the man how he relates to the “second tablet” commandments — the ones dealing with our interactions with other people — and not the “first tablet” dealing with our prioritizing of God. The man claims full, lifelong compliance, and Jesus does not argue the point;
  • the proposal that he sell everything to “come follow me;” the same offer given to the twelve that leads to our key verse:

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (10:22, NIV)

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (19: also vs 22! NKJV)

Again, The Enduring Word Bible Commentary:

In this, the wealthy questioner failed utterly. Money was his god; he was guilty of idolatry. This is why Jesus, knowing the man’s heart, asked him to renounce his possessions… The principle remains: God may challenge and require an individual to give something up for the sake of His kingdom that He still allows to someone else. There are many who perish because they will not forsake what God tells them to.

The same commentary, on the Mark passage states,

This man, like all men by nature, had an orientation towards a works-righteousness; he asked, “what shall I do.” If we really want to do the works of God, it must begin with believing on Jesus, whom the Father has sent (John 6:29).

Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to make the man sad; yet he could only be happy by doing what Jesus told him to do. So, he went away sorrowful. Many people have almost everything, yet they are sorrowful.

A Generation of Walking in Circles

This one may be one you hadn’t considered. It’s the second verse in the book of Deuteronomy, and it seems like a piece of geographical trivia, to the point several of the translations include it in parenthesis:

It is eleven days from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea along the Mount Seir route. (CEB)

or consider this casual way of putting things:

Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, going by way of Mount Seir. (NLT)

But this is verse is included for reasons far from trivial. Since we’ve been with the same commentary throughout today, let’s see how Enduring Word handles this (emphasis added):

The journey from Mount Horeb to Kadesh Barnea only took eleven days. But from Kadesh Barnea (the threshold of the Promised Land) back to Kadesh Barnea (back to the threshold of the Promised Land) took forty years.  This was because it took forty years for the generation of unbelief – those who were adults when Israel left Egypt – it took forty years for that generation to die out in the wilderness, and for a generation of faith and trust in God to arise in place after them.

Did you catch that? 40 years to finish an 11-day road trip. All because of a lack of faith and trust in what God had promised them.

Conclusion

All three are sad endings which were preventable. Do you see yourself in any of these narratives? If so, choose to make yours a different story.

 

 

 

March 4, 2021

Should Have Seen It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I should have seen it. It was a Friday the 13th a few years back when I did what many motorcyclists in Ontario do on Friday the 13th, we head to Port Dover. I was on my way home after a long day of riding and I didn’t see the sand on the corner. Going around the corner I hit the gas and the motorcycle hit the ground. Thanks to some people nearby who had duct tape I managed to get home okay. But I should have seen it.

Is that something that we may someday say at the end of the ride called life? “I should have seen it.”

There is a “should have seen it” moment in John’s Gospel:

Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.

John 12:37 (NRSV)

By this time Jesus had a reputation for profound wisdom and miraculous healings. Yet many of the religious leaders had written him off. They explained away the miracles as works done by the power of the evil one. They tried to trip him up in his teaching, to prove that he was a fraud. But the life-giving miracles continued to give life and the profound teaching continued to be profound. You would think the religious leaders, rather than condemning Jesus, would at least be curious. Who is this Jesus, really?

Curiosity

Even now, there are good reasons to at least be curious about Jesus. Consider the impact of Jesus on people’s lives throughout history. Consider the impact of Jesus on society. Consider the evidence for the story about Jesus as recorded in the writings of the New Testament as being reasonable and true. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity is not a leap of faith contrary to the evidence. It is a reasonable step of faith because of the evidence. There are good reasons to at least be curious about the evidence, to at least be curious as to who Jesus was/is. There are many great resources that explain the evidence. One can start by Googling names like J. Warner Wallace and William Lane Craig, but there are many other resources. The signs are there for those whose eyes and ears are open, for those who are curious. It is far better to be curious now, than someday say “I should have seen it.”

Curiosity, along with open eyes and ears, is not just important for those who currently do not follow Jesus. Curiosity is important if we, who are Christians, never want to say “should have seen it.” We as Christians can fail to stay curious in our search for truth. When we do we mislead people, we can cause damage.

In my early years as a pastor I had the opportunity to lead a Bible study for people with mental health challenges. A local church was very good about picking many of these souls up every Sunday for church. However, as I got to know them, I discovered that many of them thought that if they could have more faith, and be more holy, that God would heal their minds. I believe that God will indeed heal our minds someday, but I also believe these poor souls were being fed very simplistic answers to complex issues. We face many complex issues in our day. Curiosity may keep us from someday saying “should have seen it.”

Some did see the where the signs were leading, but kept quiet:

Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it . . .

John 12:42 (NLT)

Why were these, who did believe in Jesus, not willing to openly confess that belief? We want to be careful here to note that their “belief in” Jesus is probably not a full blown belief in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Let us remember that the events of Easter had not happened yet, nor had anyone fully realised the implications of those events. At this point “belief in” may simply be belief that Jesus is from God, and not a fraud as many of the religious leaders were claiming.

We need not conjecture as to why these believers remained quiet about their openness to Jesus, for John goes on to tell us why:

But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

John 12:42-43 (NLT)

This helps explain why some are not open to Jesus today.

Fear of being put out of the synagogue

Fear can keep people from expressing faith in Jesus. What will my circle of friends say if I am curious about what they claim is a fable? Christianity may be dismissed vocally among friends and family. Christianity may be dismissed broadly within society. People are afraid to swim against the tide. Fear can kill curiosity, so no ones dares ask out loud “just who is this Jesus, really?” Eyes remain shut. No one sees it.

Fear can also keep we who are Christians from being honest about our questions. What if my church, or pastor, does not appreciate my curiosity? Yes, Jesus is my Lord and Saviour, but what is the truth with regard to all these complex issues? People have questions but keep quiet. No one sees it.

On keeping quiet out of fear of being put out of the synagogue; isn’t the synagogue the very place where there should have been a healthy curiosity about Jesus? When someone claims to be from God, teaches with profound wisdom and goes around doing miraculous and helpful works, shouldn’t that be “chatted up” in the synagogue? Isn’t the synagogue the very place where people should have been free to talk about Jesus, weigh the evidence, have conversations, ask questions, seek a better understanding, and keeping eyes wide open, be curious? Evidently the religious leaders who were quick to condemn Jesus, were also quick to stifle curiosity. People were afraid of them.

We could say in our day, isn’t the family, isn’t a circle of friends, a place where we should be able to talk about spiritually and truth, including curiosity regarding the claim that Jesus is more than a mere footnote in history?

Likewise, isn’t a church the very place people should feel they can be honest in their exploration for truth, ask questions, be curious and in conversation? Shouldn’t a church be the very place we should expect to find a curiosity and a search for truth about mental health, racism, LGBTQ+, sexuality, finances, relationships, and anything and everything? Fear of being shunned can keep the curious quiet. Am I as a religious leader stifling curiosity? Am I, the pastor, the one causing fear in my day?

The love of human praise more than the praise of God

Those who believed that Jesus was from God were more interested in being seen as smart among their peers than in encouraging the search for truth. Appearing to be smart is often not the smartest thing to do! Pride can keep us quiet about the truth. Pride can keep us vocal about falsehoods.

Pride was at the root of why the religious leaders stood in condemnation over Jesus in the first place. Pride kept them from having a posture of curiosity in learning more about Jesus. Jesus, a man of great works and profound teaching, was exposing their works as less than righteous and their teaching as less than sound. Pride ensured a violent reaction against Jesus, instead of a thoughtful and soul-searching response to him.

If Jesus really was from God in some way, then many of the religious leaders needed to be able to say “I have been wrong.” That is hard to admit when you are a religious leader, when you are supposed to be an expert. Further, they would need to admit that “I have been misleading others.” That is hard to admit when you are supposed to be a leader. Further “In being wrong, in misleading others, I have done damage.” That is hard to admit when you are supposed to be a religious leader, a godly leader.

Pride kills curiosity and the search for truth. No one likes to admit that they have been wrong. Does pride keep people from trusting in Jesus? Does pride keep some of us from growing as those who trust in Jesus? Admitting when we have been wrong is part and parcel of repentance, learning, growth, and discipleship.

Pride can keep people from searching for the truth about God in Jesus. Pride can also keep those of us that have discovered truth about God in Jesus from searching for the truth in so many other things. Pride will lead us to someday say “should have seen it.”

Concluding Thoughts

We should see it now:

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.

John 12:46 (NLT)

There are many who would rather remain in the dark about Jesus. Fear and pride can kill the curiosity that can lead people to God. We can be in prayer for a courageous curiosity and remain open to conversations.

We, who are Christians, may sometimes be the ones who would rather remain in the dark about many things. We can be in prayer for a courageous curiosity and remain open to conversations.

We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and say “should have seen it.”


Canadian Pastor Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full video sermon on which this is based is also part of this online weekly worship expression.

March 3, 2021

Accepting Our Acceptance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Another day to highlight a writer here for the first time. Melissa Neeb lives in Minnesota in the U.S. and has written for a variety of publications. Her blog is Faith in the Mess where she writes about mental health, addiction, parenting and marriage. As usual, we urge you to click the header which follows to read this at source. Because this particular article was published just hours ago, we’re going to close comments here so you can leave a comment there.

Accepting Jesus May Be Easier Than Accepting Ourselves

I accepted Jesus into my heart at a very young age. I knew I was precious to Him and always had a seat at His table as His beloved child and daughter. The unconditional love and forgiveness and grace of God was a gift I could easily accept.

What took much longer to accept, decades perhaps, was myself.

I couldn’t accept my fearfulness. My over-sensitivity. How easily I was embarrassed and cried.

I couldn’t accept my shyness, or my depression and anxiety, or my body.

I couldn’t accept my inability to put on weight, or my awkwardness around guys, or my terror of public speaking.

I couldn’t accept my indecision, my passivity, or my lack of boundaries.

I couldn’t accept that the traumas I had endured had permanently left scars and changed me.

Decades after accepting Jesus into my heart, I was still having a difficult time accepting myself and all my obvious (to me) flaws. I floundered and failed, doubted and rebelled until I reached the very end of myself.

That is when God took over.

He whispered into the recesses of my desensitized heart until I started to feel Him working again and transforming me into who He created me to be. He kept working, challenging my perceptions, and reminding me who HE said I was.

I started repeating His promises to myself all day long. That I am the daughter of the King. That I was loved into being. That Jesus left the 99 to chase down and bring me back into His strong arms. That I was created with a purpose, with a divine calling on my life.

I had to learn how to accept myself and let Him use my weakness to showcase His power.

Friend, if you are unable to accept yourself, please meditate on these affirmations. Say them out loud. Write them down. Put them on your mirror. Insert your name into these verses. Start believing it.

I AM CHOSEN.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

GOD COVERS ME WITH HIS SHELTER AND PROTECTION.

He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:4 (NLT)

I AM WONDERFULLY MADE.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

GOD IS WORKING IT OUT FOR MY GOOD.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)

GOD IS FOR ME.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Romans 8:31 (NLT)

Let me remind you, precious one, of this truth. If you can accept Jesus into your heart, if you can accept Him as your Savior and Protector and Healer and Friend, if you can accept His boundless grace and mercy, then surely you can accept the being that was created in the image of God, whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is beloved beyond measure.

Yourself.

March 1, 2021

The Test of Faith Was Both Abraham’s and Isaac’s

Could a familiar Biblical narrative had played out differently? We often consider the faith it took Abraham to be obedient to a horrid request, a demand concerning the child of promise given to him and Sarah. But Isaac was old enough that he could have rewritten the ending…

If you’re unfamiliar with Abraham’s test of faith in Genesis 22, click this link to read it in the Common English Bible (CEB).

by Ruth Wilkinson

Why did it have to be at the top of a mountain on a hot day, carrying all that wood?
His father wasn’t young anymore (had he ever been?) so Isaac took the load of wood himself.
Abraham went ahead, finding the path, carrying the fire for the altar. This was a long, long way
to come to make a sacrifice.

Isaac had seen his father make sacrifices to his god before, and it was always the same.
He’d build an altar, stone on stone ‘till it was right,
lay it with wood – first the tinder, then the kindling, then the fuel.
He’d choose the very best lamb he could find,
sometimes that took hours, talking to the shepherds, looking at hooves and skin.
If he couldn’t find the one he wanted, he’d buy one from a neighbour. That could take a day or two.

Once he’d found the one he wanted, he’d tie its legs with rope, lay it on the altar.
He’d cut the lamb’s throat quickly so it wouldn’t suffer and light the fire.
A complete waste, except it wasn’t.
It was a gift, a symbol of how nothing was more important to Abraham than his god.

But this one was different, not only the journey, but especially the fact that there was no lamb.
Abraham was always so picky about choosing just the right one, surely he didn’t expect it to
just be waiting there for him at the top.
Isaac had asked about that, but Abraham didn’t really answer,
so he dropped it.

Abraham was unusually quiet.
Anytime they’d sat or eaten or traveled together Abraham was full of stories
the time he’d tried to trick Pharaoh and his God had ratted him out,
the time he’d gone to war to rescue Uncle Lot and his God had given him victory,
the time his god had wiped a couple of entire cities off the earth,

and over and over and over again, the story of the son, the only son, the son their God had
given them, the son they loved, their miracle son.
The first star in his father’s sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children.

Isaac had heard volumes about Abraham’s god. Sarah’s god.
But not today.

Today he was lugging a load of wood up a mountain, eyes on where he was putting his feet,
glancing at his father’s back.

Lots of time to think.
This god of his father’s was a strange one as gods went.
He didn’t seem to follow the same rules.
The other gods, the ones that ruled the lands around them, the ones that came into the family
compound with slaves from other places…
The other gods were tied to one particular nation or tribe or family. This one seemed to be
everywhere, involved with anybody he chose.
Isaac wasn’t sure whether he went ahead, or if he was following Abraham, but he had been
everywhere.

The other gods were distant and people did extravagant things to get their attention…
shouting, dancing, extreme sacrifices – even killing their own children to get their noticed.
His father’s god seemed to be waiting around every corner,
with something to say,
to ask,
something to offer
– kind of like Abraham was with Isaac.

But Isaac had never heard the voice his father heard.
Everything he knew, he’d learned from his parents’ lives and stories.
He’d lived his whole life from before he could remember by the words and ways
of his father’s god.

Abraham stopped walking. He looked around and said,
“We’re here.”
He told Isaac to sit down and have a drink while he built the altar.

Stone on stone ‘till it was right,

Then, he opened the bag of tinder,
untied the rope that held the bundle of wood,
arranged the altar, – tinder first, then kindling, then fuel.

He stood still, looking at it.

Isaac said, “Perfect! Now all we need is the lamb.”

There was a long silence. Abraham trembled, sat down beside his son, his only son,
the son his god had given him, the son he loved, his miracle son
the first star in his sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children and told him about the lamb.
What he said cut Isaac open like no knife ever could.

Isaac was to be the lamb.

No.
That can’t be right.
All his life he’d been told how special he was.
His life was a miracle, an answered prayer, a promise kept.
He couldn’t die now!
It was too soon!
That can’t be right.
No.

His father was old, confused. Isaac was stronger, he could take him, maybe tie him up with the rope from the wood and get him home somehow. (On the donkey. That would work.)

To Sarah. Sarah would know what to do.
Isaac snatched up the rope, jumped to his feet ready for anything and in that moment,
he heard it.

He heard the voice – whispering somewhere inside him, behind him.
Whispering his name
“Isaac”

The whisper took over his heart and his mind and whispered to him in that split second every story his father had ever told him.

Every step of his father’s journey,
every promise made and kept,
every tear,
every laugh,
every surprise,
every demand,
every moment of forgiveness and starting over again and redemption.
Every star in his father’s sky.

And in that moment, Isaac knew he had a choice to make. A line to cross.

He had lived his entire life from before he could remember by the words and ways of his father’s god and
now
now
now he had to decide whether this god was his own.
Isaac had to choose.


“All the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants, because you obeyed me” (God, v18)

February 28, 2021

The Name God Gives You

by Ruth Wilkinson

Jesus and his followers arrived in Jerusalem, and He went into the temple complex. He found people had set up shop there, selling oxen, sheep and doves.

He also found money changers sitting there.

So He made a whip out of cords, and began driving everyone out of the temple with their animals and birds.

He dumped the coins of the money changers and flipped their tables.

He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!”

Then He began to teach them: “You know that it is written, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” But you’ve turned it into a den of thieves!”

When the chief priests and religious leaders heard this, they started looking for a way to bring Him down.

They were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was astonished by His teaching.

(adapted from Matt 21:10-17, Mark 11:11, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-22)

___________________________

There is an old Black Spiritual that goes something like this:

I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
Jesus told me the world would be against me if He changed my name
But I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name

__________________

What surprises us the most about the event at the Temple is Jesus’ actions. His behaviour. We shake our heads and say, “He’s such a nice guy! Why would he act that way?”

What most surprised the people who where there that day was not so much what he did, as what he said. In several places, the Scripture’s writers tell us that people were “astonished” by his air of authority.

He taught with authority.

He healed with authority.

He cast out demons with authority.

He forgave with authority.

Because Jesus had–and has–authority.

He is the ref on the ice, saying yes and no.
He is the prof in the classroom, saying true and false.
He is the quarterback on the team, saying go there, don’t go there.
He is the King. He is the Creator.

Jesus is the boss of you. He is the boss of me.

The people who first sang that old Spiritual, and especially the person who wrote it, understood authority. They understood what it was to be under authority. They knew that someone else had all the power.

They were slaves, so if someone sold them and someone bought them, that someone had the authority to say, “Your name is Ruth? I don’t like that name. I like Sally better. From now on, if I say, “Sally,” that’s you.” They would have to adapt because somebody had changed their name.

But the person who wrote that song wasn’t just a slave. They were a theologian. They were a thinker. They understood that there are different kinds of names.

There are labels that we give each other. There are sounds that we make to define who we’re talking to. But in the Scriptures, some names are much more than that. Some names are identities. When Moses asked God, “What is your name?” God just said, “I am what I am. Call me that.”

The writer of the song understood that kind of name. They must have been familiar with the verse in Revelation that quotes Jesus as saying,

“Listen… To the one who is victorious… I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (2:17)

That name is not a label. It’s an identity.

The songwriter, who was a slave, who didn’t even have ownership of their own name, says to Jesus, “You can change my name.” They trusted him to define their identity. They trusted him to tell them who they were. They trusted Jesus to give them a new name.

Can I trust Jesus to define my identity?
Can I trust Him to tell me who I am?
Can I trust Him to give me a new name?

Is there something about who I am that I need to surrender to him?

_____________

Jesus, change my name from “Slave” to “Son” or “Daughter” –
Make me one who has a home and an inheritance.
Gal 4:7

Jesus, change my name from “Dead” to “Alive” –
Make me one who has a future and purpose.
Eph 2:4-5

Jesus, change my name from “Dry Grass” to “Fruit Bearing Branch” –
Make me one who has something to give.
John 15:5

Jesus, change my name from “Unknown” to “Understood” –
Make me one who has a connection and a friend.
Psalm 139:1

Jesus, change my name from “Guilty” to “Not Condemned” –
Make me one who has freedom, joy, a chance to start again.
Romans 8:1

Jesus, if that’s really who you are,
it’s alright if you change my name.


by the same author:

February 1, 2021

Moses Could Only Take the People So Far

Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you? Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that abundant water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me to demonstrate my holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.”
– Numbers 20: 10-12 CSB

This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”
– Deuteronomy 32:51,52 NIV

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.
– Joshua 1:1,2 NLT

Almost a year ago we introduced you to Alisa who has been writing at On the Housetops since November, 2014. As you consider the story referred to in the above scriptures, allow her thoughts to see ways in which there is application to your situation from the lives of Moses and Joshua. Click the header which follows.

Sometimes It’s Not About You

I was listening to music yesterday, and a song came on that made a reference to the fact that it was not Moses who brought Israel into the Promised Land, but Joshua.

I always felt sorry for Moses. I mean, here he put up with the Israelites for 40 years and faithfully obeyed the LORD – except for one mistake, which cost him entry into Canaan. It never did seem quite fair, and I’m pretty sure Moses felt the same way.

But all of a sudden the thought struck me out of nowhere: maybe Moses’ punishment wasn’t so much about him, as it was about a symbolic message to us!

Let me explain:

Moses is a symbol of the Old Testament Law. He was the one who received it from God on Mt. Sinai, and the one who taught it to the people.

He led Israel out of Egypt, but you could say that he couldn’t get Egypt out of the people. Even after receiving the law, they fell into idolatry and kept complaining that Egypt was better than the wilderness they were wandering in, and that its food was better than the manna God was providing.

Similarly, the Law could only bring people so far from the bondage of sin. It couldn’t change hearts.

And just as Moses’ one failure prevented him from entering the Promised Land, so one instance of breaking God’s Law is enough to prevent us from entering Heaven.

I think this is why God punished Moses in the way He did. I don’t think it was so much about Moses as it was about painting a picture for us, that the Law and works can’t lead us into Heaven.

But who did lead Israel into the Promised Land? It was Joshua who took the lead and parted the Jordan River to bring the people into Canaan. They never looked back, and I’ve heard that generation of Israelites referred to as the Greatest Generation.

And this is significant too, because it is another Joshua – or Yeshua – who opened the way for us to cross over to the other side of death to eternal life. Jesus did what the Law could not: He paved the way for us to have a new heart. And it is not our righteousness that saves us, but His.

Seeing this picture for the first time, I can understand better why God chose to be so harsh with Moses.

At the time that it was happening, I’m sure Moses had no idea what the significance of his actions and God’s response was. I know it felt unfair to him at the time.

But from our vantage point thousands of years later, we can look back and understand, and appreciate the picture.

There are things going on in my life right now that I may not understand, but Moses’ story gives me comfort. Maybe these tough times are about me, maybe not. Maybe there’s much more to the picture than what meets the eye. And maybe, like Moses, I won’t ever understand the full plan in my lifetime, but someday it will become clear. And I will know what I’m already choosing to trust: that God knows what He’s doing.


Is this part of the story of Moses unfamiliar to you? Read more at Got Questions.

January 24, 2021

An Unchanging God for Uncertain Times

Nancy Ruegg has been blogging faithfully at From the Inside Out since November, 2012 and was featured here twice previously before somehow falling off our radar. She writes weekly (on Thursdays) and each of her posts contain photography and highlighted scripture graphics; another reason why you should click through today on the title which follows.

Certain Security

Uncertain times.

That phrase appears everywhere these days. Between the pandemic, political upheaval, social unrest, and concerns for the future, we can find ourselves desperate to find security—freedom from danger, fear, and anxiety.

But there is only one reliable source of security: God.

The LORD is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. (Prov. 3:26 NLT, Jer. 17:7 NIV)

Out of his faithfulness to us, God always supplies what we need. And as it happens, the word FAITHFUL provides a tidy acrostic for eight blessings we enjoy–no matter what.

God is our:

Faithful promise-keeper. He is already ahead of us in the uncertainty of 2021, just as he went ahead of Joshua and the Israelites into Canaan. He has promised not to fail us or abandon us[1]—even when we cross dark valleys of troubling circumstances.

Attentive Father. Before we put our needs into words, God is on his way to meet it.[2]

Immutable (unchanging) Rock. He “does not change like shifting shadows.”[3] In a world where situations and relationships can change unexpectedly, God remains his rock-solid, reliable, perfect self.

Truth-Revealer.   The truth of God’s Word has been proven through numerous disciplines and in the lives of millions. Within its pages we find the wisdom and support we need.[4]

All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.
 -Psalm 119:160

“The remedy for discouragement is the Word of God.
When you feed your heart and mind with its truth,
You regain your perspective and find renewed strength.”
–Warren Wiersbe

Hope. Our God of hope fills us with all joy and peace as we trust him. Hope allows us to see his blessings even amid hardship, and know with certainty he will use even our painful circumstances to accomplish good.[5]

Foundation. God’s ways provide a strong foundation for life, especially when storms of sorrow come. He upholds us with his love and compassion, peace and comfort that transcend our ability to explain.[6]

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Is. 54:10)

Unerring and righteous Judge. “Your kingdom is founded on righteousness and justice,” wrote the psalmist, “love and faithfulness are shown in all you do.” And because he is righteous and just, everything will work toward the best outcome in the end.[7]

Light, even in dark times.[8] Too often we focus on the swirling blackness of circumstances around us. But “God’s lights in our dark nights are as numerous as the stars, if only we’ll look for them.”[9]

Throughout my years as a blogger, I’ve shared many experiences illustrating how God has been faithful to our family. One in particular comes to mind that encompassed all of the above blessings.

Leadership of our church denomination assigned my pastor-husband to another church across state.   We were not ready to move. God ministered to me during those dark days of transition as I journaled through the psalms, affirming his love and compassion, peace and comfort. And as a result, hope began to blossom.

For whatever was written in the past was all written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.
 (Rom. 15:4 BSB)

I grew in spiritual strength, compelled to rely on him through the grief of leaving beloved friends and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. He miraculously provided a teaching position for me not far from our new home. And in the end everything did work for good as that struggling church became a thriving community. (You can read a fuller account at After the Fact.)

In a book of liturgy, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) kept a bookmark with the following affirmation:

“Let nothing disturb you; let nothing dismay you;
all things pass: God never changes.
Patience attains all it strives for.
He who has God finds he lacks nothing.
God only suffices.”

God only—in all the numerous demonstrations of his faithfulness–is our certain security.


Should you wish to read more examples of God’s faithfulness, you can click on the following links:

Notes:

[1] Deuteronomy 31:6
[2] Matthew 6:8
[3] James 1:17c CSB
[4] Psalm 119:24, 140, 160
[5] Romans 15:13; 8:28
[6] Isaiah 54:10; Philippians 4:6-7
[7] Psalm 89:14 GNT; Genesis 50:20
[8] Psalm 27:1
[9] Max Lucado, Grace for the Moment (J. Countryman, 2000) p. 195

January 15, 2021

How to Start a Christian Cult

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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There are many [versions of Jesus] proclaimed today. There is Jesus the liberator and Jesus the revolutionary. There is Jesus the teacher and Jesus the example. There is Jesus the healer and Jesus the burden-bearer. Homosexuals and adulterers point to “an unconditionally accepting Jesus,” seeking to show that Jesus is on their side. Even the demons are willing to accept certain aspects of our Lord’s identity, but not His authority.  – Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, in today’s linked article

When I first began to think about this topic earlier today, I had in mind two specific areas where groups which perhaps started out in mainstream Christian orthodoxy end up drifting away from their moorings.

  1. Adding to the gospel message
  2. Subtracting from the gospel message

If it were all that simple it might be easier to identify such teaching at a greater distance, but sometimes the approach can be more subtle.

As to adding to the message, this is much of the core of the book of Galatians. It appears in our Bible after Romans and 1&2 Corinthians, but is considered Paul’s earliest work. It is addressed to those who are surrounded with “Judaiizers,” that is people for whom the laws of the first covenant, i.e. circumcision of males, still applies. He writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1 NIV)

At the council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, Peter stands up and addresses this issue, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…” and then James continues, “…It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (15: 10,19,20 NIV)

Of course, if you were numbered among the Pharisees who were raising these issues, you would see Peter, Paul, James and Barnabas as subtracting from the requirements.

Thomas Jefferson was notorious for his physically removing passages of the Bible with which he disagreed.

When we think of these concepts, we easily remember the book of Revelation’s final warning, “…and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (22:19 NASB) This echoes the Old Testament words in Deuteronomy 4: “Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am delivering to you.” (v2 NET)

…The concept of addition and subtraction merely scratches the surface in looking at how false teachers arise. In the article I quoted at the outset of today’s thoughts, the writer marks a number of characteristics which are worth studying in greater detail. I’ve reduced his nine points to five for us today:

  1. Claiming to be a prophet. (I know this will grate with those for whose practice emphasizes being a prophet as one of the five-fold ministry gifts — sometimes called APEPT — but generally the prophet does not say this of himself.)
  2. They can come from both inside and outside the church.
  3. At some point, their teaching attracts rebuke from the world at large (and harms not only the place where they do their teaching, but the capital “C” Church in general.)
  4. They start out subtle. (Here the author quotes Matthew 7:15-23 and says you will know them by their fruit. I think it’s interesting that as a non-agriculturally-aware person, I can look at a tree and not be able to identify it until the fruit appears. This then, is a process of time.)
  5. Apart from the message, there may be flaws in the false teacher’s personal morality. This will be seen in their motivation (money, power, success, fame) and their methods (deception, secrecy, smooth-talking).

There was also a reference to the book of Jude, which is very instructive on this subject:

NIV.4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith…

The book of Jude ends with a doxology to “him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…

This is Jude’s highest aim for the readers of his letter; that they be kept from falling.

Here is the link to the full article at Bible.org concerning false teachers.

 

 

January 13, 2021

It is a Time to be Stirred

Again today we have a new writer for you! Alex Steward is the pastor of a rural ELCA congregation in the greater Detroit area. He blogs at A Mysterious Way: A Journey Through the Desert of Life. Click the header which follows to read this in full on his page and then he encourages you to browse the rest of the site for other articles.

He begins with a paragraph describing his family’s downsized Thanksgiving which happened to coincide with the Perseid Meteor shower. In the scripture passage, Jesus talks about the stars falling. That’s where we pick up the devotional…

God Wakes Us

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

…Jesus sets out in the gospel lesson to provide an apocalyptic image of his return. He is preparing the disciples for what lays ahead of them. He begins with darkness and the stars falling from the sky. It is quite the image and one that often will generate fear in some people. However, this is not the purpose of apocalyptic literature. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to inspire hope and not sow fear.

From Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures to Revelation in the New Testament, we read of a promise and hope in the promise which points us to an unflappable God that reigns down with mercy and love.

It may be difficult to find the mercy and love that God promises to all of creation in the past eight months. From a pandemic that seems like a plague, to an election that divided many Americans,  to wars around the world, and civil unrest in our own country, it may seem as though we are living out the last days that much of the apocalyptic literature writes about. Yet, Jesus reminds us to keep awake because we do not know when the master of the house will return.

If we look at the history of Mark’s Gospel, we will find out it was the first gospel written and provided a basis for both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel, thus the similarities. It was written thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Up to this time everything was shared through stories and word of mouth. It was written around the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and was most likely shaped around those events. Mark encouraged his community not to get involved in the revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman Empire.  This is a time of high tension for the followers of Jesus as they witness the destruction of a community in which they grew up. As Mark reflected on Jesus’ words, there is the thought which the day of the Lord must be near and surely not a generation will pass away before seeing that day.

And yet, here we are. Still waiting with an impregnated hope and living in the promise of Jesus Christ. As we enter this Advent season, we come bearing deep wounds of events that have been cancelled and lives turned upside down as we face struggles and challenges which the majority have never had to even think about. God’s creation continues to groan and limp forward as we await something greater to come.

As Christians, we are set apart by our faith, placing our hope in the promise that has echoed throughout the millennia. As we hear these words from Jesus, it is not a time to panic or to be set on edge. It is not a time to fear and bury our heads in the sand or snow depending upon where we live. It is not a time to fret.

It is a time to be stirred. A time to be fully present to the season and contemplate on what Jesus’ birth means not just for us personally, but for all of creation. A time to be alert to those wondrous sightings of God in our world, like viewing a sky full of stars and witnessing meteors streak through the vastness of that sky. This past week in one of my morning devotions was the refrain:

Wake us to your presence, Lord: that we might not waste our times of trial.

The trials we have faced for much of this past year have been debilitating. There are mornings that it is just enough to get out of bed and take a shower. We are in unfamiliar territory and it is easy to get tired when confronted with the unknown. Our bodies are so incredible in telling us what we need, and at times we also need to push ourselves to move forward. Our relationships are more important now than ever before, even if that means we cannot reach out and give someone a personal greeting face to face.

It is times such as this that God invites us into the mystery. A mystery that has shaped our faith for the last two millennia. A mystery of God incarnate. God has come down to us in the form of a newborn baby to lead the way and give us a sign of hope. A sign that shows up in those very same stars that Jesus says will come falling down. A star that shines so brightly announcing the birth of a new reign of God. A time that God in Jesus walks among creation and is one with us in humanity. A time that we are invited to participate in the mystery of Christ’s reign in creation.

As we are awakened and become alert, we learn about ourselves and the place of our community in the greater aspect of creation. The trials that we face today are only a step along the way to that glorious new creation that will come down to earth. We participate by meeting our friends and neighbors where they are. We stare up at the stars together and are reminded of how connected we truly are and how God’s creation is limitless. A creation that invites us to be an active part of the welcoming of a soon to be newborn baby.

I leave you with a prayer from that same devotional I mentioned earlier:

What would you teach us today in our trials, Lord? Make us receptive. Help us to see your victory and compassion rather than look for every answer to our troubles. So make us expectant, Lord, and patient. AMEN


  1. Mark 13:25 Isaiah 13:10; 34:4
  2. Mark 13:29 Or he
  3. Mark 13:33 Some manuscripts alert and pray
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