Christianity 201

April 19, 2019

Final Words to Friends

An excerpt from Peter Marshall –The First Easter (McGraw-Hill, 1959) pp. 16-19

The eleven men who were left were very quiet. The voice of Christ was very soft and low — tender with farewell.

It was now only a matter of hours until Christ and his disciples would be separated. He wished to fill those last hours of fellowship with the tenderest and most significant of His teachings.

The most sacred… the most tender… the most heart-felt emotions… are those expressed at the end of the letter…

The tenderest caress comes just before the parting. The softest word just before the conversation is ended… before the train pulls out… before we turn away.

We seem to catch the quiet intimacy of that fellowship. Unforgettable words of parting and comfort were spoken by Jesus to His friends. Jesus has written them out for us:

  • “Little children … a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you … By this will all know that you are my disciples…”
  • “Let not your heart be troubled; … In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you…”
  • “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you…”
  • “I am the vine, you are the branches… Abide in me, and I in you…”
  • “these things I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world…”

Overcome the world? When the one who spoke was so soon to fall under the power of Caesar? Yes, for in reality we must remember that Jesus could have escaped the cross. No one compelled him to go to Jerusalem on that last journey. Indeed His friends and apostles urged Him not to go.

Watch Him, in the bitter hours that lie immediately ahead, time after time taking the initiative in deciding His own fate.

Christ had begun His ministry by telling His apostles that the Son of many must suffer many things. Must — there was no other way. It was for that purpose that He had come into the world.

“For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up .. that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

There was Light in the little room that night. But beyond the light lay a death-ridden world…

  • in the midst of the military might that was Rome where life was cheap
  • in the philosopher’s porticoes of Athens where the mind found no hope
  • in the dangerous living of the great shipping centers of Asia Minor to the disease infested alleys of old Jerusalem —

Men feared death, dodged its hideous grasp, could nowhere find respite from their fear.

But here was something new… Here was one facing death — not afraid but confident … already triumphant … already speaking about seeing His friends again … about never leaving them…

Strange words … about being with them to the uttermost parts of the earth and to the end of time.

How? Why? Because He alone knew the Father’s eternal purpose for what it was — the determination once and for all to destroy the power of death — once and for all to deliver men from their lifelong bondage to the fear of death.

Within a matter of hours, Christ Himself was to become the instrument by which the Father would — for all time — make death not a wall … but a door.

April 13, 2019

Worry and Anxiety Can Blind Us to God’s Sovereignty

This is from a book published in 2000, The Ways of God by Henry Blackaby and Roy Edgemon. (pp 67-68)

Sovereignty and Worry

God’s sovereign presence remains and is active in the midst of His people today. However, things that can blind us to God’s rule still surround us. Jesus declared the truth when He said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24).

You might think, Great! I know that money is not my master. But are you making important life decisions based on the presence or absence of money? Do you determine whether or not to obey God depending on practicalities, such as “overhead”? If you do not immediately think of “no!” as your answer, you may be ruled by money more than you thought.

Even if you were quickly able to rule out money as a barrier to your service to God, there are plenty of other “practical” candidates for the job of master. Even after ruling out the potential of kings and money, that still leaves another frontrunner – worry.

Sovereignty is clearly a way of God. Yet worry can be a sign of doubt, evidence that we are not trusting God as sovereign over everything. How well do we witness to His nature as sovereign Lord and Creator if we continue to worry? Jesus taught about the dilemma some find in trying to serve the Father by offering this advice,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

When believers worry, they actually may be trying to control a situation. They also may be revealing that they believe their situation is too difficult for God. But God has shown throughout Scripture that He has ultimate power over everything. He wants us to function under His lordship, trusting His sovereignty over this world.

God wants us to seek Him. The reward for seeking God, however, is His activity in and through our lives. When we serve our Sovereign, He will use us. Yet God never functions based on our will, but by His sovereign rule. God’s purpose in working through you is not to help you to be successful or even worry-free, but to use your life as a means by which He reveals Himself. He is not there to reveal you to a watching world. He is there to reveal Himself to a yearning, hurting and watching world.

March 27, 2019

Living in Distracting Times

Biblical writers never knew the degree of distraction which we face in the 21st Century. We are bombarded with input of all types: advertising, road signs, warning lights, notifications, etc.; even as we must remember PINs and user names and passwords.

However, their world was not as different as we might think. They were still aware that all manner of things could appear before them and prove not only distracting, but also destructive.

When our oldest son was 21, he became convinced he was spending too much time watching videos on YouTube. So he simply uninstalled Flash player in his computer. (Yes. Seriously, he really did that.)

In Matthew 5:29 we read Jesus words:

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (NIV)

but Jesus apparently repeated these words, as Matthew records them again at 18:9

9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (NASB)

…To which we might add the following paraphrase:

If part of your computer causes you to waste time, disable it.

Some would argue that the words of Jesus were never intended to be taken literally, but the radical degree of his teaching was fully intentional. Call it hyberbole if you will, but Jesus was saying that it’s going to take doing something extreme in order to be where he wants us to be.

In the past I’ve written many times about controlling our thought life. You can read those at this link. One of my favorite graphic images (that we’ve used in the sidebar of this blog in the past) is this “eye chart” version of some words of Jesus from Luke:

Luke 11:34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy,your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

There is certainly a “garbage in / garbage out” effect that takes place depending on what we allow our eyes to see. Jesus also said, “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” (Matthew 15:11)

Contextually, I know Jesus was making a whole other point, but if we can take some liberty here, we could also follow the pattern and say “It’s not what goes into your eyes that defiles you; you are defiled by the images you allow to dwell there.”

In other words, you may not have the luxury of editing or filtering every image. There may be times when you say,

“It’s too late, I can’t un-see that.”

However you can decide which images are going to stay with you and which you are work diligently to forget. Martin Luther put it this way:

“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head
but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair”

Or, to use another graphic image we’ve used here before:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Phil 4:8 NLT)

…The point is that scripture speaks to these issues. What is very real to us in a world of distraction was very real to them.

Do what you need to do. It may require something like disabling a part of your computer. But if that is what it takes, don’t ignore the possibility!

~PW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 23, 2019

Think About It: Noah Had Never Seen Rain

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die.
So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

-Gen 6:17,22 NLT

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
 -1 Peter 1:8 NIV

Back in September, when we last visited the blog Rhetorical Jesus by Jack Wellman, I explained more fully how this particular devotional site is designed as an outreach for (and to) people on Facebook and Pinterest, and even included the matching graphic that went with that devotional.

Today you’ll have to click the header below for the graphic. You might even want to use some of these on your own social media.

Will you trust me as much as Noah did?

Hebrews 11:7

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

The Eyes of Faith

Noah had never seen a flood. He had never seen rain, yet there he and his family were…building an ark in the middle of a semi-arid desert region. Noah believed God and not his eyes. He trusted God enough to do what made absolutely no sense to others and did everything God asked him to do (Gen 6:22), and by his obedience, he obtained a righteousness that comes only by faith or trust. Put yourself in Noah’s place. He had no idea what rain was, not to mention floods, and where he lived, building a great boat made no sense. He built a massive boat, the ark, when no such thing had ever been constructed. Noah saw things that were not as though they would be because he saw with the eyes of faith. Can I trust God as much as Noah did?

Confidence in What Is Not Seen

Chapter 11 of Hebrews has been called the Hall of Faith because in it, there is a veritable who’s who of men and women who trusted God in what was to come before it ever came to be. That’s why the definition of faith is having an assurance of things that are hoped for and the strongest of convictions of what is not even seen (Heb 11:1). Experience tells us that we too can trust God more than what we see with our eyes. God holds the future in His sovereign hands, and there is more confidence in what is not even seen today than what we see with our eyes. We can’t please God without having faith (Heb 11:6), and our faith is only as strong as the Object of Faith.

Faith is Believing God

The genuineness of our faith is being tested today so that it will come forth as being more precious than gold (1Pet 1:7) because even though none of us have even seen Jesus, we believe in Him (1 Pet 1:8), and, thus, a living hope is born in us. The fact that salvation is fully a work of God should make us trust Him even more. If it were up to us, we would have every right to be anxious, but God tells His own children that He isn’t ever going to leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5).  Shouldn’t that be good enough since we know that God cannot lie (Heb 6:18)?

A Closing Prayer

Great Creator God in heaven, please help me to believe in You and trust You even when my eyes tell me otherwise. I know that You hold the future in Your hands and control everything that happens in my life, so please forgive me in my times of doubt and help me to learn to trust You more and more with each passing day. In this great desire of mine I pray, in the strong name of Jesus Christ.  AMEN.


From the same author: What is God Calling You to Do Today?

March 14, 2019

Compelling Religion

Why Christianity Provides a Compelling Account of, and Vision for, Religion

by Clarke Dixon

Religion often gets a bad rap. From the infamous saying by Christopher Hitchens “religion poisons everything,” to my own disdain for religion and anything religious. Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, and yes, I sometimes agree with Christopher Hitchens that religion can poison everything. Religion has destroyed many lives.

However, when it comes to the topic of religion, Christianity is compelling for two reasons.

Christianity provides a compelling account for why there is religion in the first place. While walking through Athens, Paul was impressed and disturbed by the amount of religious devotion he saw:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. . . .

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” Acts 16,17:22-23 NIV

Walking through Athens is much like taking a walk through all the world throughout history; being religious has been the default for humanity. There is a religious impulse, a desire, a reaching to grasp hold of something greater than ourselves. You might think otherwise if you are a Westerner, but even here in secular Canada, spiritualities and religions are still very popular despite an education that is very much slanted toward scientism.

Why is there such a religious impulse among people? Why do we seem to be different from animals in this respect? C.S. Lewis, in his book “Mere Christianity,” points out that we have desires that correspond to things that exist. So for example, we desire food, and food exists. We desire sex, and there is such a thing as sex. So too with our spiritual longings. Our longings for something greater than ourselves point to there being something, or Someone greater than ourselves, namely God. If we evolved from a purely natural process and there is no God, then why do we have any spiritual inclination at all? Christianity provides a compelling reason as to why religion exists; because God exists and He created us for relationship with Him.

Christianity provides a compelling vision for religion. Not all religion is created equal. Again, Christopher Hitchens is sometimes correct in saying that “religion poisons everything.” But only sometimes!

Among various world-views there are different visions for religion, that is, what religion is supposed to do or accomplish.  Some religious people are focused on escape. The purpose of religion is to help you escape the troubles of this world and enter Nirvana, or heaven. Other religious people, however, are focused on rules, regulations, and the consequences of obedience or disobedience. Sometimes those rules and regulations make no sense, but if a deity has given them, they must be obeyed, no matter who gets hurt. The purpose of religion is to keep people in line and ensure everyone gets their just deserts whether through bad karma or divine punishment. So where do Christians find themselves in these two differing visions for religion?

Some will point to the apostle Paul’s famous expression, “salvation by grace through faith” (see Ephesians 2:8) and say that escape is the vision for the Christian religion. The Christian will therefore say “I’ve got my golden ticket gotta here, I’m forgiven!”. Others will point to the famous expression of James, “faith without works is dead” (see James 2:17) and say the vision for the Christian religion is rules, obedience, and punishment. The Christian will therefore either say “I have failed yet again,” or, “look at how good I am.” Why do Paul and James have differing visions for religion? Which is correct?

Actually those two visions for religion we outlined miss the mark for what Christianity is about. Paul and James are not giving competing visions for religion, they are looking at two different aspects of our relationship with God. Let me give the example of a marriage relationship. When Paul says of our relationship with God that “salvation is by grace through faith,” it would be like Paul saying to me “you are married, not because you deserve Sandra, nor because you chose to be married, but because she said ‘yes.’ She chose to be married to you!”. When James says of our relationship with God that “faith without works is dead,” it would be like James saying to me “a marriage with no time spent together, no communication, and no serving of one another, is dead.” It is as if Paul is speaking about the marriage covenant signed on the wedding day and how we got to that place, while James is focused on how marriage is lived out every day since.

Now consider the two competing visions for religion we spoke of earlier. Suppose my wife said to me on our wedding day, “I love you and want to be married to you today, but on the day in which you are less than perfect, we are done.” I would not be married for very long! So too, a relationship with God that is focused on our performance would not last long at all. Now suppose I said to my wife on our wedding day, “go on the honeymoon without me,” then on her return said “good, I’m glad you are back, I now need to go on a fifty year mission trip and will not be able to be in touch too often. See you on our 50th!” That would not be a marriage, that would be an arrangement. So too, a relationship with God that is focused only on one’s technical standing before Him, one that is focused only on escape and getting to heaven. Being forgiven so as to get to heaven without an ongoing relationship with God is not a covenant relationship so much as an arrangement. Marriage is life-changing and is to be for life. The vision for religion as expressed by Christianity is a life-changing relationship with God that extends into eternity. This is neither escape, nor performance.

Paul and James are not promoting different visions for Christianity, they are speaking about different aspects of our relationship with God. What is the Christian vision for religion, then? An everlasting relationship with God that changes everything. We experience God’s love in Christ. We learn to love like Christ. We experience God’s life-changing presence through His Spirit. We learn to keep in step with the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 NIV

So much religion is about our reaching God. Christianity is about God reaching us, in fact reaching right into our hearts and massaging them back to life.

Many translations use the word religion in James 1:27:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 NIV

Here the Christian religion is not poison, but a solid example of the expression of love, the fruit of the Spirit. It is what happens through a relationship with God. This is a very positive thing in our lives, and in our world. The Christian vision for religion is compelling. It is more compelling than religion that is focused merely on escape or obedience. It is more compelling than a vision of no religion which recognizes the need for goodness in our world, but cannot provide an anchor for such. Religion certainly can poison everything. Atheism can poison everything too. A life-changing relationship with God, however, can heal anything.

The yearnings for a higher power point to the reality of God. The love of God enables us to enter into a life-changing, society-changing, world-changing covenant relationship with Him. Christianity provides a compelling account of, and vision for, religion.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

January 21, 2019

Miracles in the Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:31 pm
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“a noteworthy miracle has taken place through [Peter and John] is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it (emphasis added) (Acts 4:16; see also vv. 13-14; John 3:2; 11:47-48).

Today we’re back visiting what I last called a “wealth of articles” at the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan. This is part one of a two part series, you need to click the link at the bottom to finish this study.

Miracles: Then and Now (Part One)

On occasion through the years one reads or hears of a great revival somewhere in the world, a sudden outburst of the power of the Holy Spirit. It usually includes the testimony of many souls saved as well as miracles of all sorts that seem to parallel those of the Bible. Fantastic accounts of healings, resurrections from the dead, walking over red-hot burning coals, exorcisms of the devil and demons and the like are reported. What is an earnest Bible-believer to make of all this?

The subject of biblical miracles in the main has suffered disagreement over two factors–their nature and their purpose. Critical scholarship long ago consigned miracles to the ashcan of superstition, ignorance and mythical notions. More sophisticated critical studies have routinely denied the validity of miracles by means of the principles of modern science. It is asserted that divine intrusions simply do not occur in the closed time-space-mass universe of strictly uniform processes.

Bible-believing Christians have disagreed somewhat over the nature of biblical miracles but have had enduring differences of opinion concerning their purpose and longevity. My conclusion in summary is: The true nature of biblical miracles defined their purpose, and their purpose defined their continuance.

The point in this writing is to analyze in general the subject of miracles, mainly New Testament miracles, including those of the launching of the church. The church is the new body of God’s witness and work in the present stage of His overarching purpose of receiving the maximum self-glory from His creation. “Creation” in this sense entails everything that is not God. Some call this complex the world, the cosmos, the universe and the like. In any case this sharp division (between what is God and what is not God) preserves the Creator-creature distinction that is fundamental to the whole of the Bible and Christian Theology (Rom 1:25). Nothing exists in man as it exists in God.

The purpose of God getting glory to Himself means for Him to magnify His own infinitely unique person and cause it to be exclusively and universally enhanced, honored, esteemed and worshipped by rational beings. Since God exists by himself, i.e., he is self-existent, Scripture declares He exists for himself. His personal testimony, e.g., is “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no god” (Isa 45:5. Cf., Isa 47:8, 10; Hos 13:4; Zeph 2:15; Deut 4:35; 32:39; et. al.). And, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8).

MIRACLES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

First there will be a preliminary sketch of divine miraculous activity in the Old Testament, miracles of various sizes and shapes. However, there were times when clusters of miracles surrounded an important event or person. Some of those occasions were: (1) the Creation of the universe including mankind [Gen 1-2]; (2) the great Exodus from Egypt and the formation of the tribes of Israel into a theocratic kingdom via the giving of the Law at Sinai [Exod 1-15]; (3) the choice of Moses as the leader or king-in-effect of the theocracy [Exodus 3-4]; (4) the accreditation, to Egypt and Pharaoh, of the nation Israel as God’s favored, protected  people [Exod 5:1-2; 6:1-8; 7:1-6; 8:10, 22; 9:14-16, 29; 10:1-2; 11:7; 14:4, 18]; (5) the ensuing Sojourn in the wilderness [Exod 16-40, Numbers and Deuteronomy]; and (6) the Conquest and Settlement of Canaan [Joshua and Judges].

The Law of Moses was the charter, constitution or governing legal instrument of the new nation, and it included the provision of ongoing miraculous activity for some of its functions. Examples would include health and healing (Exod 23:25), food (Exod 16:35), water (Exod 15:23-25), clothing and shoes (Deut 29:5), fertility (Deut 7:12-16) and a direct revelation from God when evidence of an unlawful act was not certain (Num 5:11-31; 15:32-36).

During the United Monarchy (kings Saul, David and Solomon) notice of the occurrence of miracles was nil. In the Divided Monarchy (kingdoms of Israel and Judah) there was an outburst of miraculous activity in the Ninth Century BC. This was during the apostasy and political decline of the northern kingdom of Samaria/Israel. The miraculous activities of Elisha and especially Elijah were used by God to rid the nation of the pernicious debauchery of the Baal-Asherah fertility cult and to call the people back to Himself. This false religion had been established by Ahab and Jezebel as the semi-official, state-supported civil religion rivaling if not practically supplanting true Yahweh worship (850 of the cult’s clergy “ate at Jezebel’s table,” 1 Kings 18:19). The great confrontation between Elijah and the Baal-Asherah priests on Mount Carmel vividly illustrated what was at stake (1 Kings 18:20-40, especially v. 39, “When the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”). The daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Queen Athaliah, brought Baalism into Judah, building a Baal temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 11:18).

The writing prophets spoke sparingly of miracles occurring in their days, the exceptions being Jonah and Daniel and the incident of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. The prophets spoke often of the future golden Messianic Age when miracles would return as God crushed all temporal powers and set up His kingdom on the earth. See Isaiah 35 and 40.

THE INTERTESTAMENT PERIOD

The historical interlude between the testaments (ca 400-4 BC) was a barren wasteland as far as miracles, prophetism and other revelatory vehicles were concerned. The temple, the Levitical system and the nation’s political fortunes were deplorable. Even the prior Restoration Period (538-400 BC) with Ezra, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Zerubbabel, Joshua the High Priest, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi was not much of a restoration of Israel’s politics and spirituality. The return from the Exile did not fulfill the prophecies of a future golden age. Prophets and people knew fully that Israel was not free and independent but was subservient to the Persian domination.

This arrangement changed to the Hellenistic, Alexander the Great era (ca 334-166 BC) that included the ravages of the Egyptian Ptolemies and the Syrian Seleucids. The Jews had a bob-tailed form of independence under the Hasmonean priests (166-63 BC) after which transpired the harsh rule of the Roman Empire, beginning in 63 BC. Into the Roman milieu the New Testament opens with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (ca. 4 BC).

By this time the nation was in a deeply apostate condition but still possessed a very small believing remnant such as Zacharias (Luke 1:67-80), Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38), and the two from Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

►►Click here to continue with part two


Rolland McCune served as Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary from 1981-2009, during which he also served as President of the Seminary for ten years and Dean of the Faculty for six years.

January 9, 2019

The One Who Has Faith is Never Insignificant

Each year we revisit the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great insights here from a variety of writers. The author of this piece is Don Lipsett. Click the title below to read at source.

(In)significant

Luke 8:42b-45aAs Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. (NIV)

Imagine the scene that day: Jesus, the Man who did miracles and spoke powerfully — unlike any other — was making His way down the street, surrounded by His disciples and a noisy, jostling crowd. Everyone was trying to get close to Him, to be seen with Him, to hear His words, or ask a question. In the dust and commotion, the woman just hoped to touch the outer hem of His robe. She was seemingly so insignificant in that whole chaotic scene, unnoticed — except by Jesus.

Do you remember about the day when the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, met Jesus?

Mark 10:46-52Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV)

Here also we find weakness, faith, and hope, face to face with the Saviour.

These incidents touch us, I believe, in their revealing how Jesus responds to faith, and to those who humbly seek. No one is insignificant to Him.

Perhaps for many of us, our contributions to and work for God’s kingdom may seem to be insignificant in the big scheme of things, or in the monotony of daily life. However, Jesus’ call to us is to be faithful. Even if our circumstances may be limiting, we can pray, and maybe, there are yet little ways that we can share God’s love and the gospel with family, friends, neighbours, strangers, or even enemies. In little things and details, people can see, and wonder, and be moved by the Holy Spirit.

As the Lord said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.(Matthew 25:40 NIV)

Prayer: God of grace and mercy, fill our weakness with Your strength, and give us faithful hearts that we may “not grow weary while doing good” (Galatians 6:9a NKJV). We ask this in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

January 1, 2019

The First Month of Your Year

by Russell Young

A new year! The first day of the year is often considered as a new beginning. Reflection is given to the things in life that could be improved by change or by greater commitment. The LORD spoke of a new year to the Israelites. On the day they were redeemed (2 Sam 7:23; 1 Chr 17:21) from bondage in Egypt the LORD said, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (Ex 12:2) They had been given a new beginning with great promise. The LORD was to lead them through his servant Moses into a new life and into the Land of Promise, a land flowing with “milk and honey”.

Gentiles who have committed themselves to God through faith have been offered a similar promise and a similar hope. Although believers have not been set free from earthly kings, they do enjoy the hope of an eternal city and the presence of their God.

A new calendar year can provide opportunity for those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb to reflect on the progress of their own spiritual journey. We might do well to remember that although 600,000 men plus all the women and children left Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua made it into that promised land. All had begun their journey with hope but after forty years of testing most died in the wilderness. “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) Following redemption comes testing!

Contrary to the teaching of some, not all the redeemed will find a presence in God’s eternal kingdom. Perhaps the new year is a good time to reflect on the Lord’s admonition: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 Italics added) God’s righteous requirements (Rom 8:4) must be met through obedience to the Holy Spirit.

The journey of the committed, of believers, is not easy and is not without testing (1 Thess 2:4) and trials. (Mt 24:9) Like Caleb and Joshua, the person who would enter the Promised Land must be found authentic when confronted with faith challenges (Mt 10:22) and must pursue a walk of obedience. (Heb 5:9) Satan would tempt believers to coast along the road of life and to appease their own desires and interests. As Satan said to Eve, “Did God really say…?” (Gen 3:1) and like Eve many will be led astray. He will tempt those in the Lord to trust that the fruit of the world is desirable and to be enjoyed without cost. Confessors have been admonished concerning the need to die to self (2 Cor 4:11; Col 3:5; Lk 9:24) and to live for Christ, however.

Satan would encourage people to pursue their own worldly desires, comforts, and carnal pleasures and this world has bought into his deceptions; however, the goal of believers is to be much different. It is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Lk 10:27) (Such a statement should be taken as a requirement, and not accepted as an exaggerated proclamation.) Losing a few pounds might make a person feel better and the pursuit of other carnal interests might result in gaining compliments, approval and pleasure, but they will not further the believer in his or her journey to the kingdom of God. Time passes quickly and with it opportunity to prove repentance (Acts 26:20) and to reveal to God the confessor’s conformity to the likeness of Christ. (Rom 8:29)

The new year gives opportunity to honestly examine the nature of the confessor’s love for God. It may even stir the heart and mind to examine that which God truly requires of his people so that they will not suffer his condemnation as “evil-doers” and be commanded to depart from him because he had never known them (Mt 7:23)—known for certain their faith commitment. There are many false teachings prevalent in the Christian community. Each person will enjoy or suffer the consequences of their own spiritual convictions and practices. “Did God really say…?” Believers need to be certain of what God did say because there are a variety of “truths” being presented, even though there is only one truth.

Does your Biblical understanding satisfy the following questions: Do you know and understand the New Covenant? Do you appreciate that you will face the judgment seat of Christ for things done in the flesh, whether good or bad? Do you appreciate the consequences of a negative judgment? Is your love for God complete or have you been pretending and perhaps playing church? Are you producing fruit in your own life and for the kingdom? To what extent have you been making use of the gift(s) given you at your confession of faith?

A new year is beginning, and it offers opportunity for reflection and introspection. God told the Israelites that the Passover was the beginning of the year for them, perhaps it should be considered as an opportunity to honestly reflect on your spiritual journey and the progress being made. Believers are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) and are expected to walk as he did. (1 Jn 2:6) The confessor’s redemption gives new hope with both promises and requirements, but these can be lost. Use this occasion to set your path straight and make your hope secure by following the Lord’s call upon your life. (Jn 10:27; Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18, 6:7─8)


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

December 31, 2018

Starting Another Chapter

Col 4: 5 KJVWalk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 516 KJVRedeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2019?

While some current Christian writers emphasize the importance of rest, others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle. There are two aspects to the Bible’s teaching on time management; time stewardship.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for restBe still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2018?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2019?

Nobody said this was easy.


Each of us is about to write another chapter of our lives. The turning of the pages of the calendar may be more significant to some people than it is to others, but the start of a new year is always a time to both look back and look forward. For that reason, I think Steve Green’s song is such a great way to end 2018.

This isn’t my all-time favorite song, or style, but when Steve Green or anyone else is taking their lyrics directly from scripture it creates something bigger than the song itself. When they were much younger I asked my kids if they can tell when, in the middle of devotional book we’re reading, the paragraph moves into a Bible quotation, and they both understood exactly where I was going with this question. There’s something about the power of God’s word that is so easily identified; it stands out from what the devotional writer is saying as though it was underlined, in bold face type, in giant print, or printed in bright orange.

The song’s key verse source is Philippians 1:6, but I’ll give you the verses that precede and follow for full context:

Phil 1:5(NIV) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

I don’t what you or I are facing in 2019, but we are each, in God’s eyes, a work in progress. And he doesn’t abandon his projects.

All God’s best for the new year.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

December 30, 2018

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord

For He alone is worthy,
For He alone is worthy,
For He alone is worthy, Christ the Lord

by Ruth Wilkinson

He alone is Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We find ourselves in this in-between week —
Between the fulfillment and the promises kept of Christmas,
and the better-or-worse, could-be-good-could-be-bad possibilities of the future.

The month of January is named after a character in mythology called Janus, who had two faces.
One on the front and one on the back.
One forever looking forward, and one forever looking behind.

And sometimes it seems that we can best move forward once we have, just for a moment, looked back.
To see where we’ve come from and how far we’ve travelled.

To know that we can grow, because we see how we’ve grown.
To know that we can learn, because we see what we’ve learned.
To know that we can become stronger, because we see that we’re stronger than we used to be.
To know that we can trust God, because we see that he’s proved himself trustworthy.

To be ready when, like the Psalm writer:

There are days when
my spirit is weak within me;
Days when
dismay overcomes my heart.
Days when
my spirit fails.
Days when
I feel I’m at the end of myself.

So I choose to I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all You have done;
I reflect on the work of Your hands.

I trust that
when I spread out my hands to You,
You will see that I’m parched.

I trust that you’ll answer me quickly.

Let me feel Your faithful love in the morning,
because I trust in You.
Let me understand the way I should go,
because I long for You.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
because I need your protection.
Teach me to do Your will,
because You are my God.

May Your gracious Spirit lead me on level ground.

Because of Your name, Yahweh,
let me live!
~Psalm 143



Subscribers: Yesterday’s post has been off, then on, then off, then on the blog. If you missed it, you should be able to locate it at this link. (If one or two of you could email me and let me know what you’ve been getting in your email, it would be interesting to know!)

December 29, 2018

Thunder! Lightning! Shaking!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our fourth time featuring the writing of David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

LORD of the Storm

Reading: Psalm 29
A psalm of David.
Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the L
ORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the L
ORD in the splendor of his holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,
the L
ORD thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the L
ORD breaks the cedars;
the L
ORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the L
ORD shakes the desert;
the L
ORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the L
ORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The L
ORD gives strength to his people; the LORD
blesses his people with peace (NIV).

Reflection
In Psalm 29 we see and hear the LORD, the God of the storm. There is an evocative poetic style to this psalm that helps the reader to picture the fury of the approaching tempest. But we not only see the flashes of lightning and the power of the wind, we also hear the booming thunder as it shakes the desert. The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

Nine times the psalmist repeats the phrase the voice of the LORD. In this psalm, the voice of the LORD is a very active force. The voice of the LORD thunders, breaks, strikes, shakes, twists and strips. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.

The voice of the LORD spoke the world into existence, set the planets in their orbits, and scattered the starry hosts across the heavens. A thunderstorm sweeping down from Lebanon is as nothing to Him.

But the LORD of the storm is also the LORD of peace. One day on the Sea of Galilee Jesus our Lord brought peace to the storm.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm (Mark 4:37-39).

Response: You are the LORD of the storm and the LORD of peace. When storms arise in my life help me to trust you completely. Lord Jesus, grant me peace in the midst of the storm. Amen.

Your Turn: Jesus says to us, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40). Are you hearing him?

November 5, 2018

Seeking the Kingdom When It’s Convenient

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back with Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. He lives in Rochester, NY.

How He Gives Us What We Need

Luke 12:29-32 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

A good deal of the 12th chapter of Luke deals with the foolishness of pursuing riches before all else, and is an encouragement to us that God knows what we need and will supply. We all need to get it down deep in our hearts that “your Father knows that you need these things.”

Yet there is a different perspective we are to take to those things that we need. The Lord doesn’t say, “Seek after these things and I will make sure they shall be added to you.” The Word says “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” That’s a whole different emphasis. Phrased different, God promises to meet our needs as we put Him first. That’s the order: Him first, then our needs are met.

Many of us serve God in our spare time, in effect seeking the kingdom when it’s convenient. What is locked down for many of us are a solid job and a “good life,” and then in that context, we serve Him as time and energy allow. But that is not how He promises to provide. He promises to provide as we put His kingdom first. Yes, that takes faith, and it doesn’t look like anything the world has ever known or modeled for us. God is gracious and full of blessing, and “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He may have allowed you many a material blessing, but that doesn’t mean that you are putting His kingdom first.

What often gets lost here in our fear of letting go and seeking His kingdom first is the promise of v. 32: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Unlike in the world, where we often have to swim upstream, fighting the “sharks” and burning the midnight oil to get ahead, God shows us His heart: He not only is willing to give us the kingdom, it is His good pleasure. He’s not only inclined to give us the kingdom; it brings Him joy to do so.

It can be greatly challenging to live a life of faith, where we put His kingdom first and believe that He knows our needs and will supply them. But some of the pain we encounter in trying to live this way is from not fully believing that He wants to give us His kingdom. We sometimes think that He is like the world, and that we have to strive against great odds for spiritual success, as we often have to do for success in the kingdom of this world.

We will always face spiritual warfare as we seek to put His kingdom first. But may we never forget that He has promised us victory in Christ. And before, during and after any struggle, it is always His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. As we keep putting His kingdom first, we come to see how very much He wants to give it to us.

Prayer: Father, help me to see this principle of Your kingdom more clearly than I ever have. Help me to make the spiritual leap to putting Your kingdom first and trusting You for the rest. Give me eyes to see how You give me Your kingdom.


If you enjoyed this article, check out another by Mark, Can You Hear Me Now?


Behind the scenes:

What we do here at Christianity 201 is possible because of the many people who have allowed us to showcase their material and highlight their ministry on these pages. I am grateful for the people who write us quite thrilled that we had discovered their blog or website and wanted to share their message with our readers.

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Occasionally, in the excitement of reading great articles, we’ll post something for which an author has expressly indicated copyright. While most of us get to do this in our spare time, there are some who make their living writing and don’t want web searches to take readers to secondary pages where their material has been used.

Earlier today we accused of copyright infringement for using an article in 2017 where the article was too long for our format, but contained excellent information we thought would be helpful to readers. We went out of our way to encourage people to read it at source, but we did copy an excerpt from each of six sections, plus we were unaware of there being a copyright notice on the article at that time.  For that I apologize.

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September 19, 2018

Where Does the Object of Your Faith Reside?

Elsie Montgomery is one of the most faithful devotional writers I encounter when preparing these articles to share with you. She’s now in her 12th year of writing and this is her 15th time being highlighted here at C201. Click the title below and read it at her blog, Practical Faith.

Burdens can reveal the object of my faith

A Christian perspective can be easily misinterpreted. Because I know that God is sovereign and able to govern the world and all that it is in it, I can be calm regarding the stuff that happens because I know God is in charge. This calm reliance on His love and power can be misinterpreted; people might thing that I don’t care about the mayhem and tragedy in this world. Sometimes I misinterpret my burdens though. I can feel deep concern for the mess out there because God cares about the suffering going on in this world, but I can also be in a flap because I don’t believe that He does care. One burden comes from having His heart of compassion; the other is based on fear and panic.

Tozer said that warm hearts and cool heads should belong to Christians. His reason? We are seated above earthly circumstances and can calmly look down without being moved in spirit over the happenings in this world. He points to this passage:

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’” (Hebrews 8:1–5)

Even though Tozer’s conclusions are often a stretch from the Scriptures he uses, this passage did remind me that the Lord God is on the throne. He is the High Priest of heaven who is sovereign, even when I cannot understand what He is doing.

Why then the burdens? The weight in my heart for a world gone crazy can have two sources: fear or faith. I can panic over floods, hurricanes, typhoons, crime, fires and so on because they are tragic and God’s creation is suffering. I can feel the heart of a caring God who knows and cares for even the sparrows that fall (Luke 12). Yet if my burden is the burden of the Holy Spirit for pain and loss, it is not excessive because Jesus said, “My burden is light” (Matthew 11). It is also evidence that the Spirit who lives in me is conveying to me His heart for the needs of people.

However, those burdens can be fearful and overwhelming, without trust in God’s sovereign power and even rooted in fear and pride. I start thinking that I must do something even if it is only identifying with the pain of others. Fear is anxious about the outcome and acts without waiting on the Lord for direction. With fear, I try to run the world even though I know He is the only one who can.

The burdens of faith are rooted in humility. They are the result of a heart willing to bear whatever the Lord puts on it, then praying to give it back to Him. It is obeying what I know — that God can deal with it. He might give me an assignment but humility assumes nothing, not even that my prayers will ‘fix’ these issues. They belong to God, not my will. Faith in Him knows Jesus will ‘win’ even when everything looks very black. Fear runs in circles; faith attaches itself to God.

Jesus, when the burdens of the world start getting me down, I realize I must pray lest my faith slip into fear. Forgive me for letting that happen and quickly let me know so I will be praising You instead of banging my head against a wall.

July 7, 2018

When Jesus Comes in the Storm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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NIV.Matthew.14.22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Doubtstorms

by Max Lucado

On Sundays I stand before a church with a three-point outline in my hand, thirty minutes on the clock, and a prayer on my lips. I do my best to say something that will convince a stranger that an unseen God still hears.

And I sometimes wonder why so many hearts have to hurt.

Do you ever get doubtstorms? Some of you don’t, I know. I’ve talked to you.

I think you are gifted. You are gifted with faith. You can see the rainbow before the clouds part. If you have this gift, then I won’t say anything you need to hear.

But others of you wonder…

You wonder if it is a blessing or a curse to have a mind that never rests. But you would rather be a cynic than a hypocrite, so you continue to pray with one eye open and wonder:

– about starving children

– about the power of prayer

– about the depths of grace

– about Christians in cancer wards

– about who you are to ask such questions anyway.

Tough questions. Throw-in-the-towel questions. Questions the disciples must have asked in the storm.

The light came for the disciples. A figure came to them walking on the water. It wasn’t what they expected. Perhaps they were looking for angels to descend or heaven to open. Maybe they were listening for a divine proclamation to still the storm. We don’t know what they were looking for. But one thing is for sure, they weren’t looking for

Jesus to come walking on the water.

“‘It’s a ghost,’ they said and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:26).

And since Jesus came in a way they didn’t expect, they almost missed seeing the answer to their prayers.

And unless we look and listen closely, we risk making the same mistake. God’s lights in our dark nights are as numerous as the stars, if only we’ll look for them.

When the disciples saw Jesus in the middle of their stormy night, they called him a ghost. A phantom. A hallucination. To them, the glow was anything but God.

When we see gentle lights on the horizon, we often have the same reaction. We dismiss occasional kindness as apparitions, accidents, or anomalies. Anything but God.

“When Jesus comes,” the disciples in the boat may have thought, “he’ll split the sky. The sea will be calm. The clouds will disperse.”

“When God comes,” we doubters think, “all pain will flee. Life will be tranquil. No questions will remain.”

And because we look for the bonfire, we miss the candle. Because we listen for the shout, we miss the whisper.


Excerpt from In the Eye of the Storm (1991)


Ryan Stevenson: In the Eye of the Storm:

June 20, 2018

Overrealized Eschatology

Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

This is our very first time with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community. Like our sister blog, Thinking Out Loud, Ted has an extensive blogroll of interesting websites and writers which I encourage you to be aware of. Given the wide mix of authors we introduce here, we thought this article provided balance on what can be a sensitive, personal subject for some. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Deeper Life Mystique and Mistake

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