Christianity 201

July 4, 2020

Why Job Was Singled Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Over the years we have frequently featured devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. You’re encouraged to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings. Or click the header which directly follows to read today’s devotional at source.

As Gold

Job 28-29

Acts 13:1-25

“But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…and refine them like gold and silver.” — Malachi 3:2-3

One of the things that God does—which some may argue is one of the best things God does—is bring us under pressure, because then, we begin to understand what our hearts are really like. For Job, when he was met with trial, although he worshipped, he also fell into a deep depression.

Job’s three friends tried to help him understand his calamity. Even though Job was a righteous man, his friends believed he must have done some secret sin that caused such tragedy to befall on him. Job’s friends kept urging him to confess his sins and ask God to restore him. Yet Job retorted,

“If I have sinned, what have I done to You, You who see everything we do? Why have You made me Your target? Have I become a burden to You? Why do You not pardon my offences and forgive my sins? For I shall soon lie down in the dust; You will search for me, but I shall be no more”  — Job 7:20-21

Job could not think of a secret sin that he committed.

Some of us may resonate with Job’s situation. We may feel that some hidden sin has caused the current predicaments in our life. We may have confessed our sins a million times and find that nothing has changed. The reality is not Job’s unrighteousness that was the reason why he was attacked by Satan; on the contrary, it was Job’s righteousness that was the very reason he was attacked. Like Job, our problem may not have been caused by us at all.

Yet, how did Job manage to survive all this?

Job 23:8-10 reveals Job’s attitude and understanding of God:

“But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Job points to all directions but does not find God. Job’s security, however, is the confidence that God knows where he is and the path he will take, no matter the circumstance. Job’s belief, when he was tested, was that he would “come forth as gold.” When we are placed in difficult situations that we do understand, may we remember that God is not breaking us, He is making us. Like Job, may we come forth from God’s testing as gold.

Prayer: Sovereign God, I pray, as I face difficult circumstances in my life and I do not understand why things are happening the way they are, may I remember that You are not breaking me but You are making me. Thank You, Lord.


Where most of our readers live, today is Independence Day, the annual 4th of July holiday in the United States. Here are some related articles just for you:

July 3, 2020

Communal Faith

NIV.Mark.2v1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Today I want to highlight and recommend a book that I just received in yesterday’s mail, and I’m already halfway through. Why Would Anyone Go To Church: A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020) is the story of Kevin and his wife Meg and a team of volunteers who planted Eucharist Church in the urban core of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It’s full of insight and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.


…When the word gets out that Jesus is back in town, the entire region comes to see him. Before long, the house he’s in is so packed that no one can even get on the property. People are poking their heads through windows and climbing on shoulders just to hear one of his stories. Those outside the home notice a small group in the distance, carrying something between them and moving quickly despite the heat. “You should have come earlier if you wanted a seat,” someone shouts to them as they get closer. “Unless you’re carrying a pile of gold on that mat, you ain’t gettin’ in!” But the truth is that they had started scrambling as soon as they’d heard Jesus was back in town–the four friends working to track one another down before heading to the fifth, who is always at the same place: the city gate.

The men are carrying their friend, who has been unable to walk for as long as they have known him. To be paralyzed in any culture is to face unique challenges, but in the ancient world, without social assistance or accessibility laws, it was difficult to even survive. Unless you had people who cared for you. Being resourceful fellows, they decide to bypass the front door entirely, instead boosting one another onto the roof of the clay house and carefully hoisting their friend up as well. Inside, the people try to ignore the sound of footsteps on the roof, but when dirt begins to fall onto their heads, it proves impossible. Looking up, they see cracks forming as chunks of clay begin to fall, and before they can even piece together what’s happening, a human hand has burst through. The ceiling is quickly being replaced by daylight which is then interrupted by a large shadow. Something is being carefully lowered down…

…Jesus looks up to the four friends whose heads are now peeking in from the corners of his new sunroof and, having witnessed their faith, he heals the paralyzed man.

But, wait, that can’ be right.

The author must have meant that when Jesus saw the paralyzed man’s faith, he healed him. But that’s not what the text says. It says that Jesus saw their faith. Plural. The faith of the paralyzed man’s friends made him well. The Gospel accounts are filled with stories of people helping one another experience Jesus’ healing. A Roman centurion has enough faith to heal–not himself but his servant. A woman has faith to heal her daughter. Faith is never an individual exercise. There’s a reason Jesus didn’t select one good student but instead called twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples. It’s the same reason the early Christians clustered together and formed the church. It’s why the Nicene Creed doesn’t begin with “I believe” but “We believe.” Why the Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father who is in heaven,” not “My Father who is in heaven.”

Faith is a communal endeavour…

…Once we rediscover this side of church, so much begins to fall into place. Many of us were taught that we needed to believe the right things to belong in the church, but maybe we don’t need to have all our intellectual opinions sorted out before we start to follow Jesus. If church is a community of people called by God to move toward Jesus, then it’s perfectly acceptable to walk with others in that direction, even if you don’t know what you personally believe.

Eucharist Church celebrates Communion every Sunday afternoon, and we are quick to remind people that this table does not belong to our church. It’s Jesus’ table, and he welcomes all who desire to come to him, whether they have a lot of faith or just a tiny mustard seed of belief. What’s important is that we come to Jesus’ table together and bring him what we have. Feelings and intellectual opinions will come and go; they aren’t a good foundation for a life of discipleship. But when we bind ourselves to a group of people who have committed to move toward Jesus together, we no longer have to be anxious about what we feel or think in any given moment. We can trust that those around us will help us get to Christ, and as we grow and mature, we’ll even be able to help others.

(excerpt from pages 61-64)

July 2, 2020

Building for the Storms: A Reflection on Matthew 7:24-29

by Clarke Dixon

What do we do when the storms of life are raging against us, threatening to beat us down and knock us off our feet? The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like that for many while for others it might be concern over health, work, relationships, or stress levels. What do we do when we face the biggest of all storms, the one that really does knock us down, when death draws close? Jesus speaks about storms. Let’s listen in:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NRSV)

If we are wise, we will “hear my words and act on them.” Then we will be like the wise person who built a house upon rock, a house with a solid foundation that could withstand the storms.

That could be the end of the sermon right there. Except that we tend go in one of two directions and so end up as unwise builders.

The first bad turn is to make our lives merely about following the rules. We might hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” then be tempted to go through all the words of Jesus, to write up a comprehensive list of his rules.

Since Jesus is concluding his “Sermon on the Mount” here, let us go back and consider again what Jesus has been saying up to this point.

Let us consider an example from earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

We might add to our list of rules, “do not get angry with people” and move on. But that misses the point. Jesus is pushing us into a deeper righteousness here, a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness that is of a better kind, a righteousness of the heart.

Instead of merely keeping a rule about anger, we want to become the kind of people who are not angry, the kind of people who are peaceable and gentle, the kind of people who would never murder. Going further in the Sermon on the Mount, instead of merely keeping a rule about looking at others with lust, or a rule about divorce, we want to become the kind of people who are faithful (5:27-32). Instead of merely keeping rules about oaths we want to become the kind of people who have integrity (5:33-37). Instead of merely following the rules about whom we love or hate, we want to become the kind of people who love like God loves (5:38-48). We want to reflect the character of God. It is about Christlike character.

As we read on in the Jesus’ sermon, we don’t want to merely follow rules about piety, about prayer, fasting, and giving. We want to be the kind of people who develop and demonstrate a deep relationship with God (6:1-24). We do not pray to keep a rule about praying, we pray because prayerfulness is part and parcel of a deep and intimate relationship with God. We do not merely follow a rule about not worrying, we become the kind of people who trust in God, who know Him to be a loving, Heavenly Father (6:25-34).

Jesus stands in contrast to the religious types of his day who were all about the religious rules. He still stands in contrast to many of us religious types today. Jesus was leading people to the heart of God in a way that the scribes and Pharisees were not. When we hear the words of Jesus and act on them, we grow in character.

What do we do when the storms of life hit? It is not what we do, but rather who we are becoming in Christ that gives us the solid foundation. We handle a crisis with things like love, integrity, trust, faithfulness, prayer, and a deep relationship with God. That character will be a solid foundation when the storms of life hit.

Let us get into the second way we might take a wrong turn and so not be as prepared for the storms as we might think.

Some Bible scholars think that Jesus is talking about the final judgement when he talks about the great storm that knocks over the foolish man’s house but leaves the wise man’s house standing. Bible teachers are divided on whether that is so, but even if Jesus is not specifically referring to the final judgement here, we can think of that final storm among the many storms we face, the one which really does seem to knock us down for the final time.

We may hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” and think we must be super-obedient to receive eternal life. It’s on us to get this right. We may then begin to worry. We have heard his words, some of us have heard them many, many times, but have we actually acted on them? Have we acted on them well enough? So we worry.

Let us go back and consider again what words Jesus is telling us to hear and act on. One of the things Jesus tells us to do is “do not worry.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

The reason we are to not worry is because God’s got our backs. God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and knows what we need.

There are many stressed out Christians who wonder “have I done enough to be saved?” No you have not. Neither have I. There are many anxious Christians who wonder “what if I have unconfessed sin when I die?” You will have unconfessed sin when you die. So will I. We all have sin we are not even aware of.

But there is good news!

Having told us to not worry, but instead trust God, and trust that God loves us, Jesus demonstrated God’s love by going to the cross, to take away our sin, all of it. We have not done enough to be saved. God has done enough to save us. We will have unconfessed sin when we die. Jesus died for that sin too.

Hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them puts us on a solid foundation ready to face death. What do we do when that final storm rages against us? Again, it is not about what we do, but who we are becoming. We continue being the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people who trust God, in everything. We know He loves us. That is the best foundation for facing life, and for facing death. Yes, a storm may blow through that really does seem to knock us down for the final time. Do not worry. God will pick us up.

Jesus said that if we hear his words and act on them, we will be wise,
like the man who built his house upon rock. That house was ready for the storms. A Jesus shaped, God formed character provides a solid foundation for all the storms that threaten to knock us down, even death. Are you hearing Jesus? Are his words being acted out in your life?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Watch today’s teaching portion at this link. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

June 29, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part Two)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Yesterday our search for devotional sources to highlight took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his blog’s main purpose is “to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it didn’t fit our format. But as I tried and tried to excerpt from it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in two parts, yesterday and today. But if you didn’t yesterday, you’re encouraged to click the header below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

…Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing.

Jesus does not address the problem in this encounter with the Pharisees. Remarkably in the next episode in Mark’s gospel it is a Syrophoenician women—yes, a Gentile—that perceives that Jesus is the at the centre of a game changing solution to this conundrum.

Here we enter someone’s home, the details are left out by Mark. Presumably, this is a house where Jesus has been able to get peace and quiet previously—a safe house. But his effort to get some downtime has not worked. A Syrophoenician woman gate-crashes his rest. This is a bold and desperate move; Gentiles don’t barge into Jewish homes to address a Jewish Rabbi.

It is the hope that Jesus can work a miracle that has driven her to do the unthinkable. She begs Jesus to cast a demon out of her absent daughter, left suffering at home. So far so good, our sensibilities have not been ruffled even if those of polite Jewish society have.

And then we wake up because our Lord and Saviour, our role model for life, the sinless one, the man who has just preached that we are all judged by what comes from our mouths, makes what could be understood as a racial slur. Jesus implies the common label of Gentiles as dogs in what he says to his woman. So offensive is this episode that Luke misses it out of his gospel written to a Gentile audience.

In this tricky saying, Jesus explains that his ministry has been essentially to the Jews, and only in passing to the Gentiles. In this way, Jesus’ ministry is food for the children of Israel, and not food for Gentiles.

Are you feeling uncomfortable? Are we going to have to have take down any statues of Jesus and crosses that commemorate his death and resurrection, in a #SyrophoencianLivesMatter rampage? Is Jesus being racist?

We will of course never know Jesus’ tone, his demeanour, the possible twinkle in his eye when he said these words. What we do know is that despite alluding to the labelling of Gentiles as dogs, standard practice in his culture, his statement elicits the most remarkable response from this woman:

Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

In this brief exchange and based on the knowledge of Jesus that brought her to a strange Jewish house, she has understood what the Pharisees with all their hand-wringing and hand-washing have missed. She has seen that Jesus’ work starts with Jews but is the hope of all humanity. She is pleading that this might begin right here and right now with her daughter. Her faith and courage are rewarded:

Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

This remarkable new understanding of Jesus’ work is the start of Mark’s Gospel revealing that he in his deeds and his person he will address the bigger problem of the heart. Both Jew and Gentile will have the possibility of a circumcised heart as Leviticus puts it.

June 28, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part One)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.1. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

Today our searching for devotional sources to highlight here took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it was a little long for our format. But as I tried and tried to edit it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in full in two parts, today and tomorrow. But you’re encouraged to click the title below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

As human beings we have an annoying trait of complicating what God instructs us to do. This is where Mark 7 begins, but not where it ends. At the start of the chapter it is the Pharisees who are complicating God’s instruction. In fact, Jesus will go on to explain they are doing something even worse.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus faces hostility from the religious leaders. It was not just Jesus that the leaders had it in for, Israel had a long tradition of prophets who criticised the status quo and thereby the leaders. In Jesus’ time it was still the case. Many people would announce a new teaching, usually centred on the need for political change. Then they set out to bring truth to power. Some, like Jesus, gave everything in the attempt.

Here, the Pharisees have taken some of God’s instruction (torah) and made an extra burden of tradition to go on top. The Law (torah) required priests to ritually clean their hands. This was an act of grace as it reminded them that when dealing with the Holy God of Israel a clean heart is essential.

Please note that this is not about hand hygiene—though this is the centre of our daily lives at present. As an aside, we might want to have a word with Jesus and his disciples on this count.

The accusation that the disciples have not washed their hands, is a claim that they have not obeyed the extra rules made by the Elders. These rules had been added as a burden on everyone. When you are travelling doing itinerant ministry, is not feasible to carry the necessary dedicated washing cups, pots, and bronze kettles. And Mark’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus liked his disciples to travel light.

Jesus, as a rabbi, is responsible for his disciple’s actions. At this level, the Pharisees are justified in bringing the matter to Jesus. The problem with their case is, however, twofold. Firstly, their motives are dubious. This, however, is not the point that Jesus takes up with them. The second issue is the key one. By focusing on man-made traditions these become a distraction from God himself.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

We must not get self-righteous at this point by spotting what we do without thinking. In my own Baptist tradition, the trinity of words: tradition, doctrine, and ritual are often unspoken and these matters judged as peripheral. We might read what Jesus says about human traditions and then go further than Jesus does.

In quoting from Isaiah, God-sanctioned tradition, Jesus is primarily pointing out that God desires true worship. He wants hearts that are set on him. At the same time, he affirms that doctrine and ritual still have a place. In the New Testament, the disciples and Jesus’ brother, James, affirm both doctrine and ritual. In the case of ritual, we still have cleansing effected baptism, we have Christ’s sacrifice proclaimed in bread and wine, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit through anointing with oil. All these are mandated by Jesus and/or the testimony of the New Testament.

Our Christian tradition makes it easier to see some things than others. Let us not abandon other commandments of God. And Let us remember that working these out requires a framework of tradition, doctrine and ritual.

Things get worse for the Pharisees as Jesus spells out why he has quoted Isaiah. He suggests that their specific traditions get in the way of God’s commands. He mentions the idea of ‘corban‘ in which something could be set apart for God. The specific issues seem to be that some where giving land and wealth, made ‘corban‘, to the religious leaders. In doing so, some then deprived their parents of the support that was their due in old age, according to the Law.

Then Jesus gets to the revolutionary bit. Jesus’s comments about the human heart, our insides, our outsides, and purity is both great teaching, spells out a bigger problem—a problem for everyone.

With reference to our basic bodily functions, Jesus explains that what we eat cannot make us unclean. This even transforms some of the commandments of the Law. This is a trajectory that enables God’s people to eat screech owl and even pig should they wish to. The repercussions of this took years to work out after Jesus death hence the editorial note in verse 19.

The counterpoint to this is that we know a person’s heart by their fruit. There is that horrible list: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. Jesus and the Pharisees are on common ground with this list. They can also agree on its root cause.

Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing…

 

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one 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 in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 24, 2020

Help for the Journey

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Ps.121.1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

We’re often hear of people being told told that they need to “shelter in place.” David Jeremiah’s newest book, Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble (W Publishing Group) is a very timely reminder of where our refuge ought to be. This book is an amended, updated version of When Your World Falls Apart. Today’s devotional appeared in a slightly longer form at the website Devotions Daily at the link in the title which follows:

Lord — Help!

by David Jeremiah

Life often catches us short. It’s embarrassing to find ourselves needing help, but we all need all the help we can get, especially in times of crisis. We all need grace — grace that’s more than sufficient.

So many of the psalms are written for pilgrims needing help on the path of life. As we read Psalm 121, we can hear the psalmist crying out,

Lord, I need supplies for my journey. I need help. I need guidance. I’ve lost my way. Can’t You show me the right way to go? Can’t You meet my needs?

…In spite of all the perils we encounter, the mountainous crags and the desert wastelands, we can trust the Lord. Yes, He is awesome and we feel small and insignificant, but the psalmist assures us that God bridges the gap. He is never too great to care; we are never too small for His caring. The psalm reflects on a God who soothes us in our anxiety and watches over us as a shepherd with his sheep…

God’s Word reminds us that we are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land whose roads are filled with hazards. The road is long, weary, and dangerous. It winds through veils of tears and acres of muck and mire; but the long and winding road finally comes to the City of God, the place of joy and feasting. Simply stated, that’s the biblical view of life in the world.

…The psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121:1). He has prepared for his journey through the mountains to Jerusalem. As he enters the road, he takes a moment to gaze up to the horizon. He thinks of the miles ahead, the twists and turns and surprises, the old friends and new ones whose acquaintances he will make. He thinks of the dust and the heat, the darkness and the thirsty miles. He admires the graceful line where the mountains embrace the sky.

Listen to Isaiah 55:12:

For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you.

Psalm 125:1–2 captures the same idea:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.

There are many passages in the Old Testament that describe the mountains as a place of blessing, but we know all too well that mountains can also be a place of danger. Rarely does a winter go by that we don’t hear of someone being lost in the mountain terrain. The snow cover cuts off the navigation of outdoorsmen, who cannot retrace their steps out of the wilderness.

In ancient times, mountains were sites of danger and hardship. Their rocks and caves hid wild animals and blood- thirsty bandits. Pagan cultures built their temples in the mountains. Godly pilgrims found a sense of majesty in the high country, but they also found a sense of danger and a fear of the unknown. It was a place of fear and of hope, of danger and of salvation. The Lord God could be sought there, but pagan gods were enshrined there as well.

The psalmist must have thought of these things, reflecting on the many meanings of mountains. He gazed upward at the outset of the journey and said, “I will look to the hills.”


► More information about the book is available at this link.

Taken from Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble by David Jeremiah Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

June 22, 2020

Prayers that Bring Healing of Another Kind

Today another new author for you! We’re highlighting Penny Gadd who writes at Seeking the Light. She is currently working her way through the Gospel of Luke. As always, click the header below to read this at her site.

Jesus heals a man with leprosy

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.

Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

The NIV translation that I use has a footnote to this passage that says: “The Greek word traditionally translated ‘leprosy’ was used for various diseases affecting the skin”. I see no reason to doubt that statement. As the NIV continues to use the description leprosy I shall follow their example.

Leviticus 13 describes the symptoms, and the actions that had to be taken when a case was discovered. If you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to live alone outside a centre of population (Leviticus 13: 45 – 46), and you were ritually unclean.

It was a horrible diagnosis to receive because you could no longer participate in community life, and above all you couldn’t take part in worship. Nevertheless, the Law of Moses recognized that some people did recover, and Leviticus 14 explains what they needed to do to be accepted back into the community.

When the leper of this story in St Luke’s gospel met Jesus, he threw himself full length with his face to the ground, and begged to be healed. There was no doubting his faith that Jesus could heal him, but he obviously felt unworthy. Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. He may have felt that he had sinned badly to have deserved the punishment of leprosy; that would have been a common point of view at that time.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’

Jesus healed the leper. Not merely did he cleanse him, but he reminded him of what he still needed to do to be accepted back into the worshipping community of Israel: … go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them. Jesus had dealt with the physical cleansing, but, because the now-healed leper still lived under the Law of Moses he had to take the correct actions to be made ritually clean.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith.

I find myself wondering whether that’s the whole story. Many times, I and my friends have prayed earnestly for the healing of people we know. We have faith that Jesus can and does heal, and yet it is only rarely that we see physical healing. What about all those occasions when people are not healed?

I suggest, tentatively, that there is always some form of healing, often spiritual and at a level that we can’t easily see. On those rare occasions when there is a miraculous healing, it seems usually to be when it will build faith in Jesus. In other words, it’s a sign like the healings carried out by Jesus. If we are to understand when God heals physically and when he doesn’t, we need to understand his will better, and listen to how he wants us to pray for individuals.

Perhaps that’s a message we could take from the last verse of today’s study.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Even Jesus, whose ability to hear the Father’s voice was unrivaled, finds that he can only pray properly by withdrawing to solitude. He needs to avoid the crowds. What do we need to avoid? Do we need to go to a lonely place, or just a quiet place? I don’t think it matters very much provided we make the opportunity to listen.

And, if we listen carefully to God, perhaps we will be better able to know how to pray effectively.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
Please help my heart to be still and silent when I pray so that I can hear your voice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

  • A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.
  • A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.
  • An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”
  • An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.
  • A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. Or a situation where you’ve never sought forgiveness, or forgiven the other. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. Then this becomes a natural lifestyle. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen people spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post about them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never properly tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of their personal shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

June 3, 2020

Pre-booking Your Choices

The excerpt from Thinking out Loud which follows is a principle I’ve always held in high regard, but was surprised this morning to find I’ve never shared it here at C201. (You’ll see why I looked in the second half of this devotional.)

Our kids hated road trips. We would get to a city, walk into a motel, pull out our coupon book, and then be told that due to a soccer tournament, there were no motels with openings anywhere within an hour radius. Back to the car, hungry, hot, tired, and another hour’s drive.

Later on, we discovered the joy of planning destinations ahead, and making reservations, though by that point, the kids were older and opting out of our excursions.

Their road trip phobia later turned into an interesting object lesson. I told them that somewhere in the future, they will find themselves in situations that will tempt them to compromise their principles, or do something foolish and unsafe. We said that like our motel example, they need to pre-book their choices. That way they won’t regret something done in the heat of the moment. Decide now what they will and won’t do.

One author suggested that this is what the book of Proverbs is about. It’s a father saying to his son something like, “Look, this stuff is gonna happen; here’s how it’s gonna go down…” and then describing the benefits of wisdom and not be the proverbial (!) lamb to the slaughter of temptation.

Proverbs is a great book to teach your kids. 31 Chapters, one for each day of the month. Lots of easy-to-understand translations out there; and you need to spend money if you really don’t want to; just read it off the tablet at suppertime from BibleGateway.com. ICB, NCV, NLT, The Voice, all recommended for the younger set, in that order. Start each new month with the same chapter in a different translation. (Yes, a few of the verses are explicit, but you can skip over those until the kids are older.)

What got me thinking about this was an excerpt at Devotions Daily from a recently published book by Kathi Lipp, Ready for Anything: Preparing Your Heart and Home for Any Crisis Big or Small (Zondervan, 2020). You can read the full devotional — which contained some very practical advice — at this link, or learn more about the book at this link.

…Predeciding is when you make a decision before you get into the thick of a situation. It can be as simple as making a menu plan for the rest of the week so you don’t get to five thirty each night and have to figure out what in the world you are going to make for dinner. Or it can be as hard as deciding that the next time I see Aunt June and she mentions how much weight I’ve gained—because she lives for that kind of thing—I’m going to say, “So good to see you,” and then give my husband the preagreed-upon signal to get me out of there.

Predeciding takes most of the emotion out of decisions because we are not in the midst of the situation. We can use logic and wisdom instead of adrenaline and anxiety. And that will make our decisions—for us and our family—so much better, healthier, and wiser.

One of the biggest benefits of predeciding is giving ourselves and our loved ones the confidence that if something scary happens, we have a plan.

Throughout the Bible we see God honoring those who made decisions before they were ever tested who remained faithful to their plans.

Here are some other examples:

  • RUTH 1: When Ruth decides to stay with Naomi, even though her husband has died and Naomi has nothing to offer Ruth.
  • DANIEL 3: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to bow down to the king’s image and were thrown into the fiery furnace but were preserved from harm.
  • ESTHER 4: When Queen Esther went before the king and made an appeal for the lives of the Jewish people, she declared, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (v. 16).
  • LUKE 10: Mary choosing to sit at Jesus’s feet even though she was receiving pressure from Martha to get up and help with the preparations.
  • PHILIPPIANS 4: Paul’s decision to focus on God, and not his circumstances, while in prison awaiting trial.

These are just a few of the circumstances where God empowered people to set a course and follow it, despite hardship and temptations to choose a different route.

Predeciding is an invaluable skill. Making a decision about how you will act before a crisis comes will save you pain and heartache in everything from parenting to budgeting to handling an emergency…

Taken from: Ready for Anything: Preparing Your Heart and Home for Any Crisis Big or Small by: Kathi Lipp Copyright © 2020 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan. zondervan.com

 

May 8, 2020

Imagine There’s No Truth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Over the years at our other blog, Thinking Out Loud, we’ve found Sacred Sandwich to be a treasure trove for sourcing cartoons and images and satirical articles. But they have a serious side as well.

Today I want to share the middle section of a longer article and if you have time, I want to strongly recommend reading the full context. As usual, click the header below to read in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Where Would We Be Without Truth?

“The church has lost her testimony! She has no longer anything to say to the world. Her once robust declaration of TRUTH has faded away to an apologetic whisper.” — A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

…In light of humanity’s desperate need for God’s peace, can you imagine if truth were completely erased from our midst? It is too dreadful to contemplate! Yet think of the catastrophic condition of humanity if the world existed without the revelation of God’s truth. Like wayward Israel, the people would be “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), and would soon cry out in anguish like Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am lost!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Imagining A World Void Of Truth

According to the Scriptures, a world void of truth would be a desolate place. Fallen mankind would have no avenue of promise to find redemption and reconciliation with God. Without truth, there would be no regeneration; for it is by “the word of truth” that we are begotten and born again (James 1:18; I Peter 1:23). Without truth, there would be no justification; for we are justified by faith, which faith consists in crediting God’s truth, and so gives peace with God (Romans 5:1). Without the truth, there would be no sanctification; for the Lord himself says, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Without the truth, there would be no salvation; for “God hath chosen us to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:13).

In such an unsound world, where would you find the threefold graces of the Spirit: Faith, Hope, and Love? Without truth, there would be no faith; for the work of faith is to believe the truth (II Thessalonians 2:13). As the Bible teaches us, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ,” which is truth in all its power (Romans 10:17). The difference between true faith and the world’s delusion is striking: Faith believes God’s truth, and delusion credits Satan’s lies (II Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Without truth, there would be no hope; for the province of hope is to anchor in the truth of God’s word (Hebrews 6:18-19). This led David to say in Psalm 119:74, “I have hoped in Your word.” Indeed, it is “through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures that we have hope” (Romans 15:4). And where do we most clearly hear of this hope? It is heard in the word of truth, the Gospel (Colossians 1:5), which fixes our hope on the living God, even Jesus Christ, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).

And finally, without truth, there would be no love; for it is “the love of the truth” which separates the saved from the unsaved (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). Indeed this love of truth transforms believers into Christ-bearers who are then compelled to speak the truth in love to those who are perishing, for they now know that “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Thus we see the tragic consequences of abandoning truth. Without truth, all the people on the earth would be lost in a stormy tempest of lies without a lighthouse to guide them to safe harbor. They would have no faith to chart their course, no hope in which to anchor their souls to God, and no love to fill their sails. Is this not the dire situation we are beginning to witness in the world today? How many poor souls are now living in fear instead of faith, anguish instead of hope, and anger instead of love?

The Bible teaches us that truth brings faith, hope, and love to full flower, but emphasizes that above all, love is the greatest of the three (I Corinthians 13:13). In I Corinthians 13:6, we learn: “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” In other words, love is delighted when truth is spoken, and therefore love is eternally married to truth. Love adores and promotes truth, just as those who bear God’s love in their hearts adore and promote truth. Truth, then, is firmly fixed upon the only love that has the power to destroy the depraved business of this world…

[…continue reading here…]


Some “Without Truth” passages taken and expanded upon from J. C. Philpot’s “Through Baca’s Vale”


By the same author: Why the World’s Dark Business is Booming

April 28, 2020

Coming Alongside a God Who Does Miracles

NIV.Mark.6.35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Today’s thoughts are from the devotional section of the NIV Bible website and are drawn from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 3rd Edition (available in NIV and NKJV editions) by John Maxwell.

Working Alongside a Miracle-Working God

…The feeding of five thousand story is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. It breaks down how a biblical miracle works: A few sense a need, and each individual takes responsibility and gives his or her all, regardless of the odds, then Jesus works a miracle.

WHEN THERE IS A NEED. . .

Every miracle in the Bible begins with a problem, a need. Before he fed the five thousand, Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw a multitude of people who were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). The problem posed by this huge crowd of hungry, hurting people was the catalyst for the miracle.

If you have a problem, you are a candidate to work alongside a miracle-working God. That problem in your family, business, church, or community is your ticket to a potential miracle.

SENSED BY A FEW . . .

Jesus taught this crowd all day until the disciples told him it was getting late and the people had nothing to eat (Mark 6:35 – 36). These men were the ones aware there was a problem. Only a few, maybe only you, need to sense a need for a miracle to occur; a majority is not needed.

AND EACH INDIVIDUAL TAKES RESPONSIBILITY . . .

The disciples brought Jesus the problem and a solution. They suggested he send the people away to get something to eat. Jesus responded, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37).

God isn’t interested in our solutions or suggestions. He’s interested in our participation. This is where the miracle can often break down. God wants to involve you in his miracles. When you back away from that involvement, you back away from your influence and miss working alongside a miracle-working God.

AND GIVES HIS OR HER ALL REGARDLESS OF THE ODDS . . .

The disciples searched the crowd and found a boy who had five barley loaves and two small fish (John 6:9). This boy didn’t need a miracle to be able to eat — he already had food. Instead, he was asked to give.

There may be times when you don’t need a miracle, but God needs you to be a channel for a miracle that will bless someone else. You’ll give your all, despite the odds.

The disciples’ request for this boy’s lunch surely made no sense to him. How could his five loaves and two fish feed thousands of people? But he gave it to Jesus anyway.

How many miracles might you have missed because God asked you to do something and you didn’t do it because it didn’t make sense? As a leader, you must obey God even when you’re comfortable and don’t need a miracle, when his commands don’t make sense, when his instructions seem too simple, or when he asks for what seems to be too much. You never will learn to trust God until you learn to obey him. That’s when the miracles happen.

THEN JESUS WORKS A MIRACLE

Jesus took that boy’s small lunch, thanked God for it, and instructed the disciples to distribute the food among that crowd of thousands. Not only did everyone eat until they were full, there were twelve baskets of leftovers (Mark 6:39 – 44). Surely the disciples, the crowd, and the boy were changed forever by this event.

TAKEAWAY

We value the spectacular things God can do, but the greatest miracle when you work alongside a miracle-working God is what happens inside you. Being God’s channel changes your faith and increases your capacity for leadership influence beyond anything you can imagine.


Taken from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 3rd Edition by John Maxwell Copyright © 2018 (NKJV edition) and Copyright © 2019 (NIV edition) by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

April 25, 2020

The Profit from Persistence

Over the years a consistent source of material for us here has been Jim Thornber, who we originally discovered because his website is called Thinking Out Loud. This story of the woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer is included in scripture to increase our faith. Jesus gives her a rather odd answer at first, and she is quick with a response. If you don’t know this story, click here to read Matthew 15: 21-28. Otherwise, I again encourage you to send some direct traffic to our contributing writers by clicking the headers like the one which appears next.

The Crumbs of Faith and Hope

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.’ But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’”­ Matthew 15:24-25

As I write this, the world is in turmoil because of coronavirus, or COVID-19. In response to this pandemic, prayers all over the world are ascending to God’s throne, and many pastors, like myself, are searching for ways to comfort and guide our people. Is God judging the world? Is He trying to remind us there is only one race on earth, the human race, and we need to work together as companions instead of apart as competitors?

I’ll let better minds than my own try to figure out what God is doing on a global scale, for I’ve got my hands full praying for and touching (not literally!) the lives I come in contact with (not literally!) every day. What I do know is God is not the silent type, and even when He is, He is leading us into a life of faith and hope.

All of this has me thinking about the very persistent mother in Matthew 15:21-28. The story finds Jesus leaving Galilee and going north into Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile territory. A Canaanite (enemies of the Jews) woman who lived there came to Him and pleaded for Jesus to heal her daughter, who was being tormented by a demon. As a response to this request, Jesus remained silent.

Today, silence is a most hated concept. With smartphones, the internet, radio and television blaring everywhere we go, we’ve learned to distrust the sound of silence. Silence is wrong. Silence means something is broke. Silence from our political leaders means they are not working on our behalf. Silence from our religious leaders means they don’t have the comforting answers we seek. Silence makes us nervous. Silence makes us wonder if we’re still alive if all we hear is the sound of our own breathing.

Add to that silence of Jesus the complete lack of compassion from the Disciples. Sure, they want Jesus to heal her, but only because “she is bothering us with all her begging” (15:23). In other words, if healing her daughter will get her to shut up, then DO IT! So, couple the silence of Jesus with the fact the people hanging out with Jesus urge Him to send her away, in most instances you’d have an emotional breakdown in the making. This woman is facing rejection on all sides and she knows it, but she still doesn’t go away. She just stands there and waits for the Son of David to answer her request, and when Jesus does speak, it is not as the meek and mild Jesus we sing about in church.

“I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel,” He replies. Great. Not only is Jesus treating her with silence, now He says he wasn’t sent for her. Apparently, there are people whose needs are greater or better or more deserving than a mother whose child is possessed by a demon.

At this point in the story, I’d be ready to tell the Son of David what He can do with His Messiah complex. I mean, if God is going to be so callused as to tell me that others are more deserving of His mercy and grace, then it’s time to find another god.

But, what this woman does next just astounds me. Verse 25 says, “she came and worshiped him.” Is that what I would do? Would I worship God after He has been silent? Would I worship God after His church board has suggested He heal me just so I wouldn’t upset their precious fellowship? Would I worship this God after He tells me He’s not here for me?  Honestly, I’d be more tempted to whine about how life is all against me than to worship a God who intends to ignore me.

However, this persistent mom challenges me again, for in her humility she acknowledges that everything Jesus said was true. She was not an Israelite, Jesus was not here for her first, and she shouldn’t get the meat from the table. All true. It’s only the proud people like me who think Jesus’ arrival on earth was all about meeting my personal needs according to my personal comfort and timing. When will I learn that even the scraps from God’s table are richer fare than any five-star meal the world has to offer? Isn’t it better to be a dog in God’s kingdom than a king in the realm of Satan? This woman has seen how demons treat people like her daughter, and she knows there is more compassion in the crumbs of God than in the lies of the loftiest fallen angel.

Now, let’s look at this passage from another angle. Yes, Jesus was silent, but He was there. He was in her presence and He didn’t leave. In fact, He came to her Gentile town; she didn’t travel to find Him in Israel. There is always hope when God is present, and God is always present. While most of the world lacks the awareness of His presence, this racially, geographically and theologically distanced enemy of Jesus was more aware of His mercy and compassion than were His Disciples.

Next, we see that silence isn’t a refusal. He was silent but He didn’t say no. He was silent but He didn’t leave. In silence there also is hope. Don’t let the silence of God or the quick answers of the critics send you away from what you need most.

When Jesus replied He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel (and I can’t help but think He said that with a twinkle in His eye, just to test her faith), He was indicating there is still hope. If there wasn’t hope, what was Jesus doing in Gentile territory? Sometimes we think God is only going to help the good people who are worthy. But this scene reminds us that God came to save the world, because the entire world is as unworthy as this Gentile woman. God is increasing her faith, and we could all use a bit more faith.

Therefore, the next time God is silent regarding our requests, we need to remember His silence doesn’t mean “No.” We need to remember that Jesus came to us before we came to Jesus, for that reminds us how important we are to Him. We, I, need to remember that the critics who want me to disappear have forgotten that Jesus chose to be with me, and I’ll stand in His presence as long as He’ll have me.

Finally, when God tells me the truth about who I am, I need to remember that even a mutt like me has a place at the banquet table of God. Sure, life may not always go as I’d like it, but Jesus has entered the room and where He is, there is hope.

So, during this time of quarantine, shut-ins, social distancing, job loss and financial uncertainty, we all have a choice—we can worship or we can whine. Granted, my first response has not always been as persistent as the mommy in the story. However, I’m learning wherever I am and in whatever circumstances I find myself, there is always room for more worship, for more conversation with God and for more faith, for “through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

 

 

 

 

 

April 7, 2020

When You Believe in God, But Everything Falls Apart Anyway

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Due to previous scheduling, we have an extra devotional from Clarke Dixon which has not appeared here previously. Watch for Clarke’s regular column on Thursday as usual. Click the header below to read at source.

Don’t Be Surprised By the Weeds

by Clarke Dixon

When I was young I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong near Peterborough, Ontario. In addition to the the joy of friendship, my sailboat was just large enough that a second person could help keep it from capsizing in a good breeze. Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming since there were many slimy, gross weeds all along the shoreline. Therefore we would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake.

On one particular day I took a young lady sailing. No, this was not the young lady who would become my wife, that is another story! As we were sailing this one day, I had the feeling this friend of mine thought we were on a date. I did not have the heart to tell her that she was not my date, she was my ballast!

Being a gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried. I tried to help. But, no. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What now? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in.

Remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I mentioned earlier? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds. She was horrified. What has this story to do with us in our day when face a scary meltdown of our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t be surprised by the weeds.

In Christ, we look forward to a rescue, yes. We look forward to getting through anything life will throw at us. We have been thrown a line. We will get to the shore. Consider these words from Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 3:1-5

We have been thrown a line. We will get safely to the shore. Our future is certain. However, don’t be surprised by the weeds:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, . . . 1 Peter 3:6

There are those who assume that since God loves us and is rescuing us, there should be no more trouble in this life. God does love us, and He is rescuing us, but He has never promised that we will not face trouble. In fact, we are told that we will, and we do, face troubling times. Peter goes on:

. . . so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

Troubles do test our faith. In Christ, God has reached out and taken hold of us. But how good a grip do we have as we hold on to the hope we have in God? If we are unsure, troubles will tell us. Do we really trust God? It is easy enough to say ‘yes’ when times are good. However, when we experience the weeds, reality sinks in. Thankfully, it has been my experience that even when my grip is not tight, God has never wavered in His. Still, it is better to face the weeds of life knowing that the rescue is underway, that we will get through the weeds, and that the Rescuer is trustworthy and able. It is also better to face the weeds of life knowing there is a line that can be thrown to the people around us who are floundering in the water.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8,9 (NRSV)

Don’t be surprised by the weeds. But don’t be surprised by the rescue either!

May God bless you as we face these weeds in our day.This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions.. This worship expression can be seen here. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here. Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

April 4, 2020

A Psalm We Need Right Now

Today we’re back with Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. This is very transparent, and very timely. Click the header below and read this at source.

My Shelter

Only God could have prepared me for the coronavirus pandemic like he has. Had I known ten years ago, five years ago, even this time last year that this world crisis would come, I would have lived in total fear and tried in my own wisdom and power to prepare.

But in the midst of planning and worrying and preparing, I would not have learned all I have about God. I would not have learned how good he is. I would not have learned how deeply he loves me. I would not have learned of his faithfulness and power. I would’ve ended up living in a panic, ultimately doing it all without him. And when the crisis came, I would not have known him.

Instead, I am living through this with anticipation for all he’s about to do, and in wonder of all the ways he’s already provided. Looking back even over the last three months, I see how he’s made me ready for this.

Over the last week and a half, since this pandemic came to the US, I keep hearing over and over again from different people the reference to Psalm 91. It seems to be the hallmark passage for this crisis. Today more than ever, it means so much to me.

My take away today is that I don’t have to live in fear of what the future holds. I just need to always, in all things, trust the Lord my God. He will direct my steps and set me on the right path.

Psalm 91 NLT

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.”


Back in January, 2011 we featured this SonicFlood song which is based on Psalm 91.


Speaking of songs which have been featured here at C201, I’ve put together a playlist of some of the ones I’ve featured here related to Good Friday (or Communion Services). It runs 90+ minutes (at the moment) and contains 21 songs. To get started with the first song, click this link.


To read Psalm 91 as a metrical psalm (poem) go to the second half of this 2014 Christianity 201 article.


For six promises from Psalm 91, go to this 2012 C201 article.

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