Christianity 201

September 29, 2022

Anchored in Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Beginning a New Series: What Kind of Church?

by Clarke Dixon

Many people have become uncomfortable with the Church and churches to the point of being done with Christianity. They have seen too much politicking, hypocrisy, abuse, scandals, and the ignoring of science and education. One might wonder if Jesus himself would be comfortable in some churches.

While on Sabbatical I was grateful for efforts of our interim pastor Ray Jones who happens to be the executive director of an entity called Open Table Communities. What is Open Table Communities? There are many people known as the “dones,” that is, people who are done with churches and Christianity as a whole. While there is much more to it that what I’m about to say, I’d characterize Open Table Communities as saying, “before you throw out the baby with the bath water, let’s take a closer look at that baby, and the bath water.”

Open Table is guided by eight cultural statements. They are statements of “this is how we do things around here, this is the kind of community we are.” As I looked over the eight cultural statements, they struck me as being good, not just for a new kind of faith community like Open Table, but also for an old fashioned kind of church, such as we are at Calvary Baptist. Really they speak to a community that gets Jesus, his teaching and example, the kind of community Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of community many of us would feel at home in.

Therefore, over the next eight weeks we will be using of these statements as launching points for exploring the kind of church Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of church we want to be.

Here is the first statement:

We nurture cultures that are anchored in the Jesus story, his life, death and resurrection. We nurture a view of God that is seen through the lens of Christ, and consider how this way of seeing God, the world and human activity is conducive to all human flourishing.

Open Table Communities

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus?

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus? Because Jesus said it was the wise thing to do. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had already said several times “you have heard it said…but I say to you.”. Here in conclusion he is saying “Listen to me!”

Jesus later said,

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

The kind of church that “gets Jesus” is one that is anchored in him.

But why listen to Jesus?

Why listen to Jesus when we wouldn’t listen to any of our friends if they said the same things about themselves as Jesus said about himself?

In a nutshell, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything and the apostles knew it.

With the resurrection of Jesus, on top of his teaching, and on top of the miracles he performed, listening to Jesus became the natural thing to do. With the resurrection of Jesus it became reasonable to believe him when he said that all authority had been given to him. With the resurrection of Jesus the disciples knew it was time for new wineskins. Everything had now changed.

But why listen to what the early Christians said about Jesus?

The disciples were convinced about Jesus, but why should we be? How do we know the New Testament is not just made up?

There is enough to say here to write a book, in fact I’ve done that as have many others. For now, let’s just recognize that Jesus is unique in the history of the world and the history of people. Jesus deserves a deeper dive, a second look, in fact a third and fourth look.

Where else might we anchor our faith and life rather than in Jesus?

There are many other places we might anchor our faith, many places which actually are good sources of truth. For example, science. Science is a great and important source of truth, but it cannot tell us everything. Likewise, philosophy, tradition, and our own experience can all be good sources of truth though they cannot replace Jesus as the anchor. Some anchor their faith in what pop culture says, or in what their social media streams tell them. There can be truth there too, but they do not compare to Jesus as an anchor for life and faith.

Here is another source of truth which is not to be the anchor: the Bible. Surprised? We are not Bible followers who look to Jesus to help us follow the Bible, but Jesus followers who look to the Bible to help us follow Jesus. There is a subtle but important distinction there. The Bible is “God-breathed,” and while that’s amazing and important, Jesus is “God with us,” and that’s even more amazing and more important. We Baptists like to say that the Bible is our authority. Sometimes what we mean, without our even realizing it, is that our understandings or interpretations of the Bible are the authority. Again, there is a subtle but important difference there. The Bible is so important for our faith. But it is not the anchor. Jesus is.

Jesus as the corrective lens.

If all we had was science, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else? If all we had was philosophy, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else. Or if all we had was pop-culture, social-media, or the Old Testament? We see what God is like through the lens of Jesus.

The corrective lens of Jesus, seeing everything through Jesus’ teaching, his life, his example, his death and resurrection, enabled Paul to say that “God is for us and not against us” (see Romans 8) and John to say that “God is love” (see 1st John 4). What does being anchored in Jesus enable you and I to say about God and our relationship with the Divine?

Since Jesus is the anchor, people are the focus.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10 NRSV). When we focus on Jesus, his teaching, example, life, death, and resurrection, we see that Jesus was focused on us. Being anchored in the Jesus story means putting the focus on people, seeking human flourishing. There is a reason the only verb in the tagline of our church is “helping people.”

Here at Calvary, we want to be anchored in Jesus. We want to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada; whose writing appears here most Thursdays. The sermon on which this is based can be see here.

September 17, 2022

Anger: It’s What You Do With It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Two years ago we introduced you to last year, Wattsup with Kids (tag line: Kids, Coffee and Christ Every Day) written by Tracy Watts. Looking at her writing again, it’s clear she holds scripture in high regard, and while this topic may not land perfectly with your situation today, make note of the value placed on God’s word to establish each of the teaching points. Click the title below to read this recent article at her site.

Anger

Mr. Rogers poses an excellent question in his song “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

This was of course, a question aimed at children, but I think it is something adults struggle with too. Perhaps we explode verbally or physically. Perhaps we take it out on those around, snapping short temperedly. Perhaps, we hold tightly to it and it festers inside our hearts, turning to bitterness and resentment.

None of these are good options. What then, can we learn from God’s word about anger?

Anger itself is not wrong

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger ~ Ephesians 4:26

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. ~ Mark 3:1-6

Even Jesus got angry (though it is helpful to note the things that make Jesus angry – and perhaps the less eternally important things that irk us!)

Either we control our anger or our anger controls us

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. ~ Proverbs 29:11

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. ~ Proverbs 16:32

Man’s anger does not produce good things

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. ~ Psalm 37:8

For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. ~ James 1:20

So… as Mr. Rogers so poignantly asks, what do we do with the mad that we feel?

We can place it in God’s hands

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” ~ Romans 12:19

We can pause before speaking in anger

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah ~ Psalm 4:4

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. ~ Proverbs 15:1

We can replace the anger with something good

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:19-21

We can exercise self control

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. ~ Proverbs 29:11

It’s comforting to me that the wise man does feel strongly, he does have a passionate spirit and does feel emotions. He just does not allow “full vent” to them. He does not explode in verbal vomit. He does not erupt with his emotions and spatter them across the unfortunate people nearby.

Instead, he “quietly holds it back.” What does that look like? A person who has learned the beautiful art of self-control. It’s not that he somehow magically got rid of ever feeling anger or frustration. It’s that he has learned to respond instead of merely reacting. He grapples inwardly to not explode outwardly.

Of course, this is a process, a learning of how to channel our anger (and our other emotions) and ultimately to be more like Him.

And indeed, we can agree with Solomon’s wisdom:

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. ~ Proverbs 16:32

May we each learn to control our spirits better, with the help of Him who made us.


Second Helping

Two other recent articles from Tracy:

September 16, 2022

Taking the Bypass Around the Valley of the Shadow

Lately when I’m on YouTube or watching television, I’ve been more aware of references to the Interstate Highway system in the United States. Many of these pass directly through the downtown sections of major cities, and since many drivers will prefer to avoid the congestion, there are also ‘bypass’ routes, sometimes called ‘spurs.’ So with I-75 there might be a I-275, or I-475 offered to you as you approach a metropolitan area. Basically, these help you avoid the pain.

Which brings us to today’s devotional…

NLT II Tim 3: 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

It was one of those big outdoor festivals in the late ’70s. The speaker was an up-and-coming youth evangelist, and for the purpose of making a point that day he was deliberately misquoting scripture:

“Yes, and some who endeavor to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Some?

No, it doesn’t say that. And people started yelling up what it does say from the crowd: “All, all, it says ‘all.’”

We got the message. Or did we?

Years later, I had to be somewhere, but I had a few minutes in the car, and I immediately fell into a familiar pattern, “Lord, I pray for the people suffering under religious oppression right now that you would deliver — “

And then I stopped.

Deliver them? That’s the typical North American or Western European response. Get me the heck out of here.

But when you talk to people who have dealt with religious persecution that can mean torture, imprisonment or death, they never ask that we pray for deliverance, but that God would give them the grace to endure it and the presence of His Holy Spirit in the middle of it.

Psalm 23 talks about going through tough circumstances:

MSG Ps. 23: 4a Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Our interpretation is often

“Even though I walk around the valley of the shadow of death…” 

To which the crowd should yell out, “Through, through, it says ‘go through.’

How you feel about such things will affect how you pray. I posted some of these thoughts nearly a decade ago, and at the time the title was, “Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?”

We want to pray for the persecuted. We want to pray for the suffering. But do we have a theology of persecution? Have we ever examined ourselves to see what is our personal theology of suffering?

For the record, if I am dealing with physical, mental or emotional suffering, probably every part of me will cry out for you to please pray that I will see relief from it. But should you pray that for me if God is teaching me something through it? Or should you pray that I experience God’s presence in the middle of it and learn the lesson he is teaching me?

That would be a difficult question. Especially if I’m asking you to pray for healing and you say, “Lord, I pray that our brother will learn the lessons you’re teaching him through this illness.” Huh? That isn’t what I asked you.

With persecution it’s more difficult. We want to see the end of political and social regimes that block justice and oppress people. We want them to see relief from it. We want it to end.

On the flip side, we also want to avoid questioning God’s presence in the middle of suffering and persecution; the line of reasoning that asks, ‘Where was God when __________ was happening?’

While you’re pondering that, let’s throw one more spice into the soup.

What about your theology of end times or what’s called eschatology? If you believe in a rapture doctrine, is it consistent with scripture to believe that the church will be removed from the suffering association with the period called ‘the tribulation,’ or is it more consistent to believe that the church will be faced with enduring it?

I’m not saying one way or another right now, I’m just saying that if we begin to understand a theology of suffering and a theology of persecution then we may want to think about our theology of tribulation.


We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
– 2 Cor. 4: 8-11 NLT

 

September 4, 2022

“Who Am I, Lord, That You Have Brought Me This Far?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Last night Saddleback Church honored Rick Warren and Kay Warren after 43 years of ministry. While the service could have easily been about giving credit to a person, but Rick turned it around and offered a number of scriptures where he used the Biblical writers to provide words for all that he was feeling. He said, “I’m not gonna preach, but I cannot stand to stand before you without giving you the Word of God.”

To his staff and congregation he said these words. :

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. – Hebrews 6:10 NIV

Because we remember your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, – 1 Thess 1:3 LEB

I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy 5 because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus. – Phil 1:3-6 TEV

It took me a few copy/pastes of these verses to realize that Rick was using the TEV (aka Good News Translation).

After a musical presentation, Rick returned to share the passage I really wanted to share with readers here, and from which the title of today’s devotional is formed. We’ll give the final word today to King David; take time as you read:

TEV.1-Chronicles.17.16 Then King David went into the Tent of the Lord‘s presence, sat down, and prayed, “I am not worthy of what you have already done for me, Lord God, nor is my family. 17 Yet now you are doing even more; you have made promises about my descendants in the years to come, and you, Lord God, are already treating me like someone great.[a] 18 What more can I say to you! You know me well, and yet you honor me, your servant. 19 It was your will and purpose to do this for me and to show me my future greatness.

20 Lord, there is none like you; we have always known that you alone are God. 21 There is no other nation on earth like Israel, whom you rescued from slavery to make them your own people. The great and wonderful things you did for them spread your fame throughout the world. You rescued your people from Egypt and drove out other nations as your people advanced. 22 You have made Israel your own people forever, and you, Lord, have become their God.

23 “And now, O Lord, fulfill for all time the promise you made about me and my descendants, and do what you said you would. 24 Your fame will be great, and people will forever say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel.’ And you will preserve my dynasty for all time. 25 I have the courage to pray this prayer to you, my God, because you have revealed all this to me, your servant, and have told me that you will make my descendants kings. 26 You, Lord, are God, and you have made this wonderful promise to me. 27 I ask you to bless my descendants so that they will continue to enjoy your favor. You, Lord, have blessed them, and your blessing will rest on them forever.”

 

 

September 3, 2022

Trials and Tribulations are Gonna Happen

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.James.1.2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

We have another new writer to introduce to you. Pam Yates has been writing at Where God Leads: Stepping Out in Faith since October, 2019. This selection from her site actually appeared earlier today, and you can get there by clicking the title header which follows.

Trials In Life Are Inevitable

The book of James has become my favorite book to study. I was drawn to it again this morning when it popped up in my Bible study choices in the YouVersion app. Listening to Frances Chan talk about the scattering of the tribes during the persecution following the crucifixion of Jesus helped me to understand why they would be questioning their faith.

Looking through my Bible at the notes I’ve written in the margins and the underlining I’ve done throughout the book makes it evident I’ve heard more sermons on the book than I realized.

We all go through trials, valleys, dumpster fires in life. Whatever you want to call them, the anxiety and fear about how your going to handle them is all to familiar to all of us. Becoming a follower of Jesus never made anyone immune to trials. Don’t think that because something bad happens that it means God doesn’t love you or that he’s punishing you. Quite the opposite!

The testing helps make us stronger. Knowing that God loves you gives you the faith to persevere. By you going through the situation and learning you’ll be able to offer help to someone else in the future.

Maybe we don’t know the answers to all of our situations, but by asking God for wisdom (and knowing that he will provide it) he will provide the answers. It may be from a friend or family member, from a sermon you heard at church or online. Maybe you will read something or hear a snippet of conversation that provides your answer. Maybe you will hear that little whisper that provides what you need. God has many ways to communicate with us. But, it’s important that we believe the answer will be provided.

Perseverance during these trials is what is important, because this faith will bring the reward.

The notes in my Bible point out these key takeaways:

  • Trials are inevitable (1:2)
  • Trials have purpose (1:3)
  • Trials demand endurance (1:4a)
  • Trials produce growth (1:4b)

I love the story about how the silversmith heats the silver on a fire. The heat of the fire brings the impurities to the top and the silversmith removes the dross from the top and then he continues the process again and again until the silver is pure. Then he can look down and see his reflection. I picture this as the procedure God uses to remove impurities from our lives and our hearts. By the time he removes all the impurities God can look down and see that we have become a reflection of him. That’s what he wants us to be, kind of his ambassadors on earth, loving and serving others as his hands and feet.

The book of James is so full of wisdom that encourage us to live our lives according to the will of God. I think it’s worth reading again…


God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12 NLT

[Jesus:] “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:11-12 NIV

August 25, 2022

Christ: Our Place of Refuge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Numbers.35.6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee.”

NIV.Numbers.35.11 “select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. 12a They will be places of refuge from the avenger…”

Many features of life for the people of the Old Testament don’t exist in New Testament times, but the beauty of scripture is that we don’t need to exercise a great amount of imagination to see the equivalent for us today, and most often, we find the pattern or principle completed in Christ.

Today we’re back for our annual visit — and our tenth visit — to a source of devotional writing which you might want to know about for yourself, or share with someone with whom it will connect. The website Broken Believers states its purpose as “all about serving through a message of Christian discipleship and helping Christians with mental illnesses and other issues.” Click the title which follows to read this on their site, and then take some time to read other articles. The author today is Brian Lowe.

Our City of Refuge

Buried in the Old Testament is the idea of the Cities of Refuge.

They speak profoundly to our situation and bring real hope for us who struggle so. Six places of safety were given to protect those who accidentally killed another person— maybe an ax-head flew and hit someone, and they died as a result.

God told Joshua to establish cities of protection where one could be safe from an avenger. There were six of them, three on the east side of the Jordan river, and three on the west. The cities were pretty much covering Israel; each was spread out intentionally so they were always close. That city became a place of asylum for those guilty of manslaughter.

Us as believers, we know that we’ve committed crimes against God and other people. The burden we carry threatens to undo us. Satan (and his minions) want to destroy us—and honestly, we deserve it. We are essential ‘criminals’ who have hurt others and damaged ourselves in the process.

Outside of the city, we’re vulnerable—but inside those walls we find safety.

Those who have killed others are protected. If we venture outside, we find our adversary who is waiting. Scripture tells us that we must stay cloistered there until the current high priest dies. Upon his death, we’re released and may leave the city walls.

For broken believers, the whole concept rings true.

The text speaks for itself, and there is spiritual logic in all of this. We see parallels here that speak to our condition. We’ve messed up big time. We also carry issues that the enemy can attack. Depression, bipolar, trauma, and even thoughts of committing suicide—they can be a real part of our lives.

I must tell you that safety is found in only a place.

Finding God and abiding in him is our place of safety. His walls protect us, Jesus is our high priest, who never dies; that means we need to stay with him, permanently. I like Hebrews 6:18, LB:

“Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without a doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.”

For us especially, we often have problems with the doctrine of assurance of salvation. Our enemy works overtime to accuse us (Rev.12:10). We’re his targets and the lies of many demons assault us. We can, at times, wonder if we’re really saved. We wonder if we are really forgiven, and we doubt our salvation. Satan’s efforts can be constant and crippling.

I encourage you to think this over and pray about this. Numbers 35 is a good place to start. That chapter is pretty clear. Look also at Exodus 21:13-14; Joshua 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 19:2-13.

 

August 24, 2022

Self-Control: The Elusive Character Trait

Today we have another new writer to introduce.  Drew Koch was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and created the blog-site Truth & Discernment to share enlightenment and encouragement while engaging with people about God’s Word. Remember, clicking article titles like the one below not only lets you read things here where we located them, but you bless the authors with some internet traffic!

A Rare, But Essential Quality

How rare it is today to see self-control on display. It is a discipline that very few ever capture, and more and more it seems as though it’s not even a trait that people aspire to pursue.

However, for those of us who truly yearn to live a life of holiness, self-control is essential. In 1 Peter 1:14, the apostle tells us that we must live as God’s obedient children. We’re commanded not to “slip back into our old ways of living just to satisfy our own desires.” Peter then says, “You didn’t know any better then.”

But Peter then tells us in the next two verses what we must do now that we’re in Christ. “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

To further drive home the importance of the characteristic of self-control, Paul gives us contrasting ways to live in the letter to the Galatians. One way leads to a life of righteousness and the other ends in spiritual darkness.

Several qualities (idolatry, jealousy, drunkenness, envy, lustful pleasures, etc.) are attributed to following the desires of our sinful nature. Other traits (love, joy, patience, kindness, and self-control) are called the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Paul then closes Chapter 5 of Galatians with these beautiful words, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25)

What phenomenal counsel from Paul. Rather than permitting your sinful nature to take hold of you, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you toward a life of self-control.


Big decision need big prayers. Here’s a bonus devotional for you from Andrew. Click the title below to read this at Truth & Discernment.

What is God Moving You to Do?

My wife and I recently moved. Not just to a new neighborhood or even a new town, but an entirely different state. While my wife has moved more times than she’d care to count, I’m now over 400 miles removed from everything I’ve ever known.

Now, this wasn’t some haphazard, thoughtless decision. I’ve never been that adventurous. No, this was a calculated, well-thought out plan that both my wife and I put in place some time ago.

But one thing that we did prior to making this change was pray together. I’m not talking about a simple, one-time occasion. This was an intentional act that both she and I participated in on a nightly basis.

We both decided that such a big decision required God’s leading. Were it not for us leaning hard into our faith, I’m not sure I’d be sitting in a small-town coffee shop right now, reminiscing on what brought us here.

There are countless examples throughout Scripture of Jesus rewarding the faith of those He met or admonishing his disciples to have faith. One example that comes to mind is in Matthew’s gospel. After his disciples were unable to heal a demon-possessed boy, his father begged Jesus to cast out the evil spirit.

Jesus scolded the crowd for their unbelief and then counseled the apostles who privately asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon saying, “…Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matthew 17:20-21 NIV)

How often we want to do everything on our own, am I right? We are so proud and we want so badly to take the credit. But what I’ve found is that when we are able to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God, having faith that He knows what we need, we are then able to experience the fullness of His love.

I know I haven’t yet reached the point when I’ve given up all control to Him. No matter how much I may want to, that old nature continues to creep back in. But when I am prayerful and able to put my faith in Him, only then am I able to experience the true joy of everything God offers.

August 11, 2022

Rationalizing The Case for a Miracle

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In both Matthew 8 and Luke 7 there are parallel accounts about Jesus healing the servant of a centurion, that is to say a Roman centurion. Despite the frustration the followers of Jesus are experiencing as a result of the Roman occupation, in Luke’s account, they don’t hesitate to advocate on behalf of the petitioner.

And that’s where it gets weird.

They don’t feel the request is worthy of consideration because (a) there is an urgent need and (b) Jesus has the power to perform the miracle needed; but rather they make a case, a rationalization for why Jesus should do this.

NIV.Luke.7.3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

Peterson translates that quotation as, He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.” Did the centurion clear the necessary permits to get the project through to completion? Or did he, in a more literal sense, underwrite the construction costs himself? If the latter is the case, was he from Rome himself or was he a Jew who had attached himself to the military — the way Matthew, a Jew, had attached himself to the Roman department of internal revenue – and then risen through the ranks?

(That last one is just something I threw in at the last minute. You’re free to borrow it!)

Either way, there is an argument being made here on the basis of merit. Most English translations of verse 4 have it that the centurion either deserves or is worthy of having his petition granted.

Strangely, Jesus doesn’t say, ‘That’s not the way it works.’

NLT.Luke.7.6 So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

Matthew’s account repeats the statement,

NIV.Matt.8.8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Both accounts quote the centurion making the opposite claim to those who would try to argue on his behalf; make the case for granting the healing request. He says “I am not worthy…” “I don’t deserve…”

Interesting.

Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves, and he pressed mud into the eyes of the blind man, and he noticed the touch of a woman with internal hemorrhaging, but the centurion argues that Jesus can complete the healing act by remote control.

How complete the centurion’s theology was is not known to us, but we know that God simply spoke the worlds into existence, so to just “say the word” is all that is needed here.

And the servant is healed. And the gospel writers describe Jesus as showing genuine amazement.

NLT.Luke.7.9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” 10 And when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed.

NIV.Matt.8.10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith…” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

The servant is healed not because of any case argued by anyone on the centurion’s behalf but because of the centurion’s faith.

 

August 9, 2022

How Do We Get People to See God’s Love?

Today we’re back again at the site A Simple Christian. The author is unnamed, but is a pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos. Ca. Even there, I exhausted some time looking for his name on the website. You have to respect that level of humility in a world where some pastors have their pictures so prominent.

You may click the title below to read where we located it. The format of A Simple Question presents quotations that are not annotated until the endnotes. I was going to exercise some editorial liberty and provide the sources within the body of the article, but I decided it was done for reasons of flow, and used footnotes instead.

Do We Dare Ask This Question?

Thoughts which draw (or drag me) to Jesus… and His cross:

1  “Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations. 2  He will not shout or raise his voice in public. 3  He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. 4  He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.” Isaiah 42:1-4 (NLT2)

How does this come to pass? Surely, it comes to pass when you hear that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has by his most holy touch consecrated and hallowed all sufferings, even death itself, has blessed the curse, and has glorified shame and enriched poverty so that death is now a door to life, the curse a fount of blessing, and shame the mother of glory. How, then, can you be so hardhearted and ungrateful as not to long for and love all manner of sufferings now that these have been touched and bathed by Christ’s pure and holy flesh and blood and thus have become holy, harmless, wholesome, blessed, and full of joy for you? 1

Oh, how can we get men and women around us to realize that God Almighty, before the beginning of the world, loved them, and thought about them, planning redemption and salvation and forgiveness? 2

When divine love overflows from the interior life of the Trinity into our hearts, it immediately confronts our false selves, and we experience conflict. A struggle arises between this pure goodness—sheer giving—and the ingrained possessiveness, aggressiveness, and self-seeking which are so characteristic of us in our present condition. Thus, at the very heart of life is the challenge of sacrifice; of dying to our present condition in order to move to a higher level of life. This can only happen by letting go of the false self. Suffering and death are not enemies, but doors leading to new levels of knowledge and of love. 3

Tozer’s question (second quotation) annoys me.

Primarily because the church today, including me and mine, does not ask it enough. There are days I am not sure we care enough to ask it.

We need to ask it—and we need to find the answer.

My thought is that we need to find the answer first. We see signs of it in both Luther’s and Keating’s writings from my devotions this morning. They both talk about the impact of Christ’s presence and love in our lives. That as Jesus touches our wounds, our brokenness, they take on the same rich holiness that His wounds did on the cross, and at the resurrection.

And seeing His glory all of life and even those pains and torments become blessings.

For through them, we reach out to Him in our despair, and He lifts us up, and heals us. They become contacts points for His knowing His presence, for we don’t look for it at other times. This allows us to sacrifice our pain, our resentment, our thirst for justice, all that which feeds our basic desires for self-preservation.

The freedom that follows is that which Isaiah prophesied would happen because of God’s chosen Servant, whom we know is Jesus. That prophesy’s subject is what Tozer wants to know how to communicate.

I think the only way is to make the church so aware of what it has… for a church that knows God thinks about them, cares for them and loves them.

If we know that, we can’t stop talking about Him, trying to help others receive the blessings of seeing His presence revealed to them.


1 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 141–142.

2 A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

3 Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 218.

August 5, 2022

We Fall Short; Everyone Falls Short

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today is our first time at the blog Anthem Seed, written by J.A. Bowens. I encourage you to click that blog link or the one in the title below, and then explore other articles.

What is the Glory of God That Makes us Fall Short?

I was praying when I heard “all have fallen short to the glory of God.” It is an excerpt from Romans 3:23 that preachers use in sermons, but I guess I never really knew what it meant. So after being on my knees for a little while, I researched the Glory of God. The Christian explanation said its hard to define . It can mean beauty however, beauty is hard to describe. Since Paul wrote Romans and Paul was a Jew. I went to the Hebrew explanation.

Shekhina is the first word for the Glory of God. Shekhina means dwell or settle. The glory of God that filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) was as a bright radiance, and the Shekhina is sometimes similarly conceived.

There is also an affinity between the Shekhina and the Holy Spirit, though the two are not identical. Both signify some forms of divine immanence, both are associated with prophecy, and both are connected with the study of the Torah.

Moses had a breathtaking encounter with God. There he met El Hakkavod, the God of Glory. Moses asked God to remain with his people Israel. When God promised to do so, Moses, seeking further reassurance, boldly asked, “now show me your glory.”

The Hebrew word kavod is the 2nd word for glory. The word originally meant “heavy, weighty,” like in reference to armor used in battle. Over time the word be-came linked with wealth, honor, dignity, and power, then eventually came to mean “glory.” All these attributes combine to describe God as El Hakkavod, “the God of Glory.”

Our righteous wallet is always inferior to God’s righteous wealth!

So in Romans 3:23 the passage Paul is saying no matter Jew or Gentile. Whether a person believes in Jesus as the Messiah or not. No one can stand in the presence of God and conclude they are equal because of how vast God’s honor and righteous wealth are compared to humans!! Our righteous wallet is always inferior to God’s righteous wealth! In worship or praise, a person can potentially feel Shekhina or the Holy Spirit. A person’s immediate conviction is how unworthy they are! No matter the habit of practicing steps towards holiness, a person can’t compare to the worthy or the honor of God. They are still in the suit of sin.

A person might ask “do we willfully sin since we can not measure to God’s love” (Romans 6:1-2; 1 John 3:4-10)? That can be answered by the original structure of parental love designed by God. A mother is an example of endless love while a father should be an example of tenacity love. A father’s actions express tenacity love in situations like “I’m coming to save you no matter the condition.” “I’m coming to provide for you no matter the circumstance family.” “I’m going to remain committed to our family no matter the temptation wife.” He can only be an example of tenacity love to his family if he has a relationship with the Creator. Then he is getting endless and tenacious love from God so he can be an example of tenacious love to his family. What does this have to do with sinning despite never measuring to God?

God’s agape love. You are committed to God because God gives you both perseverance and endless love. They work together to spark a believer’s ambition for divine fellowship with the Creator. A person might say “let me read my daily scripture for the renewing of my mind because God’s agape love is inspiring me to do better.” Or “let me fix my eating to respect my body” or “let me change how I’m parenting out of respect for God.” Therefore God’s agape love (which is endless tenacious love) promotes our desire to improve our spiritual consciousness.

God said, “be Holy as your God is Holy” (Leviticus 19:1-2). The Hebrew word for this means one. Be the same at all times as your God is the same. Yet even some occasions being the same is a struggle that takes us back to the awareness we’re not on the same level as God. Since our mark is God, we don’t need to lower the goal to be our neighbor’s performance for self-gratification or gloating. Don’t look to say “I am more holy than that person.” That is not the goal.

Our awareness of how short we always fall to God should make us more humble about our neighbor’s weaknesses.

“Hey man, I don’t measure up to God’s glory either. Don’t be hard on yourself.” Since there is no difference in one person’s sin nature from another, any progress over sin is not praise for the person but praise to the Glory of God. Only the Glory of God can give victory over a sinful habit, lifestyle, or nature.

So if the Glory of God is how we have victory over sin, do we stop learning how to improve our lifestyle? No, because learning promotes thinking. Thinking promotes application. The application of what we learn creates new habits. The body is still mechanical and human willpower is still immaculate! Yet the willpower is from God. And no matter how great a person’s willpower – when they come to Shekhina, they realize the determined will that astonished thousands on earth- is a reflection of God’s power in all of us. The fact any of us has mastered our infinite willpower is a testament to God, whom is perfect. No matter how great a person’s willpower- in the presence of God, they will become convicted in some areas of their life they fall short. At that moment, when they realize despite their greatness amongst humans- they aren’t perfect. God will lift their head and say “I still love you.”

The fact that any of us has mastered our infinite willpower is a testament to the creation of God which is perfect because God is perfect

The endless tenacious love of God (agape) should always inspire us to practice better lifestyles. When we feel the Shekhina of God, we learn we are never on the same level as God’s kavod simply because we can never be completely perfect like God. Yet despite that, God chooses to still Shekhina (dwell) with us.

July 29, 2022

Trusting Despite All Odds

We tend to think of Psalms as a poetic book, but there are passages where what we’re reading is really history; and occasionally (as in the ‘rivers of Babylon’ verses) we’re given details beyond the original narrative.

Today’s devotional was sourced at the page From The Heart. We don’t know much about this except that “From The Heart (FTH) is a movement of Christ followers in FPCP to make Jesus known online through blogging.” We’re guessing, but we’re going to go with First Presbyterian Church of Plymouth. Clicking the header (title) which follows will take you to read this at their site.

The Joseph in You

He called down famine on the land and destroyed all their supplies of food; and he sent a man before them— Joseph, sold as a slave. They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons, till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the Lord proved him true.

Psalms 105:16-19 NIV

Joseph is a familiar character in the Bible. At least once in every church, he must have been preached in the pulpit.

And every time we hear about him, we know that it will end up well because his life story is good. It is probably one of the best turnaround stories in the Bible. But have you ever imagined actually being Joseph? Imagine being betrayed to death by your brothers just because you had a dream. Imagine being a child sold out as a slave knowing you have a family somewhere. Imagine losing your freedom just because of a betrayal. I would probably have given up on the first trial. I most likely would not make it until the time Joseph became in charge of Egypt.

God had to strip Joseph of every single thing he could put his trust in so that when He lifts him up, he will be fit for the job. God had to strip Joseph of every hint of pride so that when He puts him in the position of power, he will be ready.

Maybe the story of Joseph is not just about God lifting him up from all the trials he went through and restoring his family in the end. Maybe it is also about the humbling power of God that prepares every person who keeps on trusting Him despite all odds being against their faith, for the appointed time He can use him.

There was no other person who can help Egypt survive the famine but Joseph, because God had molded him from childhood. God also used his calling to answer lifelong questions he had kept within himself.

There is a Joseph in each of us, the one who will persevere against all odds; who will still believe in the dream; who acknowledges the One who manages everything; who has gone through enough troubles to know it is the Hand of God at work; and the one who knows what the enemy meant for evil, God turns for good.

I am claiming this over your life. This is a timely reminder regardless if you’re sick, struggling, wandering, or transitioning. I believe that the Hand of God is at work, moving all the pieces together until the time is ripe. You will know that all this time, it was Him who is preparing you for your future. Trust that God has a better plan for your life. Leave your anxious thoughts to Him, and ask Him for guidance in the way you should go. No matter what you’re going through, and no matter what lies ahead, let God unleash the Joseph in you.

 

July 26, 2022

The Lord Will…

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The first paragraph below is from Psalm 138. The second paragraph consists entirely of different renderings of the verse which follows, Psalm 138:8.

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
the arrogant he watches from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
Lord, you preserve my life.
You stretch out your right hand against the anger of my enemies;
and you save me.

The Lord will vindicate me;
The Lord will avenge me;
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
The Lord will accomplish all that concerns me;
The Lord will do everything for me;
The Lord will work out his plans for my life;
The Lord will finish what he started for me;
The Lord is with me until the end

Those last phrases are all translations of the same verse taken from different translations of the Bible. These are all a number of different translators’ understandings of how best to express the idea that the Psalm writer included in verse eight. The idea that God will. He will.

It’s the same idea that we see in the writings of the apostle Paul when he says, “I am confident of this: that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

It’s that idea that God doesn’t give up. He doesn’t give up on us when we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. When we wake up in the morning feeling like failures because of whatever happened last night. God doesn’t give up on the people we love who we are praying for.

Some of us have people we are praying for for one thing or another. God does not give up on them. God does not give up and he will complete the good work that he has begun. God is working, he is active. He is always working on the good thing that he began in us and in Creation.

– Ruth Wilkinson


Related verse: 1 Corinthians 1:18

He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.


In Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary, he looks at verse 8:

The assurance we have that whatever good work God has begun in and for his people he will perform it (Psalms 138:8; Psalms 138:8): The Lord will perfect that which concerns me,

1. That which is most needful for me; and he knows best what is so. We are careful and cumbered about many things that do not concern us, but he knows what are the things that really are of consequence to us (Matthew 6:32) and he will order them for the best.

2. That which we are most concerned about. Every good man is most concerned about his duty to God and his happiness in God, that the former may be faithfully done and the latter effectually secured; and if indeed these are the things that our hearts are most upon, and concerning which we are most solicitous,* there is a good work begun in us, and he that has begun it will perfect it, we may be confident he will, Philippians 1:6.

Observe, (1.) What ground the psalmist builds this confidence upon: Thy mercy, O Lord! endures for ever. This he had made very much the matter of his praise (Psalms 13:6), and therefore he could here with the more assurance make it the matter of his hope. For, if we give God the glory of his mercy, we may take to ourselves the comfort of it. Our hopes that we shall persevere must be founded, not upon our own strength, for that will fail us, but upon the mercy of God, for that will not fail. It is well pleaded, “Lord, thy mercy endures for ever; let me be for ever a monument of it.”

(2.) What use he makes of this confidence; it does not supersede, but quicken prayer; he turns his expectation into a petition: “Forsake not, do not let go, the work of thy own hands. Lord, I am the work of thy own hands, my soul is so, do not forsake me; my concerns are so, do not lay by thy care of them.” Whatever good there is in us it is the work of God’s own hands; he works in us both to will and to do; it will fail if he forsake it; but his glory, as Jehovah, a perfecting God, is so much concerned in the progress of it to the end that we may in faith pray, “Lord, do not forsake it.” Whom he loves he loves to the end; and, as for God, his work is perfect.


*The term ‘solicitous’ means that which we are most interested in and most concerned about, or perhaps most anxious about


The verse in Matthew that Matthew Henry refers to is this:

These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.

It’s the verse which proceeds, “But seek first the kingdom of God…”

July 24, 2022

The Ministry of “Coming Alongside”

When my oldest son was doing a 4-month internship with Engineering Ministries International, he reminded us several times that they were “an adjunct ministry.” Their job was to work in the background for other Christian organizations (who they called the “client charities”) and it was those other organizations which received all the visibility. Engineering Ministries International has been involved in at least two thousand projects around the world, but you’ve probably never heard of them.

Another organization, Partners International, had some missions projects operating a few years ago that fell under the banner of “Alongside.” One was a water treatment plant in Africa started by my wife’s uncle. He had noticed that many organizations were raising money to install wells so Africans could have fresh water, but nobody was fixing the wells when they needed repairing. So he created his own “Alongside” project which led to the water treatment facility.

With that in mind, today I want to pick up where we left off yesterday. This devotional study originally appeared a decade ago under the title

Cooperating With What God is Already Doing

and has never been repeated here until now…

It’s possible that your work situation or family situation or neighborhood situation looks, from a spiritual perspective, fairly bleak. You may find yourself in what you consider to be a fairly pagan or secularized environment. But I believe that God is at work in hearts more than we realize.

As an aside, I am reminded of the story of Elijah who goes into hiding, despite winning a huge victory against the prophets of Baal. He cries to God that he is “the only one left,” rattling off some stats about the remaining prophets of Baal, and at that moment, God throws out his own statistic:

NCV.1 Kings.19.8 I have seven thousand people left in Israel who have never bowed down before Baal and whose mouths have never kissed his idol.”

You can read our February, 2021 devotional about this narrative at this link.

Okay…let’s go back to the idea of feeling like you’re in a broken place where God doesn’t seem to be working.

I want to continue where we left off yesterday, and look at our part in bringing people into an awareness of Jesus that leads to a desire for Jesus.  In that devotional, we looked at being the kind of person that God can use to be “sent,” that is to go out into a particular situation or people group or individual’s life and then tell them, so they can hear, believe and call out for salvation.

But the Bible also teaches a principle of “sowers and reapers” and raises the possibility of this being a team approach. In I Corinthians 3:

(NCV) 5b …We are only servants of God who helped you believe. Each one of us did the work God gave us to do.6 I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow.7 So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow, is important.8 The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose, and each will be rewarded for his own work.

My entire part-time work career during eight years of high school and college consisted of working in large department stores. In each area of the store I had to know what the products were, how the products worked, whether there were product warranties, and where the products were kept in the stockroom.  I also had to learn how to work the cash register.

So, my usefulness to my employer consisted of two things:

  • product knowledge
  • sales processing

In later years, when I owned my own business, I realized I had been taught nothing about how to sell. There was no sense in which I asked customers what they felt they needed, qualified what might meet that need, and then proceed to  “ask the question.” Asking means saying, “Do you think that this product can meet those needs?” Or, “Is there anything stopping from you buying today?” Or, “Can I wrap that up for you?”

The ingredient I was missing was what is called, “closing the sale.” My training should have been a three-pronged approach consisting of:

  • product knowledge
  • closing the sale
  • sales processing

Sometimes in the Christian journey we encounter people who are given to us so that we can plant seeds. And other times, we find people where God has been working in their lives already and they’re just waiting for someone to gently nudge them over the line of faith.

But sometimes we fall short of doing both when the opportunities are present. To switch analogies for a moment, it’s like a baseball game in which you’re up to bat and you get a perfect pitch, but instead of hitting a home run you decide to bunt. What holds us back from the hitting the ball out of the park?

I once heard a pastor tell the story of a friend with whom he had been planting seeds for a long time. One day, out of the blue, an associate asked the man if he would like to become a disciple and make Christ the Lord of his life, and the man said yes on the spot. This pastor often jokes that this was simply “not fair.” With a department store analogy, you could say that this man was “his customer;” though thankfully we’re not exactly on commission! More seriously, the pastor understood the distinction between sowing and reaping, and rejoiced that this man did indeed cross the line of faith.

(If we keep the analogy going, the pastor gave the friend all the product knowledge, but his associate was the one closing the sale.)

In Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby talks about coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is already working.** Perhaps there is a ministry organization or even a secular social service agency where people, whether consciously or unknowingly, are experiencing the fruit of God’s love and are ripe to respond. Could you be the missing ingredient?

  • In the lives of people you’ve been in contact with for the past few weeks or month, are you a sower or a reaper?
  • Do you know people right now who you’ve been gently sharing your faith with, but you’ve been afraid to ask the question?
  • Re-read today’s key verses. Maybe you find evangelism very difficult. Is there an area where you can be a “water-er” providing after-care for new disciples?

~ PW

**Experiencing God, pp. 54-55; p. 297

July 23, 2022

The Beautiful People Who Lay the Foundation for Evangelism

Could I have made that title any longer? Today and tomorrow I want to revisit some things we looked at here in 2012; two original devotional studies that have never, until now, been repeated. This devotional was originally titled

But Before That Can Happen, This Has to Happen

I know…equally long title!

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

From a purely literary standpoint, these verses in Romans use a rather unique form. It’s like Paul is deliberately saying everything in reverse, not unlike those comedies or dramas on television where they keep flashing back to progressively earlier and earlier scenes chronologically. In other words, before that can happen, this has to happen.

Having just proclaimed that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” in verse 13, the sequence looks like this:

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent

So before one thing can happen something else has to happen.  Let’s put things in chronological order:

  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

That in itself would be a sufficient meditation, but it leaves something else.  In every major English translation, one more verse is included in the same paragraph, which is a quotation from Isaiah 52.

Isaiah 52:How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Repeated here in Romans:

As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I love how the CEV put this:

The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Now, I’m going to read something into the text here, but I want you to humor me by following along here.  I think the CEV accurately conveys the picture here of the beauty of the sight of someone coming to bring the good news. But let’s assume for just a moment the beauty of the person themselves who comes.  (Not, obviously physical beauty, but spiritual beauty.)

If everything in the text is in reverse order, and if every translator sees the quotation as very directly linked to the other phrases, then what appears in the original form,

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent
  • that “sent someone” is a beautiful person!!

Then the adjusted order would be

  • the process described here begins with a beautiful person!!
  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

Again, I’ve done some “reading into” on the text here, but it does give you a different way of looking at the passage, and it is supported by further study of what it is to be the man or woman who God chooses.  Those of you who object strongly can leave a comment with the more traditional interpretations of the Isaiah passage’s presence here.

But I think God is looking for a “special someone” to relay the message to people in need, and he’s looking for that someone to have a beautiful spirit.  In other words, before we can assume a ministry, we need to cultivate the character of Christ within.

Someone once said there are two dimensions to a physical cross, and we can think of the vertical dimension as the depth of our relationship to God, and the horizontal as the breadth of expressing that relationship to the world around us. We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and God is responsible for the breadth of our ministry.

To get to be the sent one, to be the preacher, to see people respond and call out for salvation; all that has to begin with the formation of Christian character within.  You can’t expect to move in the gifts of the spirit until you have cultivated the fruit of the spirit.

~Paul Wilkinson

For some of you, the passage today reminded you of an older worship song; so here’s a link to Our God Reigns.

 

 

July 13, 2022

A Crestfallen Soul

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Psalm 61:2 – From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety (NLT)

Upon deciding which devotional should appear here, I always use an alternative title to the one the original author used, and then incorporate the author’s title in the body of the teaching/study which follows. (There’s a few reasons for this, but we don’t need to look at those right now.) The author’s key verse today used the word “downcast” and I picked up on that and looked for a synonym and found “crestfallen.” Anyone out there crestfallen? Other synonymns are “downhearted,” “disconsolate,” and “distressed.” (There seems to be an alphabetical theme.)

We periodically visit the devotional website of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, which features a different writer each day. The author today is Lynne Phipps. Clicking the title below will also provide you with the option of hearing today’s thoughts on audio.

The Flat Tire

Each time I take my granddaughters for a walk, I make sure that I check the stroller tires, as one of them has a tendency to lose air and become flat.

As I was using the air compressor to top up the tires the other day, I, too, was feeling rather flat: flat in spirit. I’m not really sure why. Sometimes, it just is that way. I expect that most of us understand exactly what I am saying. Sometimes, we are up, and sometimes, we are down. Our spirits sag. Life seems to be just one big disappointment or annoyance. Our energy deflates, and it is a push to get through the day or the week, or sometimes, even longer.

But as Christians, we are assured that the flat times will not always be with us, for the Lord God loves us. He is with us always and goes before us, clearing our way. His Holy Spirit lives within each of us, a breath of God guiding, directing, and granting wisdom, power, and energy to live as God calls us to live, even amidst the down times. Sometimes, I wonder if the flat times come so that we might appreciate even more the times when our spirit is renewed, invigorated, and inflated by a word from the Lord, or a God moment — when we know that what has just happened is not a coincidence at all, but God Himself Who has been at work within our day or special situation.

Psalm 42:5-6Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar. (NIV)

None of us is alone in regard to flat days. The psalmist experienced and understood these days, too. Because he had a faith history with God, he also understood that they do not last forever. During his low days or weeks or months, he wisely turned his mind to remembering. He chose to remember how in due time, the Lord had always lifted him up. The Lord had always rescued him from his feelings of deflation and despair, and restored his spirit so that he could praise and glorify his Creator once again.

So, like the psalmist, may each one of us also choose wisely amidst our flat days. May we choose to dwell upon our own faith history with God and all the great and wonderful things that He has done for us in the past. Those memories have the power to begin to reignite and reinflate our tired or worn-out spirits with the hope of God within us and the promise of better days to come.

Prayer: Father God, thank You that amidst our down times — whether they be momentary or over an extended period — when we choose to remember our faith history with You, our spirits once again can be uplifted and strengthened. For You are a good God Who loves and rescues Your people — a wondrous God Who is able to draw us up out of the pit and to set our feet upon the solid Rock of Your unending love and goodness once again. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

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