Christianity 201

October 17, 2018

No Turning Back

Today we’re highlighting the writing of Jeffrey Youngblood from Tyler, Texas who appears here for the first time. His blog is titled Thoughts of a Blessed Man. We narrowed it down to four articles and they were all so good I wish we could run them all. Click the title to read this one at source.

Burn the Ships

I love to read. Specifically, I love to read history. One of the stories that piqued my interest the most as I was growing up was the story of a Spanish Conquistador named Hernando Cortez(writing about him does not mean I endorse him). This man was a ruthless leader who conquered most of present day Mexico for Spain. He never had to worry much about his men deserting him, because when they landed in this “new world,” his first order of business was to set ablaze to their only way back home… He burned the ships. Cortez had a goal in mind, and nothing was going to stop him from reaching the fame and fortune he was looking for in this new world.

This man had no idea where he was going. There were no maps he could purchase in Spain prior to leaving. He knew one thing for sure. If he left an avenue back to where he came from, the men in their times of uncertainty would gladly run home.

Pursuing something new can be exciting, but also terrifying at the same time. Trying to develop new habits or lifestyles is difficult to do, but there is an end goal in sight. As a follower of Christ, we start out on our journey much like Cortez, by faith. We are serving a God that we cannot see.

The easy thing to do is return where we came from, but the difficult thing to do in any situation is to destroy the way back. We all have a past. Some of us have a past that we hope we can forget (or at least part of it), others are indifferent, and others have a great past. The only thing about pasts, though, is that it is a place we cannot return or remain. We cannot camp out in the past and not move forward. The apostle Paul discussed this in Philippians.

Not that I  have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Paul was probably more mature in his walk with God than me… and by probably I mean certainly. He had it figured out. His past in people’s eyes differed based on who you asked. He thought for the longest time he was doing the right thing until Jesus Christ knocked him to the ground. He realized quickly that he needed to be leading a very different life, if he was going to obtain the prize. Paul went through so much, but he knew that he could not look back.

Paul burned the ships.

The author of Hebrews decided to chime in with Paul and offer some advice to us as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The advice given is to get rid of some stuff in our life, and run the race that is in front of us. In our walk with God, we need to keep our momentum going forward. Moving backwards is not an option for a Christian.

If we are not careful our past seems better. Our past seems easier. Our past is something we know. Familiarity can be dangerous. We all know people who are living in the past (I even see some mullets floating around Tyler every once in a while). The past will handicap our ability to move forward into the plans that Jesus Christ has laid out specifically for you and me.

It is time to burn some ships. Remove the possibility of going back, and decide today that the only option is to go forward and possess the things that God has planned for you. Looking over your shoulder will be useless, because you will have destroyed the only vehicle to your past.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Get to burning and move forward.

October 15, 2018

No More Fence Sitting

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our third time featuring the writing of Ronnie Dauber, a Christian author who lives in Canada. She has written several young adult novels and seven Inspirational books. Click the title below to read at source.

The Days of Fence Sitting R Over!

There was a time when Christians kept to themselves, followed Jesus and were still able to live in a society with respect. Many would sit on the fence, not sure what to believe because their minds were still partial to the things and ways of this world. However, as the days roll faster towards the return of Christ our King, there is now an obvious difference between those who truly love and follow Jesus, and those who call themselves Christians but are still part of this world. The days of fence sitting are over!  

Many laws have been changed to make legal things that God calls sin, and it’s mandatory for everyone to accept them, whether they are for them or against them. The new age “Christians” are congenial to the changes, but the real Christians can’t accept them and take a stand against them for Christ’ sake and are ridiculed, persecuted and punished.

  • We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.—2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NKJV

The issue with the gays and transgenders, and with the right to abortion are no longer ones that we can speak against without being heavily penalized. We are forced to accept this…regardless of our beliefs. These political issues are really spiritual war zones that are dividing the people and using their emotions to do it. God is no longer part of most government equations for most people.

We are living in the days before the return of our King, and it’s a time when we either stand up for the truth or deny it. The days of fence sitting are over!

  • Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
    And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” — Isaiah 6:8

Sin is spreading faster now than ever before and it’s almost mind-boggling to see how far into it people are daring to go. The world is filled with anger and deluded with a hate for the things of God. Yet, for the Christians—that is the born-again, Spirit-filled believers in Jesus—it’s a time of redemption and revival because we know that Jesus is about to return.

  • Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.—Luke 21:28

How do we deal with sin? The Bible says that we are to hate sin just as God hates sin. We don’t accept it, ignore it, or pretend that we don’t care. If Jesus is alive in us, we won’t be able to hide it! And we’ll have many chances to speak the truth to those caught up in its deception.

  • But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.—1 Peter 3:15

We don’t hate the people; they are victims caught in the devil’s clutches and their future is bleak unless we show them the path to Jesus. God wants us to love them and be willing to speak about the joy that’s in our heart.

  • But I say unto you, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”—Matthew 5:44

Many people will come against us and speak badly about us and even break life-long friendships with us because we won’t accept the sinful things of this world. This persecution is growing and it hurts when loved ones turn on us. But it’s not us that they hate; it’s Jesus.

  • [Jesus said,] “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”—John 15:18

This is when we must leave our emotions out of it and not take offense.  Jesus told us to preach the gospel to the world. He didn’t tell us to judge, condemn or hate the people. He told us to live peaceably with all men.

  • If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.—Romans 12:18 NKJV

When we stand for truth, we will be noticed! So, we need to build up our relationship with Jesus by spending time with Him and by studying the Scriptures to know His truth. His Holy Spirit in us will lead us and give us the words to speak out at the right time so that we can speak against sin and tell others about the salvation of Jesus.

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding.—Proverbs 3:5

If we love Jesus and are living for Him, it will be impossible to hide who we are in this sinful world. We won’t be able to sit on the fence because the truth in our heart will blatantly reveal the sin in this world. And this is good because the people around us will see our light shine a whole lot better when we get off the fence and let it shine for Jesus!

July 10, 2018

Honoring God by Giving Him Our ‘Today’

Today we’re rejoining author, pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie. Click here for his devotional and blog page, or click the title below for this article.

Carpe Diem: The Value Of Today

Life is filled with opportunities, but the big question is what we do with them. Do we let them slip by, saying, “Maybe next time. There is always another day”? Or, do we seize them? We may not have as much time as we think.

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead calculated the average length of a life using the hours of one day to illustrate the importance of recognizing the value of time. He concluded that if your age is 15, the time is 10:25 a.m. If your age is 20, the time is 11:34. If your age is 25, the time is 12:42 p.m. If you’re 30, the time is 1:51. If you’re 35, the time is 3:00. If you’re 40 the time is 4:08. At age 45, the time is 5:15. If you’re 50, the time is 6:25. By age 55, the time is 7:24. If you’re 60, the time is 8:42. If you’re 65, the time is 9:51. And if you you’re 70 the time is 11 p.m.

Psalm 90:12 reminds us, “Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (NKJV). Or as the Living Bible puts it, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.”

Ephesians 5:15 says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise” (NLT).

Jesus told the story of a man who went on a journey and left his money with his servants. This was not an uncommon thing in those days. A wealthy man or a ruler would have many servants in his household, from those who performed basic labor to those who managed the financial affairs of his household, even his business. In many cases some of the man’s servants would be better educated and skilled than he was. Highly trusted slaves had a virtual free hand within prescribed areas of responsibility while the owner was at home.

When the owner would go on a journey, he would leave full authority in the hands of these key servants, who would have the ancient equivalent of a power of attorney. So Jesus described a scenario in which a wealthy man went on a journey and left the key servants in charge of his possessions. It’s difficult for us to know exactly what sum he left them, but one possibility is that he gave the equivalent of $5,000 to the first servant, $2,000 to the second servant, and $1,000 to the third.

What is Jesus’ story saying to us? I think it’s quite obvious. Jesus is like that wealthy man who goes on a journey, which spans the day he left this earth to the day he returns in the Second Coming. We are the servants he has invested in, and we are to take what he has given us and use it for his glory while we await his return.

In the New Testament a word that is often used for “slave” or “servant” is the Greek word doulos. It’s a term that describes a unique class of servant, not someone who was made that way by constraint or by force. A doulos was someone who had been freed by their master yet still chose to serve out of love. The servant was so thankful for this pardon that he or she would willfully choose to serve.

The apostle Paul often referred to himself as a doulos, and that is what we are as followers of Jesus Christ. Christ has paid an incredible debt for us. He has pardoned us. He has forgiven us. And now we should become his voluntary servants, not because we have to but because we want to – because we love him. We recognize that he has instilled certain things in our lives that we are to use for his glory. Certain gifts. Certain talents. Certain resources. Everything.

Paul wrote, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NLT).

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NLT). This doesn’t mean that we must take a vow of poverty. It simply means we recognize that it all belongs to God. Our lives belong to God. Our families belong to God. Our possessions belong to God. Everything is his.

In Jesus’ story, the first servant took what he had, invested it, and received a 100 percent return. He doubled his master’s investment. The second, though he had less, did the same thing.

This demonstrates that it isn’t a person’s talent that matters as much as how he or she uses that talent. God never demands from us the abilities we don’t have. But He does demand that we should use, to the full, the abilities that we do possess. We may not be equal in talent, but we should be equal in effort.

Take what God has given to you and do the most that you can with it for his glory. God can do a lot with a little. If you don’t believe me, just ask the boy with the five loaves and two fish who gave everything he had to Jesus. It didn’t seem like a lot, but Jesus used them to feed a hungry multitude. Jesus can take a little, bless it and multiply it. He can use it beyond our wildest dreams.

If we will humble ourselves, take what we have and offer it to God, if we will be willing to do what he has placed before us and be faithful in the little things, then he will give us more to do. I would rather try and fail than never try at all. Any time you take a chance, you can fail. But it’s better to try than to never take chances and never have anything happen in your life.

So seize the day. Seize the moment. Seize the opportunities before you. Don’t put it off too long, because you may not have as much time as you think. Be productive with your life. Be productive with your time. Seize the opportunities God has given you.

March 31, 2018

Hating the Passing Things of This World

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
 ~John 8:12 NIV

Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.
 ~Ecclesiastes 1:8 NLT

Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.
 ~I Cor. 7:31 NLT

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
 ~I John 2:17 ESV

Today’s reading is drawn from a posting of seven chapters of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, posted by Random House at the link in the title below, where you can read all 7 chapters. This book is an all-time Christian classic if you haven’t read it.

Wikipedia fills in some information:

Thomas à Kempis,  (c. 1380 – 25 July 1471) was a German-Dutch canon regular of the late medieval period and the author of The Imitation of Christ, one of the most popular and best known Christian books on devotion. His name means Thomas “of Kempen”, his hometown, and in German he is known as Thomas von Kempen.  …Thomas spent his time between devotional exercises, composition, and copying. He copied the Bible no fewer than four times, one of the copies being preserved at Darmstadt, Germany in five volumes. In its teachings he was widely read and his works abound in Biblical quotations, especially from the New Testament.

I have made only one editing change, taking out the use of numbered paragraphs (which I believe cause readers to rush through the material) and substituting each new section with the first sentence in bold type.

The Imitation of Christ and Contempt for the Vanities of the World

“Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness,” says the Lord. These are Christ’s own words by which He exhorts us to imitate His life and His ways, if we truly desire to be enlightened and free of all blindness of heart. Let it then be our main concern to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s teaching surpasses that of all the saints, and whoever has His spirit will find in His teaching hidden manna. But it happens that many are little affected, even after a frequent hearing of His Gospel. This is because they do not have the spirit of Christ. If you want to understand Christ’s words and relish them fully, you must strive to conform your entire life to His.

What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility and, thus, are displeasing to the Trinity? Esoteric words neither make us holy nor righteous; only a virtuous life makes us beloved of God. I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it.

If you knew the entire Bible inside out and all the maxims of the philosophers, what good would it do you if you were, at the same time, without God’s love and grace? Vanity of vanities! All is vanity, except our loving God and serving only Him. This is the highest wisdom: to despise the world and seek the kingdom of heaven.

It is vanity to seek riches that are sure to perish and to put your hope in them.

It is vanity to pursue honors and to set yourself up on a pedestal.

It is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh and to crave the things which will eventually bring you heavy punishment.

It is vanity to wish for a long life and to care little about leading a good life.

It is vanity to give thought only to this present life and not to think of the one that is to come.

It is vanity to love what is transitory and not to hasten to where everlasting joy abides.

Keep this proverb often in mind: The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Therefore, withdraw your heart from the love of things visible and turn yourself to things invisible. Those who yield to their sensual nature dishonor their conscience and forfeit God’s grace.

 

April 1st is Christianity 201’s 8th Birthday!
While Christ’s resurrection is the dominant theme in our thoughts tomorrow, Christianity 201 concluded its eighth year this evening, and now begins year nine of providing devotional content and Bible study discussion material. Our motto continues to be “digging a little deeper.” My hope is that we’ve provided helpful resources for your devotional and Bible study reading and have introduced you to many new authors who are doing the same online.    ~Paul

January 26, 2018

Getting to Know the Seventy Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. (Acts 1:21-23 NIV)

New Christians often face roadblocks to understanding because the terminology used is often clear to insiders, but the nuances require explanation to those unfamiliar.

Take for example the word disciple. A disciple is one who follows a master. We are told to “Go and make disciples.” (Matt. 28:19) So far, so good.

But we often speak of “the twelve disciples” and to outsiders this might be unclear. It obviously refers to a very specific group of people to whom Jesus, the itinerant Rabbi, said, “Follow me.” But we know that Jesus had many other followers.

So we sometimes speak of “the twelve apostles” but in the giving of spiritual gifts we’re told, “he gave some apostles.” This phrase in Ephesians 4:11 is translated by Eugene Peterson in this beautiful passage:

He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Peterson retains the term “apostle” while others use “messengers” and “emissaries.” A good definition might be “sent ones.”

This can also confuse, since we sometimes speak of “the apostolic age” and cessationists would argue that when that period ended — when those who were witnesses to the resurrection all died — then the supernatural gifts (healing, tongues, prophecy) also died.

Being a “disciple” is not a specific gift. The mandate to follow Christ applies to all Christians. To say that Jesus only had twelve followers in his ministry is to ignore the passage where he sends out 72 in Luke 10:

The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.

This “advance team” is interesting because we’re told that Jesus chose them, which would imply he had more than 72 to choose from. In my mind, certainly some of them were women, but that’s another discussion; I know some would disagree. We do know from other texts there were women followers; whether or not they were part of these short-term mission trips is up to interpretation.

We also know that not every disciple continued with Jesus. In John 6, Jesus teaches and interacts with the crowd. He talks about being the bread of life, and introduces the idea of “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” Then we read,

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”(60)
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. (66 NLT)

Perhaps this sounds familiar. Maybe you know people who started attending your church and then found the cost of discipleship to high a price to pay, or found the teaching, like those early hearers, hard to accept.

But perhaps you know people who have been faithful throughout their entire lives, who haven’t really been “prone to wander.”

Among the 72 were some of those. In Acts 1:21-23, it’s time to choose a replacement for Judas to be among the inner circle of twelve, and the text states,

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

The InterVarsity Commentary tells us,

By detailing the apostolic requirement of being an eyewitness to the whole course of Jesus’ ministry, including the resurrection and ascension, Luke emphasizes the continuity of eyewitness testimony which would be the church’s foundation. And through it all he presents a prepared church with a restored integrity in its leadership.

There’s no mention of the two nominees before or after this point in Acts 1, but the mere mention of their names gives us insight into a broader community of followers. It’s almost certain, if these two were part of the story beginning from when John baptized Jesus, we can safely assume they were among the 72. Some day we’ll get to meet the other 70.

 

 

 

January 27, 2017

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15 NLT

He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.  – Isaiah 53:3 ISV

…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!Philippians 2: 7,8 NIV

This essay predates email forwards or even the internet itself, but as I found it in a stack of papers yesterday, I couldn’t help think that while it wasn’t the usual type of thing we share here, it certainly provides food for thought. Immediate the above scripture passages came to mind.

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a
great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the
front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s
throne, but with embittered belligerence.

“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped
a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number
from a Nazi concentration camp.” “We endured terror, beatings,
torture, and death!”

In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?”
he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being
black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones,
and toiled ’til only death gave release.”

Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had
a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in
His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to
live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping,
fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What
does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life?
After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered
the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India,
a person who was illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima and others
who had tasted life’s bitterest dregs. At last they were ready to
present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified
to be their judge; He must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
as a man. But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be
sure He would not use His divine powers to help himself.

* Let Him be a Jew.
* Let the legitimacy of His birth be questioned.
* Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, it brings
upon Him the hate, condemnation and destructive attacks of political
and religious authorities.
* Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.
* Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living being.
* Let Him be tortured and … let Him die.
* And let His death be humiliating; let it take place beside
common criminals, while He is jeered at, mocked, and spit on.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs
of approval went up from the great throng of people. But suddenly,
after the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a
long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly,
all recognized the stark reality; God had already served his sentence.

– Author unknown


From Handel’s Messiah: He was despised.

January 9, 2017

Where God Dwells There are No Clocks

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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And He Shall Reign Forever

Today we pay a return visit to the Lutheran pastor Paul Willweber at the website, The Three Taverns. Click the title to read at source.

The Timelessness of Eternity

NLT John 16:15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

16 “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

17 Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? 18 And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name.

What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.

December 26, 2016

Compromise: Making it “Easier” to be a Christian

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

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

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

Why? Because “the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables”  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

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

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

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

November 17, 2016

Who Needs Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

  • How dare you call me a sinner?!
  • How dare you think you are better than me?!
  • How dare you think that, if such a thing as heaven exists, you are worthy and I am not?!”

This might be the kind of thing we hear from people as we share the Good News that Jesus came to save sinners. Good news, but with the bad news that you are a sinner. This also might be the kind of thing someone might not say, but that we imagine they will, so we shy away from sharing the Good News for fear it will come across as bad news. Let us consider a time “sinners” are the focus of Jesus.

The Pharisees came to the disciples with a question about Jesus: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16 ) A good question considering the likelihood the people Jesus is friendly with would not be welcome in the local synagogue, never mind the Temple. Why is Jesus eating with these types? The answer is twofold.

One reason is so obvious we can easily miss it; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because he invites them to do so. This is made clear from the preceding verses.

As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” Mark 2:13

Levi, also known as Matthew, would have been collecting taxes on behalf of Herod Antipas, who would have been ruling by the power of, and on behalf, of Rome. This would make Levi one of those guys you do not want to be associated with if you have any desire to be truly Jewish and truly holy. At least according to the Pharisees. But this is the kind of guy Jesus invites to follow him.

The second reason is just as obvious; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because they accept the invitation. Notice Levi’s response to the invitation: “And he got up and followed him.” Mark 2:14. And then notice something about the tax collectors and sinners surrounding Jesus:

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. Mark 2:15

Although Levi gets a specific invite to be a disciple, there are many tax collectors and sinners following Jesus around. They want to be with him. These are the kinds of people Jesus eats with because these are the kinds of people that want to be with him.

We see these two reasons reflected in the reason Jesus himself gives as to why he is eating with these sinners:

17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17

Jesus comes to call the sick, and the sick respond to the call. Jesus comes to bring grace and healing to sinners, and sinners know they need grace and healing. Now notice how annoying these words of Jesus are for the Pharisees. They do not see their need of Jesus, but Jesus is clearly telling them that they do. But are they not the righteous, therefore not needing Jesus? Consider that the Pharisees would have known well the verses from the Old Testament that Paul brought together in his letter to the Romans:

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin,
10 as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.”
13 “Their throats are opened graves;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of vipers is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  Romans 3:9-18

The Pharisees would likely have agreed with Paul’s summary of the above: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They would have agreed about the need for God’s saving work in the lives of the sinful. But they also would have thought that if God was coming to save, they would be the insiders looking out, not the outsiders looking in. They would be eating at the table of God’s representative, congratulating themselves on how deserving they were of such an honour. But if God’s salvation activity is in Jesus, they are the outsiders looking in on tax collectors and sinners, the least deserving of society, sharing at the table with Jesus.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

So what are we to say to those offended by the bad news part of the Good News? To those who would object to being called “sinners”? To those who would object that we Christians in no way deserve the hope of heaven any more than anyone else?

We say

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

We spend time with Jesus, not because we deserve to, or because we are better, but because He invited and we know our need of him, just like the sick know their need of a doctor. And he invites you also:

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20


All scripture references are from the NRSV. Read more of Clarke’s Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons at this link.

November 6, 2016

The Judgment of the Redeemed

by Russell Young    

Sin or disobedience has never been “winked at” by God. Those who treat his holiness and his righteous requirements with disdain will reap the results of their folly.  God is holy and without holiness no one will see him. (Heb 12:14) That is, they will be separated from him. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “He will punish those who do not know [understand] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8─10)

Much of modern teaching has dismissed the need for a righteous walk and holiness with the affirmation of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.  No doubt these proclamations are intended to bring God glory, however, they diminish him and his government.  After all, what would any nation become if law enforcers were to take the position that they love the offenders and dismissed any consequence of law breaking?  What happens in the family home if no rules are enforced? Even our limited understanding would inform us that anarchy would result, and God is much more knowledgeable of the human condition than we are. It is the evil imaginations of men that pain is heart. (Gen 6:6)

It is true that sins committed under the Old Covenant have been forgiven. (Heb 9:15) Such provision was made through the sacrifice of Christ so that a people might be delivered from the death sentence that awaited them and be given a second chance to live under the lordship of Christ who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)  It is through obedience to him that the practice of sin can, and is to be, overcome.  Paul has referred to this aspect of God’s government as “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) and it is according to the law of the Spirit that the redeemed will be judged. James has called this the “law of the Lord” (NIV) or the “law of liberty” (KJV) (Jas 2:12).  Paul wrote, “And so [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV)

Peter has written, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”(1 Pet 4:17 NIV) Those who dismiss sinful practices with the understanding that they have been disposed of will be very disappointed when they face the judgment of Christ.  Peter wrote that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) A person’s defense cannot rest in the proclamation that they are merely human and lacking the ability to live a godly life.  The Spirit has enabled the believer’s needs to be met through his indwelling presence.

Christ was not only incarnated as a human being in order that he might be an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of people, he was incarnated so that he might understand the temptations of the flesh. (Heb 2:17─18) Having a body like our own, he was able to overcome the temptation to sin and he suffered in the pursuit of victory. (Heb 2:18) It is to the Lord with his understanding of temptation and the provision made that the redeemed sinner must address his defence.

Daniel wrote that when Christ returns, “[m]ultitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2 NIV) Shame and contempt will not be rested on those committed to the lake of burning sulphur, but on those who had failed to practice obedience to their Lord. Jesus himself testified: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city [the New Jerusalem]. (Rev 22:14 KJV) and Matthew has record the Lord’s admonition: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV)

The judgment seat of Christ is reserved for those who have pledged or have proclaimed that he is their lord and they will be judged according to the manner of their obedience.  It is those who walk in the light, those who obey him (the Spirit, 2 Cor 3 17, 18) who will find eternal rest for their souls. “…[H]e became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9 NIV)

The Lord spoke of a great deal of deception that would take place in the last days and it is certainly evident.  “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV) Judgment and eternal life or destruction will be levelled according to a person’s “sowing” or the things he or she does while in the body, whether he or she prac5tices righteous living or not. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Rom 2:5 NIV)

Careful thought must be given to Paul’s teaching that following justification by the blood of Christ we should be saved from God’s wrath through his life. (Rom 5:10) His life is that which he is prepared to live out as the Spirit that indwells each confessor.  However, to avoid judgment and God’s wrath those who have professed his lordship must be prepared to obediently allow him to live his sinless life through them.

Judgment is not only given concerning one’s state of holiness, it is also given according to his or her service or lack thereof in the building of the kingdom. (1 Cor 3:11─15)

Judgment awaits each, and the outcome will depend on the value and honour with which they allow Christ to minister for them in service to the kingdom, by his sacrificial offering, in and through them by his indwelling Spirit, and by engaging his ministry as high priest.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is in stores and available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


April 24, 2016

God’s Love is NOT Unconditional

•••by Russell Young

The Christian mythology of God’s “unconditional love” has entrenched itself solidly in church teaching and is often promoted without being given adequate thought.  Many people are resting their adoration of Christ and their eternal hope in the thought that God’s love is unconditional and that their sin practices will be over-looked.  It almost sounds heretical to refute such an idea.

God’s love is expansive and beyond understanding but it is not “unconditional.”  If His love is accepted as being expressed as one’s presence in His Eternal Kingdom, and if His love is without condition, salvation must be universal.  Further, if His love is without condition, there will be no place for judgment since judgment implies the assessment of one’s faithfulness in meeting conditions.

The nature of fullness of God’s love is seldom taught.  That is, the Lord not only gave His life on the cross so that past sins might be forgiven (Hebrews 9:15) and a new covenant provided, He dwells “in” the believer so that the righteousness demanded by the law might be achieved by those who are willing to obey Him. (Romans 8:4)

Since salvation is NOT universal, condition(s) for it must apply.  According to the Psalmist the first condition is contrition of spirit.  “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, KJV; 51:17; 57:15) A second condition is that they must “obey” the Spirit.  “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9, NIV; Romans 8:4) A third condition is that they must stand firm to the end. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22, NIV).  A fourth condition is that they must share in His suffering (to overcome temptations),” Now if we are children [of God], then we are heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17, NIV; Romans 6:5)

All will be judged at Christ’s return for the things done in the flesh. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV).  There will be a separation of those “who do not obey the gospel” from those who do.  “He will punish those who do not know [appreciate] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)

God’s love is expansive, but not unconditional, and those who teach otherwise are deceivers leading many into a false hope for their disobedient behaviors.  Paul told his readers to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) Christ told His followers to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:24, NIV)

The mythical concept of God’s “unconditional love” is so pervasive that it has overwhelmed contemporary Christian music and has lulled believers to sleep concerning the need for their own righteousness.  God’s love is expansive, but He is also HOLY and “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) The Kingdom of God was not created for man; it is God’s kingdom created for Him and those in it must be suitable for His Presence.  “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41)  “Only a few” will find life. (Matthew 7:14)

February 12, 2016

Jesus Preaches to a Megachurch Crowd

Today’s devotional is part teaching, part testimony from the prologue to what I believe has stood out as Southeast Christian Church pastor Kyle Idleman’s most popular work, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Devoted Follower of Jesus (Zondervan). (Note: Some emphasis added to this excerpt.)

Not a Fan

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I am sitting in the church sanctuary. It’s empty now, but Easter is only a few days away. More than thirty thousand people will likely come to the weekend services, and I have no idea what I’m going to say to them. I can feel the pressure mounting as I sit there hoping that a sermon will come to mind. I look around at the empty seats hoping some inspiration will come. Instead there’s just more perspiration. I wipe the sweat off my brow and look down. This sermon needs to be good. There are some people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter (we call them “Creasters”). I want to make sure they all come back. What could I say to get their attention? How can I make my message more appealing? Is there something creative I could do that would be a big hit and get people talking?

Still nothing. There is a Bible in the chair in front of me. I grab it. I can’t think of a Scripture to turn to. I’ve spent my life studying this book and I can’t think of one passage that will “wow” the Creasters. I consider using it the way I did as a kid. Kind of like a Magic 8 Ball, you ask a question, open up the Bible and point on the page, and whatever it says answers your question.

Not a Fan - Kyle IdlemanFinally a thought crosses my mind: I wonder what Jesus taught whenever he had the big crowds. What I discovered would change me forever. Not just as a preacher, but as a follower of Christ. I found that when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave.

In that empty sanctuary I read of one such occasion in John chapter 6. Jesus is addressing a crowd that has likely grown to more than five thousand. Jesus has never been more popular. Word has spread about his miraculous healings and his inspirational teaching. This crowd of thousands has come to cheer him on.

After a full day of teaching, Jesus knows the people are getting hungry, and so he turns to his disciples and asks what all these people will do for food. One of the disciples, Philip, tells Jesus that even with eight months’ wages, it wouldn’t be enough money to buy bread for everyone to have a bite. From Philip’s perspective, there really wasn’t anything that could be done. But another disciple, Andrew, has been scanning the crowd and he tells Jesus of a boy who has fives loaves of bread and two small fish. Jesus takes the boy’s sack lunch and with it he feeds the entire crowd. In fact, the Bible tells us that even after everyone had their fill, there was still plenty of food left over.

After dinner the crowd decides to camp out for the night so they can be with Jesus the next day. These are some big-time fans of Jesus. The next morning when the crowd wakes up and they’re hungry again, they look around for Jesus, aka their meal ticket, but he’s nowhere to be found. These fans are hoping for an encore performance. Eventually they realize that Jesus and his disciples have sailed to the other side of the lake. By the time they catch up to Jesus they’re starving. They’ve missed their chance to order breakfast and they are ready to find out what’s on the lunch menu. But Jesus has decided to shut down the “all you can eat” buffet. He’s not handing out any more free samples. In verse 26 Jesus says to the crowd:

I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.

Jesus knows that these people are not going to all the trouble and sacrifice because they are following him, but because they want some free food. Was it Jesus they wanted, or were they only interested in what he could do for them? In verse 35 Jesus offers himself, but the question is, Would that be enough?

Then Jesus declared,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus says, I am the bread of life. Suddenly Jesus is the only thing on the menu. The crowd has to decide if he will satisfy or if they are hungry for something more. Here’s what we read at the end of the chapter:

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (John 6:66).

Many of the fans turn to go home. I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn’t chase after them. He doesn’t soften his message to make it more appealing. He doesn’t send the disciples chasing after them with a creative handout inviting them to come back for a “build your own sundae” ice cream social. He seems okay with the fact that his popularity has plummeted.

As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here’s what became clear to me: It wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.

I put the Bible back in the chair in front of me.

I cried.

God, I am sorry.

Almost as soon as I said it to him, I knew it needed to go further. A few days later on Easter Sunday, a crowd of thousands gathered and I began my sermon with a choked up apology. I told the crowd that I was wrong for being too concerned with what they would think and how many of them would come back. I think over the years my intentions were good; I wanted to make Jesus look as attractive as possible so that people would come to find eternal life in him. I was offering the people Jesus, but I was handing out a lot of free bread. In the process I cheapened the gospel…

 

 

January 23, 2016

Your Money Leads; Your Heart Follows

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Feeding the Soul which is part of an English and Spanish organization, BBG Ministry. The title below — click to read at source — may seem a bit hardline, but the analogy below is one I hadn’t considered before.

God wants your heart. Therefore, he demands your money.

Jesus gives us these simple instructions concerning money and possessions:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

He commands us not to store up money here on Earth, but instead to invest that money into heaven—into the Kingdom of God. Why is it so important to put your money into the Kingdom? Jesus explains:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

It is impossible to overlook the importance of that verse. Wherever your treasure is, that determines where your heart will be. Your money leads; your heart follows. Knowing this, Jesus commands us to put our money into eternal things. Why? So that our heart will be into eternal things.

Jesus on Money and WealthFor example, say you invest money into a company’s stock. Previously, you didn’t really care about that company, and you didn’t bother to read news articles about them. Now, however, you’re scouring the newspaper for any articles that even remotely relate to that company, you check their stock price daily, and you religiously read their earnings reports. What caused such a change? Your money went into the company and with it your heart.

This principle—where your money goes, your heart follows—is illustrated very well in Mark 10:17-22, which records the story of a rich young man who came to Jesus asking how to be saved. He had done everything right and followed all the laws and commandments, but, according to Jesus, there was “one thing” he lacked:

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The man had great wealth, but really his wealth had him—it owned and controlled him. Jesus wanted the man’s heart, and so Jesus demanded his money. Jesus knew that the man could never follow Him if his heart was more attached to his possessions than to God.

The man’s face fell, and he went away sad because his heart was too attached to his possessions. His money was invested in his own possessions, and therefore his heart was invested in his own possessions. However, Jesus wanted to break that bondage, so he commanded the man to give away all of his possessions to others. By giving his money to help the poor and the needy, Jesus knew that the man’s heart would be transformed into serving others, and in so doing he would come identify with and follow Christ.

Do you want your heart to be full of love for others? Give to them, and bless them with your money. Then your heart will follow.

If you want a heart for God, invest your money in building the Kingdom of God. Then your heart will follow. If you want a heart for the poor and the needy of the world, use your money to fight global poverty and hunger. Then your heart will follow. If you want a heart for global missions, support missionaries in Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world. Then your heart will follow. Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.

January 8, 2016

A Different Type of Fishing

ESV Matt. 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

ESV Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Today we pay a return visit to Georgia pastor Clark Bunch (who we tend to interact with more at Thinking Out Loud) sourcing today from his church website at Unity Baptist Church. Click the title below to read at source.

Things Change After Jesus

Fishers of Men

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan. After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness he began preaching in Galilee and almost immediately called the first disciples. Mark 1 and Matthew 4 share an almost identical account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew by saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke 5 records the miraculous catch of fish and a very similar statement (from now on you will catch men). Things changed for Peter when Jesus got on his boat and called him to follow.

They used to fish with nets. All of the fishermen in the New Testament fished with nets. They cast the nets off the side of the boat, drug them through the water and then hauled up whatever was caught up along the way. Many of us have never fished that way but you’ve probably seen it. Tuna are caught by the hundreds as nets drag them up from the sea. It was a big deal in the late 80’s, early 90’s because dolphins were being trapped in the tuna nets and drowned. In the Luke 5 account the nets were so filled with fish they were breaking and they had to call for backup. Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” and taught them how to cast the net of the Gospel. Some days you don’t catch anything; Peter and company had just had a bad night the first time they met Jesus. But our call as believers is to cast the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does to draw people to Jesus. Don’t worry about the days you don’t seem to be catching anything; our calling is to love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, and keep casting the net.

Peter did not fish with bait. I learned from my grandfather how to bait a hook. Most of us here today cast a hook with a rod and reel and catch one fish at a time; catfish, bluegill, trout, that’s how it’s done. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” he was talking to fishermen that cast net which they traded in for casting the Gospel. We are not to fish for men with bait. See where I’m going with this? The prosperity gospel, the health and wealth preachers, are baiting people they hope to hook and do not cast the Gospel net. When praise and worship hymns we sing together are replaced by a rock concert, and when preaching the Word is replaced by a guy promising you will have everything you ever wished for and be richly blessed beyond your wildest dreams, then we’ve quit casting the net. You can fill a stadium with people that have itching ears and are willing to take the bait. People show up for the show. We must not replace authentic worship with worshiptainment.

Peter never stopped fishing. After the resurrection, in John 21:3, Peter says to about half a dozen other disciples “I am going fishing” and they went with him. They weren’t taking a new bass boat out to the lake for the first time or going on a fishing trip to get away from everything a few days. They had spent the past several years with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing miracles and learning to do those same things themselves.  They most likely had no clue what to do next. Things changed when Jesus came, how would they change again when he left them? Peter said “I am going fishing” because that’s what he knew how to do. If the Jesus movement was over there were still bills to pay and food would have to be put on the table. Many of the disciples had been fishermen by trade and when Peter announced he was going back to work Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee and two other unnamed disciples went with him. Jesus appeared to them, the miraculous catch of fish was repeated, and Peter found out that his work and ministry were not over yet. In fact that work was just beginning.

Things change after Jesus. Your life may not change as dramatically as Peter’s did but our goals in life are reshaped as we redefine what is important. One of the things believers do is share with others. Think about intentionally casting the Gospel net this week and we’ll continue next with considering things that change after Jesus comes.

November 13, 2015

To Whom Shall We Go

NIVJohn 6:48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them...

…60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

…66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Today’s post is by Denver pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber and we offer 3 different ways for you to experience it today. You can read the excerpt below. You can click the link and read it in full. Or you can click the link and listen to it on audio.

Jesus Isn’t The Sears Wishbook

…If you remember – It started with Jesus feeding the 5,000 – the crowd’s desire for bread was granted and then inevitably seen for what it was – only a temporary fix. This is followed by a long weird discourse about Jesus being the bread of life which leads us to our reading for today when a bunch of his followers say “um, your teachings are hard.” and they take off and Jesus looks at the ones who are left and asks if they want to take off too and they respond, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”.

It was like the disciples kept circling things in the Sears Wishbook and showing them to Jesus sure that getting what they wish for would be the key to a good life and the avoidance of suffering. They wanted miracles and signs and a list of rules to follow so that they may earn eternal life and they wanted to make Jesus a real king and not just that weird guy who says weird stuff while surrounded with weird people. And instead, over and over – Jesus gives them himself. He keeps saying I give myself to you and they keep pointing to what they circled in the Sears Wishbook.

So some of the disciples say “this teaching is hard” and they leave. I get that. His teachings are hard. Mainly because my own desires – the things I circle in my Wishbook are pretty much always rooted in ego and Jesus’ teachings do nothing for the ego except destroy it. You know which ones I’m talking about: teachings like, those who seek to save their life must lose it and those who lose their life will find it – teachings like the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And “don’t be afraid” and that classic, “don’t worry about tomorrow” It makes me want to tell Jesus to stop talking and just smite my enemies and hand over Malibu Barbie already.

Because Jesus’ words are seldom the words we want to hear. They just happen to be the words we need to hear. Just to be clear, though: Jesus’ teachings are hard not because they demand a certain moral or ethic from us – a lifestyle that isn’t as fun as one we’d rather choose – the teachings are hard because they offer a saving truth that our desires can never offer us. For instance, were there a picture in the Sears Wishbook of my enemies being destroyed…my ego would totally grab a black magic marker and circle that and say yes, Jesus slash Santa if you could please make sure horrible things happen to my internet trolls and the people who have hurt me and my 8th grade bully Debbie Quackenbush I would feel better – and to this Jesus says these words: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” He says “turn the other cheek” he says “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

These words of Jesus make me realize why the great poet W.H. Auden, when asked once why he was a Christian, instead of a Buddhist or a Confucian, since all these religions share similar ethical values said, “Because nothing in the figure of Buddha or Confucius fills me with the overwhelming desire to scream, “crucify him.” Which makes me realize that my own Christian faith is always a blend of “This teaching is hard” and “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” I don’t know about you – but I feel like a combination of both these kinds of disciples. Because I know that the message and work of Jesus is what heals me and yet, it smarts the ego like hell so instead – I sometimes walk away like a kid who refuses antiseptic for her badly skinned knee because she knows its gonna sting.

But Lord, seriously, to whom shall we go instead? …

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