Christianity 201

October 15, 2017

Sunday Worship

A few years ago we were reading Psalm 106. You know that one. The one where the Israelites are reminded of all the times they screwed up as a nation. The times they forgot their God. Then it suddenly occurs to me. This is a PSALM. They SANG THIS. This was one of their WORSHIP SONGS. As in, “Take your hymnbook and turn to number 106.” How do you SING stuff that is so self deprecating? Definitely a minor key.

6 We have sinned, even as our fathers did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

7 When our fathers were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his counsel.

14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wasteland they put God to the test.

15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease upon them.

16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.

17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.

18 Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.

19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.

20 They exchanged their Glory
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.

21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,

22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.

25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the LORD.

26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the desert,

27 make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;

29 they provoked the LORD to anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.

30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.

31 This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.

32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;

33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips. [c]

34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the LORD had commanded them,

35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.

36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.

37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.

38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.

39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

40 Therefore the LORD was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.

41 He handed them over to the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.

42 Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.

43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.

Okay, I left out a few of the good verses. But even so…

We always want our songs to be happy.  The modern church doesn’t do lament well. What if Western Christians had a song that was the modern equivalent to this?  In her review at Thinking Out Loud of The Ben Ripple my wife wrote:

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

In a review of a new NLT edition that contains a section of laments, I quoted the authors:

“These are the questions we’re all afraid to ask God, and the complaints we might hesitate to voice to him. The truth is, God desires our honest doubts, questions and complaints. After all, the writers of the Bible regularly lament, crying out to God and questioning him about injustices, pains and problems.

In 2012 at Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike looked at our propensity to edit the Psalms of Lament to suit our purposes in a piece about Sanitizing the Wilderness:

Contemporary “worship” music is especially weak when it comes to giving voice to the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions. Even when today’s songwriters make use of the Psalms they tend to transform the raw, earthy language that describes our complex, often messy relationships with God and others into easily digestible spiritual sentiments…

…It takes one image from a rich, profound, complex and realistic description of life and latches on to it because the image evokes a simple devotional sentiment that prompts an immediate emotion. We set it to music, and voila! — people get the idea we are singing “Scripture.”

Instead, in Psalm 106, we have true scripture, but the part of it that we tend to ignore or forget. But in its own way, this too is worship.


We also looked at Psalm 106 in a June, 2012 article, God Keeps Putting Up With Us.

October 3, 2017

Obedience and Faith

by Russell Young

The connection between obedience and faith needs to be understood. One of the main themes of the Bible is that believers, the redeemed, need to walk in faith throughout their lifetimes if they are to gain God’s heavenly kingdom. Christ said, “he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22, 24:13; Mk 13:13) “Standing firm” is being steadfast in faith. Although many take faith to be a possession, it is also a practice. The great faith chapter of Hebrews 11 records the way many of the great heroes and saints of time past revealed their faith by their actions. James has recorded, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (Jas 2:26 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has clearly presented that the disobedient lack faith. “And to whom did God swear that they would not enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18 NIV) Those who rest their hope solely in a confession of faith once made need to consider these words.

  The Israelite Exodus, those “redeemed” from Egypt (Deut 7:8; Mic 6:4,) reveals the consequences that rested on the nation because of their rebellion against the authority of God, because they lacked faith in him. The first generation of those who left Egypt was condemned to die in the wilderness; they had disobeyed God and had tested him repeatedly (Num 14:22), treating him with contempt. (v. 23) Their children were to suffer for the “unfaithfulness” of their parents. (v. 33) The generation of those who had left Egypt were prevented from entering the Promised Land and from enjoying its riches. Like the Israelites of old, many of the redeemed today will be left to wander the dryness of wilderness life because of their disobedience; some will never cross the Jordan to gain the eternal rest promised in God’s Word.

Since the Reformation many teachers have offered that God’s grace is their only need and their hope and in making their presentations they have allowed a philosophical understanding of “God’s grace” to invade their thinking displacing any notion of obedience which is often considered to be “works.” In the only instance were “eternal salvation” is presented in the Word it is stated as being achieved through obedience to Christ just as God required of the Israelites in the Exodus. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV, Italics added.) The disobedient are those walking in unbelief, who are lacking in faith. Knowing God, trusting him, compels a walk of obedience. Christ is to lead the way and believers are to humbly follow. Christ is the Holy Spirit and it is he as Spirit who is to direct their walk. (2 Cor 3:17, 18; Gal 2:20,4:6; Col 1:27)

Those who defy the Spirit through disobedient acts blaspheme him and will be cut from the body. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” (Num 15:30-31 NIV)

  Disobedience has been the sin issue that has separated humankind from their creator from the beginning of time.  God had told the Israelites, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5 NIV) As a nation they were to obey the Lord and follow his commands and decrees. (Deut 27:19) Of course, they could not accomplish the righteous requirements that the Lord had set forth in his law. Through the Holy Spirit believers have been enabled with “everything that is needed for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) They have been made “competent.” (2 Cor 3:6 NIV) Believers have not been given life and godliness but all that is needed for it. (2 Pet 1:3) Just as God had required the Israelites to obey him, he requires obedience to the Spirit, Christ in them. The Lord can do through his presence in believers what they can not do for themselves because of the weakness of their sinful nature (Rom 8:3), but their faith must be sufficient to obediently follow him.

Faith is persuasion of the promises and power of Christ, including his Spirit, to accomplish the believer’s eternal hope. Faith requires the practice of that faith through humble obedience to the only one able to accomplish it for them, the Lord.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

August 17, 2017

Neither Magic Nor Rocket Science, Ephesians 6:12

by Clarke Dixon

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

You can imagine the first readers of Paul’’s letter becoming excited with these words as many of them would have been new believers who had previously worshiped pagan deities. They had known all along that there were spiritual realities beyond what could be seen, that there were spiritual forces at work, and indeed this had always been a part of their pagan world-view. You can imagine also the ideas creeping back as to what to do about these forces of evil in the heavenly realms. What libations can we pour out? What oracles must be consulted? What offerings must be brought? Tell us, Paul, what to do that we can influence these spiritual forces!? What does Paul come up with?

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:13-18 (NIV)

In other words: Be honest. Be good. Be ready to forgive and make peace, showing others the way to God’s forgiveness and peace. Keep the faith. Trust in God’s power and love. Trust in God’’s Word. Communicate with the Lord. Do we notice how down-to-earth this list of things to do in the face of evil spiritual forces really is? There is no magic to be performed here, no rituals that will protect from evil or influence the spirits as those coming out of pagan religions would be used to. Rather there is the encouragement to be godly, to be becoming more like God. The reference to the armor of God is a reference to His character traits and His resources as the Old Testament references make clear (see post on Ephesians 6:1-20). Tap into that, not magic or ritual.

Sometimes in our attempts to be spiritual today we can unwittingly introduce pagan-style superstition into our faith. My wife once worked at a Christian bookstore not far from an army base, and as preparations were made for a deployment of soldiers, suddenly crosses and Saint Michael medallions became hot sellers. While wearing a cross can serve as a powerful reminder of God’s love, and for Roman Catholics the Saint Michael medal can be a reminder of God’s protection, I have no doubt that there are those that think that actually wearing such increase your chances of being protected. This kind of thing is pure superstition. Sought after items too, were St Joseph statues as some believe you will sell your home faster if you bury the poor fella in your yard. Even better if he is upside down! This too is superstition. Our prayers themselves can also become superstitious. Some think that if we just say the right words, or keep up with some regimen, our prayers are more likely to be answered. Do we do this kind of thing in our communications with our loved ones? Of course not, then why would we with our Lord? When it comes to prayer, He wants to engage with us, not our superstitions.

In Ephesians Paul is encouraging us to be aware of spiritual realities and spiritual forces, but our faith, in both belief and practice, turns out to be a really down-to-earth thing. Let’’s watch out for superstition creeping in.

At this point we need to consider an objection. Some will respond with: ‘Well is not the whole Christian faith one big superstition?’

We do not have the time to go into detail here, but no. Belief that God exists has much to commend itself. Let us not forget the likes of C.S. Lewis who came to Christ, not through a preacher’s appeal like at a Billy Graham crusade, but through thinking about it for a long time. In fact, the Christian faith is tied to a historical, or perhaps we might say “down-to-earth” event, namely the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Look at the beginning of Christianity and you will not find the spreading of a superstition or philosophy or the like, but rather knowledge of a historical event. You will not find the making public of ideas hatched in private. You will find the making more public something that had happened in public, the meaning of which was being worked out in public. (I forget the name of the blogger who should get credit for much of the last two sentences.) Christianity from day one was a very down-to-earth kind of thing; spiritual realities based in historical realities. In fact so ’down-to-earth’ was their faith that the early Christians were accused of spreading atheism since they encouraged skepticism towards all superstitious belief.

This brings us to the other extreme our passage will guard against. If some tend towards believing anything, even that which smacks of the superstitious, there are those who will believe nothing. Our verse is an affirmation that there are “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Some want to believe that there are neither spiritual forces, nor heavenly realms, that all that you can see, is all that there is, or at least all that is worth knowing about.

But is that a good way to look at things? There are many things that can not be seen, but are known. For example, though some may have seen a brain, no one has ever seen a mind. You cannot examine a mind under a microscope. We know the two are connected somehow, but we have no idea how. There are now about eight billion people in the world which works out to about eight million minds. That is eight billion bits of evidence that things exist which cannot be seen. A mind, however, can be experienced. So can God.

Also, history proves that hidden things can become apparent. There is much that could not be seen in the past which we now know about. Many of the things we believe about our planet and universe would not be believed by the ancients as they did not have the same access to such knowledge. Travel back in time and share what you know, and you will be faced with many sceptics. Travel forward in time and you will find realities like judgement and salvation being very much observed and experienced. The Bible gives us a window on truths that have been observed in the past, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but also a window on truths that can not yet be seen.

The teaching of the Bible is clear: There are spiritual realities around us that we should not expect to see. However, the existence of spiritual forces does not invite us into a world of superstition, but rather deeper into living for Jesus.

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

July 3, 2017

Praying for Healing

Once again we’re visiting Biblical Proof, the blog of Alfred Shannon, Jr. There are some great articles here dealing with subjects that should interest you. Click the title below to read this one and then navigate the site to look at other topics. Also, note the writer’s perspective on healing vs. miracle healing. A cessationist might believe that the day of miracles is over but still adhere to the admonition in today’s key scripture passage. For such people, definitions have to be adjusted to fit with an overarching theology. What’s important here however is the importance of asking God for help.

Praying For The Sick

Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (Jam 5:14-15).

I have noticed that when we pray for someone who is sick, frequently the prayer goes something like this:

“Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the many blessings you have given us. . . . We come to you in prayer especially at this time in behalf of our brother who is sick. We pray that you will bless the doctors and nurses who are attending to him. We pray that you will be with his family in this hour of crisis that they might minister to his needs and be a source of comfort, consolation, and strength to him”.

There is nothing in this prayer that should not be prayed for. However, the prayer frequently comes to an end without the one leading it ever asking the Lord to heal the sick body of the person who is suffering. In my observations at the hospital, I see the doctor in pretty good health, not worried about how to pay his medical bills, and doing quite well. The nurses attending to the needs of my loved one also look cheerful, in good health, and generally doing better than the one lying in the hospital bed. The family and friends who come to cheer and comfort the sick also seem relatively in good condition. Any of these can properly be the objects of our prayer. However, in this situation, who is most in need of our prayers? Obviously, the sick person who is in such poor condition that he had to be admitted into the hospital. Why should anyone be so reluctant to pray for him?

Have we so studiously avoided the errors of modem Pentecostalism that we are afraid to ask the Lord to heal the body of someone who is sick? I hope that we have not reached a point in our faith that we no longer believe that prayer does any good. Before proceeding any further, let me close a couple of doors. There are two erroneous concepts of the present operation of the world:

(1) The Pentecostals are wrong when they promise miraculous healing to those who are sick. There are no miracles being performed today. Faith is not a condition to physical health.

(2) The naturalists are also wrong who teach that everything is governed solely by natural law. The deistic concept of the universe teaches that God created and empowered the universe; ever since creation everything has occurred as a result of natural law. The naturalists deny that God even created the world, but are agreed with the deists in believing that all things that happen are the result of the operation of natural law. Neither believes that God intervenes in the affairs of man. Neither of these concepts are true. God does work in the affairs of men, as is expressly stated in such passages as Daniel 4:32. I am afraid that some Christians may be approaching the deistic concept of the world. That would be the case if one were to conclude that prayer does not change things.

When Hezekiah became aware that he was sick with an illness that would lead to death, he prayed to God and wept (2 Kin 20:3). The Lord answered his prayer and extended his life for fifteen years.

The 116th Psalm records the praise of a saint delivered from death. He described his condition:

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

Then called I upon the name of the Lord; 0 Lord, I beseech you, deliver my soul (3-4).

The psalmist brought his plight before the Lord and asked for his divine assistance and aid.

If we cannot directly ask for God’s help when we are sick, how can we praise and glorify him when we are healed? If we believe that he has nothing to do with our recovery, why praise him for deliverance? Why not solely give thanks to the doctors, nurses, and natural laws that enable us to recuperate? Most doctors will tell you that they cure no one, but that information evidently hasn’t gotten into the minds of God’s children. Doctors are not God and it is impossible for man to heal anyone. Only God heals! (Jer 17:14)

I plan to ask for God to heal me when I become ill. I am not asking him to perform a miracle, but I am asking him in his providence to heal my sick body. There is not a father or mother among us with a sick child who has not unabashedly taken their prayer directly to God and asked him to let the child live!

Why are we afraid to say in public what we pray in private? Let us not hesitate to ask God to extend the life of our loved ones, to heal their sick body that they might resume their role in the home, and to strengthen them during the hours of their sickness. Let us also recognize that the God who has the power to heal also has the privilege of saying to me like he did to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). I will pray earnestly until I clearly see that the answer to my prayer is “My grace is sufficient for you.” When I so perceive his reply, I will quit asking for healing and ask for the strength to accept what has come to me.

In the meantime, let us avoid the tendency of allowing our reaction to Pentecostalism to drive us away from asking God to heal the sick.


Here is our runner up from Biblical Proof which looks at the prayers of sinners (not to be confused with the sinner’s prayer.) Does God Hear A Sinner’s Prayer?

April 30, 2017

Joy in Testing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

James taught that believers should “consider it pure joy” when they face trials. (James 1:2 NIV) “Trials” in this passage is derived from the Greek peirasmos which means “a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity: -temptation, X try.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) In essence he is saying that Christ-followers are to take calm delight in the opportunity given to prove their faith because through proving their faith they develop perseverance and perseverance produces maturity. That is, working through trials engenders maturity.

At first glance the thought of having to face testing is something that is not welcome. Who wants their peace and comfort removed, even temporarily? The truth is, however, that testing develops spiritual strength and confidence in the Lord. It also refines the skills needed to gain victory over temptations, provided that the one being tested perseveres to the end.

There is a challenge to the concept of eternal salvation present in James’ proclamation. That is, if a person’s eternal salvation was accomplished at confession of faith, how could faithfully persevering through trials benefit him or her, and if benefit could not be derived, how can joy be found in needless discomfort or pain?

Jesus taught that you must be born again if you are to have any hope of gaining God’s eternal Kingdom. (Jn 3:3) New birth is the production of a baby, not a mature adult. Being “born again” means a new beginning with the indwelling presence of Christ as the Holy Spirit. It is Christ in the believer that is his hope of glory (Col 1:27), but the born-again believer is still a spiritual baby. There are many basic or foundational teachings (Heb 6:1─2) that are needed to nourish the infant, however the writer of Hebrews has recorded: “Anyone who lives on milk (the foundational teachings) is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5: 13─14 NIV) Teachings about righteousness are the ‘meat’ of the gospel and strengthen those who use them because they help believers learn to distinguish good from evil and through perseverance prove, demonstrate, or reveal their faith through righteous practices.

Why are trials considered to be “pure joy”? Why should the person undergoing trials accept them with an attitude of calm delight? Faith is not proven to God or to oneself through easy living. It is not developed in times of peace and comfort. Peter spoke of the inheritance to come for the faithful but states that “though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come to prove your faith-of greater value than gold, which even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6─7 NIV) Faithfulness, having been proven, will result in a person’s glorification. Those who do not faithfully persevere will not be found in God’s eternal kingdom. (Mt 10:22)

“Faith” means ‘persuasion’ and although most come to Christ having been persuaded of God’s reality, their need, and his life-saving ministry for them, their persuasion is often not sufficient to enable perseverance through difficult trials and the proving of his faithfulness. Persuasion in these regards is gradually built or put on through experience and trials.

After releasing the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, the LORD took them on a circuitous route to the Promised Land through the desert “to test their faithfulness to him.” (Ex 15:25 NLT) Given their inexperience with him the Lord was not about to put them under trial or testing early in their journey. He said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Ex 13:17 NIV) They needed to be victorious in trials and to learn of him if they were to become strong and committed to honoring him. The journey to the Promised Land could have been completed in eleven days but took forty years. Moses reminded his people, “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 hearts, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2 NIV) The life journey of the believer, even today, is a testing of his or her faith so that the Lord might know what is in their hearts. The reader is reminded of Jesus’ proclamation as recorded by Matthew: “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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you (was not sure of, you had not proven faithful) Away from me you evildoers!’” (Mt 7:21-23 NIV)

A life lived free of concern for evil and lacking repentance concerning its practice will have eternal consequences regardless of deceptive teachings that promote otherwise. God will not be mocked! The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament and the believer’s understanding needs to reflect that reality. It is through his mercy and grace that the Father through his Son has provided means for accomplishing his righteous requirements. (2 Pet 1:3) The believer should count perseverance through tribulations as opportunity to prove his or her faithfulness and commitment and should find joy as they gain victory through the trial of the moment by relying on the enlightenment, leading and power of their Savior. So, count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds.



Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

March 18, 2017

Negative Thoughts May Block Healing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
 ~Song of Songs 2:15

In our quest to feature writers from different branches of Christianity, today we are paying a return visit to the blog Power Up! which is part of the Charisma Magazine website. This particular blog is updated weekly and features different Charismatic writers. To read this at source, explore other articles on the blog, and then migrate to one of ten other blogs on the site, click the title below; for more info on the writer, click her name below the title or the links at the bottom of today’s article.

Liberating Your Mind From ‘Destructive, Little Foxes’ That Block Your Healing

by Kathie Walters

“Why is it that when I get physically hurt, I can receive healing right away, but emotional hurts hang on for months?” my friend Jill asked me. I answered with a question: “What do you do when you need a physical healing?”

Jill thought for a while. “When my father was visiting me,” she replied, I made the mistake of mounting one of the horses while we were in the barn. The horse reared up, and I fell off. Then the horse fell on me, and the horn of the western saddle dug into my stomach.”

“What did you do, I asked?” I asked. “I immediately began to praise and thank the Lord for my healing,” Jill said. “I could feel pain, but I didn’t allow any negative thoughts to enter my mind. I kept praising Jesus and looking to Him, and within a few minutes all the pain left, and I was totally OK.”

Jill told me that she had experienced similar healings in the past, so her faith was built up in the area of physical healing. I asked her about the problem she was having with receiving inward, emotional healing.

Before she could respond, the Holy Spirit began to show me what the problem was. “You receive the inner healing when you pray, don’t you?” I asked. “But then negative thoughts come and you start to dwell on them, right?” Jill thought for a few minutes and agreed that this was what happened whenever she was hurt emotionally.

Jill’s difficulty is a widespread one in the body of Christ today. Many of us have had physical or emotional healings or even visions and words from the Lord that we received and believed at the time. Then after a while negative thoughts began to come and fight against the healing or vision. As we entertained the thoughts, they got a stronger hold, and then we became double-minded.

The apostle James tells us that a person who is double-minded is “unstable in ALL his ways” (James 1:8, emphasis added). He also says that we are to “Ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (v. 6) and is unlikely to “receive anything from the Lord” (v.7).

No wonder the devil wants us to entertain negative thoughts that war against our faith! No wonder we are told to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5)!

Thoughts can be very positive and build our faith, or they can become the means of aborting our vision. The devil doesn’t want us to prove God and fulfill our destiny, so he continually throws thoughts into our minds like arrows. If we are not on guard against them, the arrows will enter and bring unbelief, doubt, fear and even depression and defeat. Remember, God is not a yes and no God! The Bible says that “ALL the promises of God in [Christ Jesus] are YES, and in Him, AMEN, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20, emphasis added).

Our first battle is in the mind. This is why Paul instructs us to “Gird up the loins of [our] mind[s]” (1 Pet.1:13). To “gird,” according to Webster’s dictionary, means “to encircle, bind, to surround, to prepare oneself for a trial ahead, to provide, equip or invest with power.”

Paul is saying there is a preparation we need to make concerning our minds. In the book of Ephesians he tells is what it is: putting on the pieces of armor, particularly the helmet of salvation, that are given to us to equip us for battle. What is the helmet for? It covers the mind.

Sometimes we get so busy wielding the sword that we forget to put on our helmets and “gird up the loins of our minds.” Then Satan has a field day. Remember, his ministry is the same today as it was in the beginning—to plant doubt in the in mind of God’s people by asking, “Has God indeed said?” (Gen. 3:1).

When God gives you a word or a vision, or gives you direction for your life and calling, you receive it and are excited. But then Satan, that sly, old fox, sends all his little foxes out to capture your thoughts, generally before you’ve had the opportunity to lay hold of your vision. Just as in the natural foxes come to steal the farmers’ chickens, in the spiritual realm Satan’s cohorts come to steal God’s word out of your heart and mind by causing you to doubt. Many of God’s children have almost given up their “word” or the vision that God imparted because of these destructive little foxes that come in the guise of negative thoughts.

The negative thoughts are particularly destructive when they play on past disappointment. If if the enemy can get us to dwell on all the times when we didn’t receive what we hoped or believed for, he will lead us into certain defeat. Don’t allow past disappointments to affect your present faith! Instead, look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of [your] faith” (Heb. 12:2).

God wants us to walk in faith to receive the things we need to do His work. We must be filled with the Spirit and with faith in order to bring healing and deliverance and dwell in the wisdom of God, not just for our own lives but for others’ also. So put on your helmet of salvation, and when you see those foxes advancing, send them packing by taking every thought captive and trusting Jesus to increase your faith.

Prayer Power:

As you pray this week, remember God’s Word and believe what He has promised on your behalf (2 Cor.1:20). Claim the Scriptures for the salvation of your loved ones, the furtherance of the gospel, and the establishment of His kingdom on earth. Continue to pray for worldwide revival, and especially for our own nation. Remember our government and spiritual leaders and ask the Lord to give them wisdom, grace and protection (1 Tim. 2:1-3; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Cor. 10:5).

March 3, 2017

Devotional for 3/3: The Trinity

Someone pointed out the coincidence (if that applies) that a major motion picture about the Trinity is releasing on 3/3. That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

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

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

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

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

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

to the Son

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

and to the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

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

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

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

John 15: 26 ESV

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

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

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

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

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

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

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

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

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

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For that article… continue reading here.

Finally, in January of this year, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

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

and ever shall be, world without end.

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

For more of that article… continue reading here.

February 11, 2017

Truth and Honesty in Times of Depression

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Pastor Kevin Rogers has been one of the most frequent writers here since we began C201. In January, he ran a series of posts all containing the world Blue and words which rhyme with it.  In the introductory piece, Lonely and Blue he set up the series noting how depression peaks in winter (which it is here in the Northern hemisphere) and went on to write Blue, Take Your Cue before writing today’s piece:

BLUE, BE HONEST AND TRUE

Truth can be painful because it proclaims life’s situations as they are, and not as we hoped they would have been. An important step out of loneliness is to be honest with God and with others. If you are not being honest with yourself, there’s no way for you to be honest with God.

Sometimes we want to minimize our problems or live in denial. We may be too proud to admit that we have a problem.

There are many people who hide behind service to others. They will do things for all kinds of people, but leave their own needs unmet. Perhaps you find it harder to pray for yourself. This is a false belief that it is wrong to ask God or anyone else to take care of you. This lack of self-love will lead to isolation and self-loathing.

God will never belittle you for being honest with Him about your deep inner feelings. He really does love and care for you.

1 Peter 5:7

“Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”

God’s ability to work in our lives is dependent upon our openness to Him and allowing Him to absorb our deep inner hurt. His power to heal our fears and pains deepens with our honesty. He will not take away the anxieties that we keep from Him.

Many do not make themselves vulnerable to God. They hold back in fear. They think they are being childish, rude or selfish if they bring their complaints to God. It’s as if we want to keep our relationship with God on a professional, adult level. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out too well. We need to let God see the hurt and immaturity that grips us.

1 Peter 1:13

“Prepare your mind for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

People of fate believe that they are lonely because it is meant to be, but people of faith believe differently. They do not take loneliness sitting down. People with faith cry out to God and look for an answer that will help them break free of their cycle of frustration.

 

January 30, 2017

Christianity 201: Devotional # 2500

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

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

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

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

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

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

“So here we are;” said the man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 2,500 posts here at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

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

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

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

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

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

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

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

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

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

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

January 17, 2017

Healing and Testing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Atlanta pastor and author Charles Stanley and the broadcast organization, InTouch Ministries. As we did last year, we’re bringing you a two-for-one special because the articles are shorter. We’ve grouped two together I think make a good fit. Each also includes an audio reading of the same material.

When God Does Not Heal

NLT Prov 3:3 Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!
    Tie them around your neck as a reminder.
    Write them deep within your heart.
Then you will find favor with both God and people,
    and you will earn a good reputation.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

In Touch - Charles Stanley“Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?” We can understand the reason that this is a common question—it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?

The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today’s reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read James’s exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, Count me out! Difficulties and joy just don’t seem to go together—that is, unless we understand God’s perspective of what life is about.

When James spoke of joy, he wasn’t referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn’t telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we’re in when we come out on the other side.

When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance; being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What’s more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don’t need to be afraid or anxious.

God’s desire is to bless you, not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!


Testing Builds Endurance

Dear brothers and sisters,[Gk brothers] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

“Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?” We can understand the reason that this is a common question—it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?

The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today’s reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read James’s exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, Count me out! Difficulties and joy just don’t seem to go together—that is, unless we understand God’s perspective of what life is about.

When James spoke of joy, he wasn’t referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn’t telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we’re in when we come out on the other side.

When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance; being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What’s more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don’t need to be afraid or anxious.

God’s desire is to bless you, not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!


Link for the second devotional is found in the archives section, click to 1/13/17

January 16, 2017

On Speaking Things into Existence

As I grow older, one of the striking things about the distinctions between denominations is not the doctrinal beliefs per se, but rather the terminology used which differs from church to church. For many of you as well, the phrase speaking things into existence probably sounds like something you would hear in a Charismatic or Pentecostal context. The implied message in these congregations is that this is something we can do.

The origin of the phrase begins in Romans 4:17

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (NIV)

On a forum at Biblical Hermenuetics the challenge is spelled out:

Rom 4:16-17:

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring — not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (ESV)

This last part reads, in NA-28:

καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα

I’m having a hard time arriving at the English given above (which is consistent with most translations [but see below]), which seems to entail a reference to creation ex nihilo. The phrase is literally something like:

calling that which is not being as being

Unclear to me are both the meaning of καλέω (to call) is this context and the meaning of the ὡς + participle construction, which seems most often to indicate “as [if] being/doing X”.2 Interestingly, the KJV gives:

and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

While this English isn’t exceptionally clear, I at least understand how it relates to the Greek…

I decided to investigate this verse in various commentaries.

  • The NIV Study Bible reminds us that the context in Romans 4 is Abraham, and notes that the birth of Isaac is an example of God creating out of nothing.
  • The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (p. 934) continues this theme. Paul “introduces the historical fact that God in his mysterious providence and testing kept Abraham and Sarah waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of a son until long after human conception and birth was physical possibility, thereby heightening the miracle of the event and the absolute necessity of faith. It was Abraham’s trust in God as true to his word in spite of appearances and the fact that he “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.”
  • The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary (p. 1024) notes that the speaking things into existence is a divine attribute and that actually two are listed, the other being giving life to the dead. Clearly, this isn’t necessarily something we can do.
  • The International Bible Commentary (p. 1325) reminds us that God “can both renew life and issue his creative call.” There is a reference to Isaiah 41:4 “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.'” (NASB)
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (p. 1125) spends a little longer with this verse: “This is the Lord’s power to create. It could also easily be translated: God calls into being what does not exist as (easily as he calls) that which does exist. No mortal can comprehend the divine creative power. The bringing of animate and inanimate objects into existence and their maintenance is God’s activity . The nature of the objects may be discussed — mind, matter, energy — but the why and how of their existence can be known accurately only to the extent that the Lord reveals them.

At the website Heartland, we’re presented with a much longer Bible study on the subject of God speaking things into existence which focuses on three examples:

  1. Creation
  2. Sin (an interesting concept to consider; I had to read this one twice)
  3. Salvation

…So can we speak things into existence?

I started out by saying this verse gives birth to certain phrases commonly in use in certain types of churches. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to ask God to increase our faith. I believe we are to pray in faith. I believe in a God of miracles. But I’m not sure its right to import particular words or expressions into situations they were never meant to address. It certainly sounds spiritual to speak of “speaking it into existence” but it might be misappropriation of that particular verse.

In a sermon this fall, Willow Creek Discipleship Director Rick Shurtz said, “If you have to speak it into existence you’re not trusting God, you’re playing God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 26, 2016

Compromise: Making it “Easier” to be a Christian

Today we’re returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take ten minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source.

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

Friends, we are called as disciples to “preach the Word” and be ready in season and out of season”when the circumstances are for us and when they are against us. We are told to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Why? Because “the time will come when people 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”  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Do you know how the church can “do better”? By adhering to God’s Word and loving our neighbor in truth.

How is it that we can “dig deep” and “do the hard work” that God really desires of us? By searching His word and hiding it in our hearts. It is the TRUTH that sets people free, not our well-meaning actions. The opinions of culture, authors, historians or professors don’t set people free, in fact they can do just the opposite.

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

Our God is holy and righteous. He is also loving and full of mercy. These don’t cancel each other out, and we can’t adhere to one and not the other.

Sin has a diabolical agenda that will take us further down the road of good intentions than we ever imagined. Following Jesus requires hard things sometimes. It means we die to sin and self. We don’t rejoice in sin but flee from it. When others are stuck, we point them to a God who loves them and wants them free. The argument of “you’re too judgmental,  God just wants us to love each other” is worn out with me. A true disciple does everything in love. Speaking the truth does not equate me with Westboro Baptist lunatics. If we ignore what He says in His Word, if we rearrange it to suit our feelings, no matter how noble they may be, we are not living as Jesus followers. We are nothing more than people-pleasers.

“In the end its like two locals telling a visitor how to get into a building. One tells the visitor he must go through the main gate, while the other says to go through an easier side door. The latter fears the main gate is too far away and too hard to enter. Initially, this local appears to make it easier for the visitor to get in, while the other seems to impose a harsher standard – until you find out there’s no side door. 

While the easier instruction is well intended, it’s sadly just another way of keeping the visitor out.” – Derek Rishmawy, The Gospel Coalition

It is precisely because we don’t want any to perish that we are speaking up. We don’t want anyone left out,  Jesus didn’t come to be exclusive, He came for all of us. Ironically, those screaming to include what God has deemed not acceptable in His kingdom are shutting the door on the very people they hope to bring in.


Application: (1) Can you think of areas where the modern church has made it “easier” to be a Christian by being lax about things scripture teaches?

(2) Does this overlap on the issue of “belonging” versus “believing” as discussed in this article?

December 22, 2016

Believe It Or Not, Mary and Joseph, a Baby Is On the Way

by Clarke Dixon

Christmas is an unbelievable time. It’s time for God to intervene in a special way. All along God has been preparing His people for something special, and this something special is on the way in the birth of Someone special. It’s time for God Himself to be incarnate. It’s time for Jesus to be born.

But before this birth something else needs to happen first. Mary and Joseph need to know about it. And this is where things can get tricky. What if they don’t believe it? A virgin conception does not happen everyday after all. What if they don’t want it? Being in on God’s plans. What if they don’t want Him? Jesus, their son, or rather, her son, and you are not going to believe who is really responsible for this pregnancy! I imagine the majority of Mary and Joseph’s neighbours and friends didn’t. Joseph himself didn’t believe at first either:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, . . . Matthew 1:18-20

Though the writer of the Gospel of Matthew states rather matter of factly that this child is from the Holy Spirit, clearly Joseph initially does not think so. He already knows about the pregnancy before an angel explains it to him. If Mary told him about the angel’s explanation, he is not buying it. Mary must be lying. Being a good man he resolves to do, not the right thing, which would be to expose her obvious lack of fidelity publicly, but to do a good thing, breaking the relationship off, letting Mary carry on quietly with her life. An angel intervenes to help Joseph move from disbelief to trust, both trust in Mary, and more importantly, in what God has in store for them.

Mary quickly comes to a place of trust:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

It takes Joseph longer, but he eventually also comes around to a place of trust:

Matthew 1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

If Jesus were born today into our Western civilization, I wonder if a Mary or Joseph would be harder to find. If we were Mary or Joseph, we scientifically informed Westerners might try to explain away the experience. Joseph in the Bible evidently entertained the possibility that Mary was lying. A man today might conclude likewise, but also that the angel appearing to him in a dream was, in reality, more dream than angel. As for Mary, a woman today might entertain the possibility she was drugged and raped with the whole angel thing being an emotionally charged episode. That Joseph’s encounter with an angel mirrored that of Mary’s could be chalked up to the power of suggestion. There is, in our culture, a tendency in matters of faith to go with any possible explanation rather than a supernatural one. Any explanation without God, no matter how ridiculous it might be, is preferred to every explanation that includes God, no matter how good it is. In contrast to our society’s assertion that “nothing supernatural is possible,” Mary believed the angel’s assertion that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)

What if you were Mary or Joseph? Would you trust the supernatural explanation, or would you go with the other possibilities? When it comes to finding truth, do you go with the most reasonable explanation, even if it involves the supernatural, or do you default to the possibilities that discount the supernatural?

The reality and existence of God as revealed in the Bible has great explanatory power for so many questions. Such as:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why does the evidence point to the universe having a beginning?
  • Why does the universe seem to be fine tuned for life in many ways?
  • Why does our solar system and planet seem to be placed “just so” for life?
  • Why do the ecosystems of the world work so well together?
  • Why is there life at all and not just dead matter?
  • How did life come about when even a simple cell is so complex?
  • Why is there mind and intelligence?
  • Why do human beings seem to be set apart from the rest of the animal world in so many ways?
  • Why are there objective moral values?
  • Why do we appreciate beauty?
  • Why is there is a unity and unified story across the Bible when the documents of the Bible were written over hundreds of years by many different writers?
  • Why are the NT documents the way they are?
  • Why was the tomb of Jesus empty?
  • Why were the early disciples changed people ready to die for their claims?
  • Why did Jewish theology develop the way it did into Christian theology, not changing direction, yet going down an unexpected road?

The supernatural explanation, that God the Creator exists, and that Jesus rose from the dead, is able to explain these questions and so many more. But there are those who would never allow for such an explanation. “It is possible that . . . ” becomes the mantra. It is thought that even if we have not found them, there must be other explanations rather than the “God explanation” that explains so much so well.

There are two difficulties to living with such a mantra. First, one’s mind would never be open to the possibility of God. A closed mind is not the best starting place for finding truth. Second, we don’t live that way. It is possible that my chair might fall apart at any moment. Yet here I sit. The possibility of chair failure does not dissuade me from my apparent trust in this chair. Does my wife truly love me, or did she marry me for my money? The latter is possible, the former is more likely and explains so much more besides. And so I trust. Is it possible I exist due to aliens swapping me out for the real Clarke Dixon. Possible, but not a possibility that I am concerned with. You can invoke aliens to cast doubt on anything and everything, especially God. But we don’t live that way. We don’t live with incredulous doubt, we live with sensible trust. As cold case detective, J. Warner Wallace points out, juries make incredibly important decisions based on what is beyond a reasonable doubt, not on what is beyond every possible doubt. If you approach matters of faith the way you approach life, a case can be made that the reality of God and His love is beyond reasonable doubt and can be trusted even in the face of other possible explanations. But if you are not open to a supernatural explanation, or you do not want it to be true, you will always default to other possible explanations. But will they be true? Though Joseph and Mary may have been able to come up with other possible explanations for what they experienced, they knew that this baby was Someone special. Do you?

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read today’s post and other articles you’ve seen here at source at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

September 22, 2016

What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

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

[Editor’s Note: This week’s contribution from Pastor Clarke was a little different from what we normally present here…I would love to have been at his church for this sermon!]

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

fsm2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more of Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

August 11, 2016

Yet

Today we’re paying a return visit to A Simple Christian. The author is unnamed, but is a pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos. Ca. You may click the title below to read this at source.

17 For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls,  18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God. 19 GOD, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights.  NABRE – Hab 3:17-19

Yet – 3 Powerful Words of Powerful Faith.

Anything done out of love is important, however small it might appear. God has come to us, even though we are miserable creatures, and he has told us that he loves us: “My delight is to be among the sons of men.” Our Lord tells us that everything is valuable—those actions which from a human point of view we regard as extraordinary and those which seem unimportant. Nothing is wasted. No man is worthless to God. All of us are called to share the kingdom of Heaven—each with his own vocation: in his home, his work, his civic duties, and the exercise of his rights.

Nothing is wasted!   What marvelous words are uttered by St Josemaria!

Words that resonate with the Habbakuk’s conclusion of his book. Let me paraphrase!

“Life Sucks!  YET I will rejoice in the Lord! YET I will exult in my saving God!”

For as our souls, our very lives are entrusted to Him (something the Holy Spirit does, because Jesus paid the price to make it happen on the cross!) everything has meaning, and we begin to see how all things can indeed work for good, for those who love God.

That’s a hard thing to trust God for, especially when we think of him as the deists did in the centuries following the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.  Because they couldn’t trust the God they couldn’t see, they reasoned he left town,  Because they couldn’t understand that God was there in darkest points of history, they assumed he wasn’t there, and that He didn’t care and abandoned those He promised to walk with, those He promised to support, and heal, and strengthen.

Nothing is wasted.

Man is that hard to hear! For there has been much that I can’t count as beneficial without coming to the same conclusions.  Where are you, my God?  Why did You abandon me?  Why did I have to go through this?  Why do I see it repeated?

Nothing is wasted.

Not even the times of emptiness.

Not even the times where I cry out in anger, in pain, in fear.

Those words talk of dependence, of the greatest level of what we call faith.  The point where rock bottom we realize He is hear, and just go, “Lord, I can’t anymore, all I have to cling to are Your promises, the promises I can’t believe are true for me.

“Yet, I abandon myself to you, I will depend on what I can’t see, what may be beyond my logic, but what you promise is real.

“You are here… I can see that today…when I couldn’t last week, and may struggle next month to see it.

“You are here!”

So I will praise You, So I will rejoice in a God who wrote those promises through prophets, and etched them in the hands of His Son.

Yet… a powerful word.

One I need to pull out and use… often.


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