Christianity 201

February 15, 2019

Mercy in the Middle of Judgment

This is our second visit to the site, Life Walk With Marlene. Click the header below to read this at source.

Re-Discovering God’s Mercy

Exodus 9:31 (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they ripen late.)

I have read the 10 plagues more than 10 times and this reading is the first time that I noticed this verse. What does this verse imply?

I realise that even in God’s powerful sovereignty, there is still mercy. Even when the hail struck every man and beast and tree in the land (vv.24-25), the wheat and spelt were not destroyed. Spelt is an old kind of wheat with bearded ears and spikelets that each contain two narrow grains, not widely grown but favoured as a health food.

As I read through the last 6 plagues, I wonder if anyone died in the first 9. Only in the last plague was recorded that people died. Amidst all the calamities that God sent to Egypt, He was merciful to them – giving chances again and again for Pharaoh to set the people free. Even when God knew that Pharaoh would go back on his word, God still stopped the plague each time Pharaoh asked Moses to intercede for them. We often thought but it was said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – so how He could count it against Pharaoh? Did Pharaoh know that? Did he not have a choice? God knew his pride and hardened heart, yet and so God gave him 9 chances to change his mind. In all the 10 plagues, God’s purpose was to reveal himself – that you may know I am the Lord. (7:17, 9:16, 10:1-2)

I am reminded of what I learned in our Old Testament 1 class. We often let our familiarity of/with the Bible hinder us from new discoveries and lessons to learn. The 10 plagues in Exodus are so familiar that I can memorise all of them (though never tried to remember their particular order except the 1st and the last.) The professor said that when she was studying at a certain school, some of her classmates who were not as familiar with the Bible sometimes shared fresh and new perspectives from reading certain bible passages.

I have read through the entire Bible for the past few years and still there are new lessons to learn even for the same passages read many times. The Holy Spirit helps us to read and understand and apply what we read. We just need to persist and disciplined ourselves to read the Bible regularly with a desire to know God more and apply Biblical truths in our daily living. Sometimes I get lazy, I get complacent and I falter. I read for the sake of reading. Still I continue. It might be an up and down journey but God persists – He does not let me go. So dear friends, just keep reading the Bible.

When life is not easy and God is still merciful. There is something new in the old; a fresh truth to hold in the familiar trials of life. God’s mercies are new every morning.


After we’d formatted today’s devotional, we realized it was shorter than many we run, so we decided to give you a double feature from the same author. The title of this one may intrigue you. These were several days apart, but both are rooted in the book of Exodus.


Mr. Christian, A.T.L.C.

I’ve been reading from Exodus all the details of making the Tabernacle and all the things in it. Once from the instructions of the Lord for the Israelites what to give, what to do and how to do (Exo. 25-28) a second time – a narration of all the people did. (Exo. 36-40)

I wondered what is there for me to take away from all the details in the description and construction of this grand project. But one phrase kept coming up: ATLC

As the Lord commanded… as the Lord commanded Moses/him…

1) Moses was a good listener. He listened attentively and correctly to all of God’s instructions.
2) Moses was a good teacher. He passed on God’s instructions accurately for the people to execute.
3) The people were good followers. They did all that were needed as the Lord commanded.

Applications:
A good listener listens attentively but more importantly, listens with discernment and understanding from the One true source of knowledge and wisdom.

A good teacher teaches diligently making sure the instructions are carried out to the last detail. A good teacher sows not just knowledge but reaps actions and results from the application of the knowledge.

A good follower listens and does as instructed. He hears, he listens and he works with his hands.

Mr. XXX M.D.; Ms. YYY Ph.D.; Mr. ZZZ D.M.D. I always wonder what all the letters after the doctor’s name mean. I surmise that the more letters, the more degrees, the more expertise, the more accomplishments, the more prestigious.

What a different and more impactful Christian witness the world would have if Christians were to have ATLC at the end of their names… not just letters but the spirit of the letters that form the words As the Lord commanded!

How do we know then that ATLC is as what it should be?

Exodus 40
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

In the Old Testament, the cloud represents God’s presence. The glory of the Lord refers to His presence – it signifies that God is living among them – right in their midst, in their company.

God’s presence
The cloud covered… A covering that encompassed and surrounded all of my being… The cloud settled… A settling – lasting and staying presence that continuously guides my doing…

Is God present in my life? Am I aware that He sees, He hears, He listens, He covers and He settles?

God’s glory
The glory of the Lord filled… A filling that leaves no space for anything else… a filling that overflows so that nothing else occupies… no vacuum… no emptiness

Does God’s glory shine through in my being and doing? Do my words and actions point people to God?

Let me ask myself… Ms. Christian ATLC… how are you doing?

Dear Holy Spirit, help me today to be and do as the Lord commands. Amen


Previously by the same author:

February 10, 2019

The First Commandment is the Cornerstone for the Other Nine

Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the LORD.
 Psalm 144:15

Listen to me and make up your minds to honor my name,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “or I will bring a terrible curse against you. I will curse even the blessings you receive. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you have not taken my warning to heart.
 Malachi 2:2

And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
 Deuteronomy 6:5  
(all NLT)

More than anything else in the past two years, our Sunday Worship feature has resulted in us connecting with a great variety of writers in a the widest variety of places. This time around the search process took us to Pembrokeshire, Wales; and to a congregation where a large number of the leadership take turns in delivering the weekly sermon. The article was written by Gareth Edwards and appeared on the website of Penuel Baptist Chapel, Roch. The article really didn’t have a title, so we gave it one, and you can learn more by clicking on the header which follows.

No Other Gods

You shall have no other gods before me.’ Exodus 20:3

The first four commandments are about our relationship with God and lay the foundation for the remaining six, which refer to our relationship with others. To be right with God is our first priority, it gives the basis on which we can be right with others. Even within the first four commandments there is a logical progression. The first commandment acts as a cornerstone on which the rest are constructed. ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3) is the prime directive for life.

Each of the commandments is expressed as a negative, ‘You shall not.’ The purpose of the commandments being presented in negative language is to underline a positive. The first commandment tells us that we are to worship God alone. God is demanding an exclusive commitment to Him alone. All must be put aside (verse 5). The Lord speaks about Himself as being a jealous God. He will not share us with anyone or anything else. God is jealous for His people. They are His, they belong to no other. He is jealous for all His creation. Therefore, the devotion of our lives in worship belongs uniquely to God (Isaiah 42:8).

Why is this so? There are no other gods. He is the only supreme God (Isaiah 44:6). There are no other gods, but men invent them. When men refuse to worship the true God they make false ones. They have a natural desire to worship. If they refuse to worship the one true God, they will worship a lie (Romans 1). There are no gods – just the foolish rebellion of men (1 Corinthians 8:4). God expects the exclusive worship of our lives. He alone is deserving of worship.

He alone has done all. The Ten Commandments are set against the context of God saving Israel against tyranny (verse 2). They were to worship God not only because of who He is, but also because of what He has done for them. For them and for us there is nothing better than to spend our lives in the worship of the one who gave us life in the first place, and whose grace has brought us spiritual life through the death of His Son at Calvary.

It’s unjust and ungrateful that we should give away our worship to anyone but God. It is He who gives us life, He who gives us our daily blessings, He who gives us new birth and eternal life.

What are the implications of the first commandment?

  1. The Almighty is God alone, therefore we should render to Him alone the adoration and worship of our lives. This is the very purpose of our existence – to fulfill a calling to worship God and to give to Him the unadulterated commitment of all we have. The Westminster Confession begins ‘The chief end of man is the glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.’

Psalm 144:15. There’s nothing more worthwhile then the worship of the triune God in every part of our lives. It is a particular grace and blessing of God that we come together to enjoy worshipping Him. That’s the purpose of this day, a day set apart in which we come together to glorify His name and to enjoy Him. Did you come this Sunday morning to have the privilege of worshipping God and to enjoy Him, to meet with Him? The songs and sermon are the means to the end, to enjoying God.

We were made to know God. When we sacrifice our lives for His glory we experience what it means to be truly human. This commandment is for our blessing.

  1. What fools men are. They will worship everything and anything rather than the one true God. There are those who will worship idols – the gods of man’s imagination. Romans 1:21-23. God declares men either worship Him or waste their lives in the pursuit of imaginary gods. Those who reject Him come under His curse. Malachi 2:2.

Men, in their sin, reject God and are rejected by Him. Our nation is under the curse of God. The lives of our friends and family members are under the curse of God because in their sinful rebellion they do not worship Him. They have gods of their own imagination and creation. There are those who will think they are so intellectually complete that they think they are wise and can look disdainfully down on us. Were we once not with them – devoted to other gods? Did not God, in His grace and mercy, have compassion on us and open our eyes to see, open our ears to hear and open our hearts to know Christ? How gracious God has dealt with us. He has called us to Himself. Will we not pray for our friends, our family, the people of Roch, of Wales, Europe and the world, that God will have mercy upon them as He has mercy on us? Their greatest need is to know Him, to know that there is but one God and that He is to be worshipped for who He is and what He has done. Will we not tell them, preach to them, by the lives we live, declaring here is the Lord Almighty, and you must know and worship Him, have your sins forgiven? Man is a fool until God’s grace comes.

  1. You cannot worship God half-heartedly. He demands our all (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30. He’s unwilling to share this with anyone else. This doesn’t mean we can’t serve our community and others. What it means is it’s shaped by our desire to glorify God in all that we do. In our love for our family, to do a good job of work, primarily our deepest desire in doing all of these things is that He will be glorified. In all we do we are to have a single-minded dedication to the Lord which puts Him first, above all else. We must guard against doing anything in the name of the Lord which, in fact, we are doing for ourselves, for our own praise. That is a denial of the first Commandment. We cannot play games with God. This is the most serious business, the worship of the Lord Almighty. Because it is so serious we need the help of God, God the Holy Spirit, when we fail in this duty, which we so often do. We need to know the saving grace that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh gracious God, grant to me the strength, the faith, the desire to honour you in all things. You are worthy to be praised.

February 5, 2019

“Well Done” Starts Today

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Matthew 25.21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

which repeats 2 verses later as:

Matthew 25.23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Don’t know the story? Read it here.


A year ago we introduced you to the writing of Chicago area Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog.  Tomorrow we’re linking to two posts he wrote about youth in the church, and older members of the church. (They’re also linked below.)

Click the header below to read this at source.

Well Done

It is hard to express in words alone the torrent of emotions that accompany laying a loved one to rest.

Even for those who were not particularly close to the person being grieved for, the whole experience can still be incredibly emotional.

Thankfully, joy can be found in the midst of the mourning if the loved one knew Jesus as Savior.

As Billy Graham said when speaking of his own passing, “I will be more alive on that day than ever before.” And he was right. For believers, when we pass from this temporary life into the eternal we will, in fact, be more alive than ever before because we will be with our Lord, the giver of life itself.

But the process is still, understandably, painful. I think that one of many reasons why funerals are so difficult for us humans is because death causes us to reflect. Death causes us to think about life. How did they live their life? How has my own life been lived thus far? How will I now choose to live?

Recently, I attended a funeral service of a faithful and incredible man of God. And it may sound weird to say, but I was truly and deeply blessed. (You know that someone lived their life well when their funeral service is a blessing to people, and a true celebration of life.) I was encouraged to hear about his love and devotion to his God and to his family. I was awed by his steadfast and upstanding character. And I was grateful for the legacy that he left behind.

There is no doubt in my mind that the moment when this man stepped into eternity he heard the words “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Those words actually come from a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 25. You should read the passage for yourself, I promise it will be worth it. But one of the main takeaways is that what you do today matters for tomorrow.

Jesus tells of a master who entrusts a few of his servants with various amounts of money and then he leaves to go on a journey. He returns and discovers what each of his servants has done with the money. The master is very pleased with the servants who have done something with what was entrusted to them and have doubled it.

He tells them “well done.”

But one of the servants was lazy and did nothing with what was entrusted to him, and the master was very displeased with him.

I want to live my life in such a way that at the end of the road I will hear “well done.”

But “well done” starts today. The choices that we make today are literally forming our character. Each and every day needs to be a “well done” kind of day.

There are no shortcuts in a life well done. We cannot just simply hide what has been entrusted to us away and wait till the end and expect a pat on the back.

The only way to hear “well done, good and faithful one” at the end of your life is to do well during your life.

I am thankful for godly men and women who set examples for us to follow and be encouraged by. I am thankful for a God who doesn’t just leave us in the dark, but actually gives us answers to our problems and frustrations in the Bible. I am thankful for Jesus and the promise of eternal life.

And I am motivated to live my life in a way that will please my Lord.



Two more articles by the same author:

  • Regarding the youth in his church, someone once suggested to him they should “just sit on the sidelines until their time came.” That prompted the article Too Young For Church. However…
  • …Then, a week later, the other side of the coin: “Just as the Body is deprived if young people are not championed, so too is the church deprived if the elderly are forgotten.” Check out Too Old for Church.

 

 

 

December 21, 2018

Before the Child of Promise Comes, A Time of Unfulfilled Longing

A few years ago our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. ]

They had the pedigree.
They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did. How can you be so obviously blessed in so many areas of life but have one thing lacking?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They werecareful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations(NLT) or statutes (ESV) because…

It was the right thing to do.
It was who they were.
It was their response to who God is.


Above we read these words: ‘Everyone has something they live with.’ Maybe you’re not dealing with childlessness like Zachariah and Elizabeth; maybe it’s something more superficial, but it still eats away at you… Ever wished you were taller? Or you could change the oil on your car? Or fix a plumbing problem? If you find yourself constantly reminded of your inadequacies, you might enjoy this post which I wrote back in 2012.

December 4, 2018

Repentance Must Be Proven

by Russell Young

Concerning his ministry Paul wrote: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) The Lord also told some Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to be baptized, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt 3:7─8) He further taught, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch in me that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful,” (Jn 15:1─2) and added, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me he can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Producing good fruit is the proof of a person’s repentance.

The need to repent of sins and to prove that repentance through deeds, is vital to understanding the fullness of the gospel. It is the part that has been excluded from modern teaching. Paul was instructive about the need for more to take place than justification through the blood of Christ. “Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 Italics added) It needs to be appreciated that reconciliation with God is not the full need of those who will dwell eternally with him. Reconciliation restores relationship with God so that he or she can get the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) In his letter to the Colossians Paul wrote, “To the [saints] he has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) The “life” of Christ that is “the more” is Christ in the believer, the Spirit, and he is to be obeyed. (Heb 5:9)

Modern philosophical constructs have twisted the Word to offer eternal salvation as a “gift” of God. (Salvation or deliverance from past sins and from the requirements of the Old Covenant is a gift; however, eternal salvation which provides freedom from judgment is not a direct gift.) Surely, they would argue, if eternal salvation is a “gift,” there can be no “more” required. By making such an assertion, they deny the “more” and the need to prove repentance by deeds. Those who live so boldly before God by rejecting the Lord’s leadership as Spirit (Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18; Jn 10:27), will have to suffer his wrath.

The gospel as taught by Paul, and the teaching of Christ, is that the saints are to prove their repentance by their deeds. Proving it requires living a life that is consistent with repentance and does not rest on an utterance once made. Paul wrote that believers are to work out (finish, complete) their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), and the Lord admonished his listeners, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 Italics added) Although philosopher-theologians have protected believers through the cloak of Christ’s great love and mercy, neither Paul nor the Lord have allowed such freedom. Repentance must be proven. Only the holy will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

When have you last heard teaching on the need for obedience, or on judgment for disobedience? Have you been told that having to endure God’s wrath is still a possibility? God’s love is expansive but not unconditional; it does not cover defiance and disobedience. He is building a kingdom of love and respect for his sovereignty. God gave his Son as propitiation for the sins of humankind and he gifted the Spirit so that his righteous requirements might be met. (Rom 8:4) The Spirit was given so that those who believe the Lord’s testimony and by their will submit in obedience to him are able to prove their repentance and avoid God’s wrath. “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10) As Malachi prophesied, “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Mal 3:18)

Those who fail to prove their repentance will find themselves separated from the Lord. “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.” (Mt 13:41) The separation will be based on their “doing” and willingness to submit to their Lord or whether or not they have truly repented for their rebellion and defiance.


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

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

December 2, 2018

The Other, Wrong Type of Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 pm
Tags: , , ,

“Two kinds of religion exist in our world: Religion A and Religion B. The first is “faith” in name only (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s the outward practice of Christianity without genuine faith in the living Lord.

Religion B, on the other hand, is a life-transforming, destiny-changing experience. It’s a definite commitment to the crucified and risen Savior, which establishes an ongoing personal relationship between a forgiven sinner and a gracious God.

Are you bogged down in the empty ritual of Religion A? If so, you must receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Then make sure your relationship with Christ is growing deeper and more vital every day.” – Vernon C. Grounds.

Due to an unforeseen hospital trip, this item arrived online about 90 minutes late. Nothing had been scheduled so I went to the one website that is always a rich storehouse of material, DailyEncouragement.net by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Click the title below to read at source and then, if your unfamiliar with the work, click on some current devotionals. This was originally published on their site in 2013 and is appearing here for the first time.

Serving The Living And True God

You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9,10).

We often visit a blog that chronicles the persecution scores of Christians presently face, especially in the Muslim countries. It keeps before us the reality of hardship that many live with as they hold on to their Christian faith. It’s a powerful antidote to keep us from whining about those matters which are often rather miniscule problems and also provides perspective about the importance of religious freedom.

The Thessalonian believers had “turned to God from idols.” Likely the idols that Paul referred to are our stereotype image of idols; figures fashioned with wood, metal or stone. But in turning to God the Thessalonian believers turned from worthless, lifeless and powerless idols “to serve a living and true God”. That’s the healthy norm in genuine conversion!

Essentially an idol is an object of worship, or that which we attribute worth to. Worship is derived from the Old English worthscipe, meaning worthiness or worth-ship — to give, at its simplest, worth to something.

The Apostle John ended his first epistle by calling on his readers to “keep yourselves from idols.” Today in our modern western world idols may be fashioned differently than the idols mentioned in the Bible but they’re still very much present. We have them in abundance and in such variety that, should I begin to list them, it would result in too lengthy a message. In addition, an object that might be an idol to me may not be so for you, and vice versa.

An article on worship states: “In modern society and sociology, some writers have commented on the ways that people no longer simply worship organized religions, but many now also worship consumer brands, sports teams, and other people (celebrities).” (I would add; some worship political figures.)

Genuine conversion involves turning away from any idol that competes with or robs our heart’s affections from the one true and living God. We make this turn “to serve the living and true God.” Everybody is serving someone or something.  Genuine conversion involves devoting ourselves fully to the living and true God consistently and faithfully.  Are you doing so?

And to wait for His Son from heaven.” Clearly at the heart of Paul’s preaching was a reminder that, as we serve God during our earthly journey, we wait expectantly for the return of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Precept commentary states,

“To wait for the Lord’s return is a sure characteristic of a true believer. The present tense can be rendered ‘keep on waiting’. Waiting for the return of their Lord and King was their lifestyle, the habit of their life, the truth that colored all their daily activities and afflictions.”

Whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus.” In our daily encouragement messages this week we are studying texts that reference the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A careful reading of the entire New Testament following Christ’s resurrection reveals how often the Scripture writers refer to the resurrection thus teaching and reinforcing it. On the whole we may not consider the focus of our daily Scripture portion to be on the resurrection but it certainly is foundational.

Who rescues us from the wrath to come” I am giving a lot of consideration to this phrase “the wrath to come”. Some commentators feel it is the general wrath in the sense of eternal punishment, others consider it a specific period of wrath in the tribulation period. As I watch events taking place right before my eyes I really wonder if we are entering into a period known as the Great Apostasy as expressed in 2 Thessalonians 2. There is such a rapid hastening in discarding time honored Biblical teaching.

Genuine conversion involves expectant waiting for Christ’s return as our heart’s affections are heightened to things above instead of being bound to things below. Are you looking up expectantly as you live out your Christian life down here below?

Daily prayerFather, we’re reminded through the writings of the Apostle Paul that our lives are observed by those who see us day in and day out. What a wonderful change comes into our lives as we surrender our hearts to You, the living and true God. And yet we must be on guard so that worthless idols do not win our affections; otherwise the light of Your Son Jesus will be diminished in our hearts and thereby, our witness. No person or object is of greater worth than that of Your Holy Spirit Who resides in our hearts and prompts us to lift our eyes toward our heavenly redemption that is drawing closer every hour. Thank You for saving us from the coming wrath when Your judgment is poured out on those who do not believe. In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

 


 

November 30, 2018

Delighting in the Way God Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Back in May we introduced you to the writing of Melody who has been writing devotions at In Pleasant Places for almost six years. Her blog started from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explained in her story. To read today’s article at her blog, click the title below.

To See More of Our God – Psalm 119:16

“I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”

Psalm 119:16

This verse compelled a specific prayer of my heart: Lord, may I delight in Your statutes.

Not just obeying them because I know I’m supposed to – although we are to exercise discipline to obey even when we don’t “feel” like it – but seeking to delight in them.

Including the very difficult ones. Those we don’t understand. Those that seem impossible. Those that quite honestly can hurt to follow.

Like forgiving someone who appears unapologetic and unrepentant, with no indication of turning. Who has cut so deeply. May I delight to forgive, even under these circumstances.

Delight not because it is fun or easy, and not because of pride or self-righteousness (which would be sin on my part) – but because it shows me more of the Lord.

Delight because as I feel the deep hurt and wrestle with the decision to forgive, to love, I gain a deeper understanding of my God’s character.

Because this is who our God is. And isn’t that amazing? This is what the Living God, Creator and Ruler of all things – this is what He does. This is what He chooses.

He forgives. He loves. Even at great personal cost. He went through such pain, such suffering, to forgive sinners who had rejected Him and given Him no reason to show mercy. Let alone to show favor, to offer to bring them in as beloved children.

When I am hurt and offended, when I am faced with the command to forgive, to bless, to show compassion, I gain a glimpse of my Savior. Of His choice. Of His greatness and the greatness of His love. The power of it to overcome any desire for retaliation. That He would desire forgiveness and restoration, that He would choose patience in order to give so many the choice to reconcile instead of delivering the justice so rightfully due to them – so rightfully due to me (2 Peter 3:9, 15).

What great, powerful love. What astounding character. What strength to choose forgiveness when it demands so much. This is our God. This is the Savior by whose name we are called. The name above all names, because of what He accomplished on the cross.

We grasp that more deeply when we walk through a situation that brings us even an inkling of His suffering.

This is the delight I see within the statutes of our God, within the commands of how we are to walk through this life…it isn’t just some list of rules. He didn’t outline them in order to make our life difficult. It is insight into who our God is. There is purpose in each command, and it is all for our good and to display His goodness and glory and salvation to the world. So they will see Him.

O Lord, may I delight in Your statutes, delight to follow them, because they show me more of who You are. More of Your character, which is holy, righteous, blameless, faithful, pure, steadfast, and filled with powerful love. May I delight to see You here, and delight to know more deeply how holy and wonderful You are as I follow in Your footsteps. Requiring Your strength to walk in Your ways, because they are so far above my broken, fallen capabilities. Highlighting the great beauty of You and stirring renewed wonder at how You are molding me into Your character, to reflect that beauty in this vessel of clay. So may I delight. Delight to see You. Delight to walk with You in the light, experiencing You in the process, realizing the choices Jesus made as one who was fully human and fully God, and delight to know You more as a result.

November 2, 2018

Sin Makes People Stupid

Today and tomorrow we return to Canadian devotional writer Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith. Yes, her writing is such a good fit here that I’m taking the liberty of ‘borrowing’ two different posts, two days in a row. Click the title to read at source.

Learning from history . . .

Which one is the wiser statement: “Study the past if you would define the future.” (Confucius) or “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” (Edmund Burke)

Our ‘home group’ is studying the kings of Israel. I came away with one question. They recorded the activities and outcomes of their kings. Clearly, those who followed God prospered and those who did not did not. Each one of them made their own decisions. If they knew the historical patterns, why would any of them choose to worship idols and disobey God? These ‘evil’ kings knew yet repeated the past. It seems all they learned from any study of the past was how to replicate it in their own lives.

My conclusion may come across as crude, but it seems that sin tends to make people stupid. As we discussed this during the Bible study, we agreed that the laws of God are true and He never changes, but even the good kings occasionally pushed against the boundaries and got themselves into trouble. That is, we are doomed to repeat history even when we know it, and unless God intervenes, the past cannot help but define the future.

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7–9)

This is a spiritual law that could be called cause and effect. It is illustrated in the physical realm of agriculture. If I plant a carrot seed, I will get carrots, not peas or corn. In my spiritual life, if I plan, plant and spend my energies in activities that are self-focused and driven by my old nature, I will reap a spiritually dead crop that amounts to nothing of eternal value. If I live according to the Spirit, the results will last forever.

The ‘evil’ kings were all about power and doing their own thing. They were not measured as evil by their building programs, achievements, battles, etc. but by their response or lack of response to God. The good kings were also not measured by any accomplishments as we might measure our leaders. They were measured by their faithfulness to God and His commands.

I look back at my own history and cannot make an accurate list of “this I did for God” and “this was fleshy junk.” However, I know both will be determined at the bema judgment seat of Christ:

“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10–15)

Because of Jesus Christ, my eternal destiny is not shaped by mistakes or rebellion, but by faith in Him. What is affected by the law of cause/effect is eternal rewards. Some of life’s efforts will go up in smoke while some will shine like gold.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your Word motivates me to think about motivation and about the power behind everything on my to-do list. Some of it is obviously useless. Open my eyes and keep them open to see and obey the Holy Spirit that the resulting work not only pleases You but will pass that final test.

October 28, 2018

To Look into the Depths of God

NIV.John.3.1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…5 Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit…   12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?16 For God so loved the world that he gave…”

Those 3-D Computer Generated Picture Things at the Mall

by Ruth Wilkinson

You know the ones? They look like an explosion at the pixel factory, unless you stand just so far away and refocus your eyes just right and for just long enough that a 3-D panorama leaps out, thrilling and amazing all.


Except me. I can’t do it. I’ve tried starting with my nose almost touching the glass and slowly backing away. I’ve tried gently relaxing the muscles in my eyes. I’ve tried defocusing, unfocusing, disfocusing — everything. My husband and kids go from one to the next, saying, “Hey, cool! This one’s a cow! This one’s a space ship! This one’s the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with Michelangelo, paintbrush in hand!”

I’m still standing there crossed-eyed and head-achy looking at an explosion at the pixel factory.

I think it would have been better if I didn’t know. At face value, they’re visually interesting; a collage of images and colours, almost a pattern, but not quite. I could enjoy them that way.

But I do know and I’m missing something. Something my family sees, but I don’t. They tell me it’s there and, for them, it is. But not for me. I want it to be. I’d like to get it. They patiently try to help and advise. They really want me to get it, too. So I keep looking.

Nicodemus was like that. John, who was one of Jesus’ closest friends while he was on earth, tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee; one of a group who were deeply passionate about their faith. They knew the good that God had for His people and how much He loved them. But they had some very real and legitimate concerns about how the Jews could be drawn away from God by philosophical and religious influences of other nations and cultures. Pharisees worked hard at guarding the hearts of God’s people. We like to dump on them for working too hard. Making too many rules, making the whole thing cumbersome. Getting uptight at little things. We call them “legalists” and thank God that we’re not like that.

But Nicodemus, and others, were not entirely stuck in the mud. They were wise enough, humble enough, to know that they didn’t have God all figured out and someday He’d have more to say than 10 commandments and a whole lot of rules, and they’d better not be asleep at the switch when it happened.

Nicodemus and friends found Jesus very interesting. There was definitely something going on there beyond cool stories and sleight of hand. He wasn’t just a nice guy who knew a lot. He was extremely 3D. N & Co. realized that and they went to work trying to refocus in order to figure out the picture. They listened and followed and asked questions.

Everything they saw fit with everything they heard. Jesus wasn’t a fake. He wasn’t loopy. But he might be dangerous.

These guys cared genuinely about keeping people in line with God and Jesus was saying things just different enough to make them nervous.

All we know about Nicodemus is that. 1. He went to the trouble of getting alone with Jesus and asking some questions. 2. He risked his reputation to give Jesus a fair hearing. 3. When it came down to it, he made the choice to step up and take ownership of his respect and love for, and relationship with Jesus. We don’t hear anything else about Nico.

Tradition says he became a Christ follower and given John 19, I think he probably did. If so, he would have sacrificed a lot: prestige, power, family maybe, reputation. Maybe, in those three turning point moments, he found himself wishing he didn’t know. Life was good before Jesus. Obeying the rules was easier. Simpler. Walking through this relationship is a whole other layer of paint.

But in exchange, he would have fulfilled his mission as a true Pharisee. To know God’s voice and obey.

To look into the depths of God and see what’s hidden there. Love. Truth. Life.

August 28, 2018

You are a Slave: Who is Your Master?

by Russell Young

How often have you heard a passage put in a context that seems to make sense without giving its meaning second thought? Romans 6:23 may be one of them. “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This passage is often used in the evangelizing process to confront people with the fate that awaits sinners and to reveal the hope provided by Christ; however, the context of this passage makes it more expansive than often appreciated. It is directed to both those who have confessed faith in Christ and to those who have not. Paul is addressing the question of whether those who claim to be believers should go on sinning “that grace may increase” (v 1) and has stated that we should “count” ourselves, or consider ourselves, to have died to the practice of sin which our baptism has pledged. He has proclaimed that sin should not be our master because we are no longer under the law. In addressing slavery to sin his words are:

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:16 Italics added)

In his encouragement, he has added, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (v 18) The freedom to which he refers is from past sin and from slavery to sin since breaking the law is sin and the law has been nailed to the cross. Paul wrote to the Colossians,

“When you were dead in your sins and in the circumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code (the law) with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:1314)

Old Covenant law does not apply to those under the New Covenant, therefore sin cannot be acquired by breaking its prescriptions. He has commended their slavery to righteousness since they were obeying the teaching that he had given. Paul went on to explain that although they used to offer their bodies in slavery to sin, they were to “now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (v 19) Further he explained, “but now that you have been set free from sin (past Heb 9:15) and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (v 22) His position is that slavery to righteousness leads to eternal life. It is in this context that he wrote, “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Many confessors have taken the last clause, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” to over-rule the first. A “gift” is normally something given unconditionally. Paul has not promoted the idea of a “gift” anywhere in this chapter, however. In keeping with his teaching on “slavery” a more understandable and a better rendering of charisma, the Greek from which “gift” has been translated, can be gained.

The Liddle and Scott Greek Dictionary presents charisma to mean “grace, favour.” The online Ancient Greek Dictionary (to 1453), Glosbe, represents charisma to mean “personal charm or magnetism; (Christianity) an extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit; the ability to influence without the use of logic; a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables you to influence others; personal magnetism or charm.” This chapter does not mention “gift,” nor hint of a gift, but of a life of slavery.

Gift” as used in Romans 6:23 is misleading. Charisma refers to the idea of the appeal or magnetism of God and implies a response by the one who has been attracted or charmed and influenced. Some confessors will not see the charisma of God and to others the influence of a holy God will not endure; they will be claimed by the world once more. It is the appeal of God’s magnetism (attractiveness) which motivates a person’s soul to pursue God and to become a slave to righteousness that provides eternal life. Christ is to be recognized as lord or master and it is through obedience to him (Heb 5:9) that he is able to accomplish the believer’s eternal salvation. Paul has presented that while slavery to sin –which is the continuation of sinning and rebellion against the Spirit—results in death the influence or appeal of Christ entices slavery to righteousness which results in eternal life.

Verse 23 is a summation of his address to the question concerning whether we should go on sinning so that God’s grace should increase. Those who don’t live in slavery to Christ as their master and lord by default become slaves to sin which will result in death. Confessors have the freedom to choose their master. However, the wages of sin is death but the charisma of God provides eternal life through Jesus our Lord, our Master. The sin issue cannot be resolved until the mastery issue is resolved.

Although the first covenant law has lost the power to enslave the confessor, a law still exists that can be broken. Paul said that he was not free from God’s law but was under “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21), which he has also called “the law of the Spirit of life”. (Rom 8:2) Breaking Christ’s law brings death. John wrote, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) If life over death for a brother can be gained by forgiving a sin, neither pardon for sin nor certainty of life must have been established for the brother.

The Lord addressed the issue of slavery, as well. He stated, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:3435 Italics added) A son is one who is led by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:14), who in slavery to righteousness, through which he or she honors Christ’s law.

Confessors would be wise to consider Paul’s words in their context and to choose their master carefully.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

 

 

July 26, 2018

Why Obedience is Commanded

Once again today we’re back at Biblical Proof, the blog of Alfred Shannon, Jr. Click this link to visit the site. Click the title below to read this one at source.

Why Must We Obey God?

Many are constantly asking why they have to follow God’s Word. Just like little children, they are asking why, and just like your parents God is replying, “Because I told you so”! Here are some of the questions many ask God:

Why Must We Obey The Gospel?

This is the question every sinner needs to know, and always seems to ask: Why must I obey the gospel of Christ? The answer is a simple one. One must obey the gospel in order to be saved. Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be condemned” (Mk 16:16).

You may ask, why must one believe? The Hebrew writer tells us that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Jesus said, “If you believe that I am not he, you shall die in your sins” (Jn 8:24).

You may ask, why must one confess Jesus is the Christ? Jesus said, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:32-33).

You may ask, why must one repent of their sins? Luke wrote, “Except we repent we shall perish” (Lk 13:3). And again he said, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man (Jesus Christ) whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

You may ask, why must one be baptized? Paul wrote, “Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so, we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom 6:3-6).

You may ask, why must one remain faithful until death? David wrote that God tries the righteous, but will punish the wicked with fire and brimstone (Ps 11:5). Jeremiah wrote, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer 17:10). James wrote, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience” (Jam 1:3). And again he said, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jam 1:12). Only when we are faithful until death shall we receive our crown of life and be saved (Rev 2:10 f; Mt 24:13).

Why Must We Suffer For The Cause Of Christ?

One might logically think that if one obeyed the gospel that God would not make us suffer. Peter wrote, “The God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Pet 5:10). However, Paul wrote that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12). And remember, God is not a respecter of persons (Rom 2:11). Why suffer? Peter wrote, “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps” (1 Pet 2:21).

Conclusion: The Bible gives us not only the commandments needed for our salvation but also answers the nagging question of why we must do what God has commanded us to do. As parents have authority over their own children, even so, God has authority over us. Paul wrote, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3). Jesus had all power in heaven and in earth given to him by the Father (Matt 11:28). The final reason which exceeds all reasons why we must do what God has commanded us to do is: “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Children who obey their parents must learn this, and so must every child of God! God has the final say, and we are forbidden to go beyond His written Word. (1 Cor 4:6 ff; 1 Cor 2:13; 2 Cor 4:13).

June 15, 2018

Defending Yourself and Protecting the Attacker: Are Both Possible?

Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God, available July 4th, 2018. He is also the author of the best-seller, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb. He is the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in California. This is his second time featured here at C201. Click the title below to read this at his Patheos blog and check out other articles.

The Aikido Spirit of God

If you’re not familiar with Aikido, it’s a style of martial arts that uses an opponent’s energy against them to redirect their kinetic force to turn it back upon them.

Or, as the Wikipedia entry explains:

Aikido’s techniques include irimi (entering), and tenkan (turning) movements that redirect the opponent’s attack momentum.

The man who invented this style of martial arts created for one purpose:

“to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury”.

This is exactly what God does.

Consider that God never wanted anyone to rule His people other than Himself. God wanted a people who would look to Him as their King. But, unfortunately, His people wanted “a King like all the other nations have” and even though He was grieved by their choice, He gave them what they asked for.

After giving them a King, God told them that He would send them a Messiah who would rule on David’s throne forever. But notice, it was never God’s desire for King David to have any throne at all. Yet, God used the disobedience and rejection of His people and redirected it to the Messiah to come.

God also never asked anyone to build Him a temple. When King David set out to build one for God, His response was: “Heaven is my throne and Earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?” and then promises that, instead, God will build a house for David which, again, is a nod to the coming Messiah who would build a Temple not made with human hands but from human hearts that are surrendered to God [the Ekklesia where God lives by His Spirit – the Church].

So, once again, God takes our mistakes and turns them around to bless us anyway.

As Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery out of jealousy: “What you intended for evil, God meant for good.

This is the Aikido way of God.

Another example of this is animal sacrifice.

Moses knew of no other way to worship a god [any god] other than a blood sacrifice. There simply wasn’t any other form of worship known to mankind in that ancient world. So, Moses assumes that to worship Yahweh, something must be slain on an altar to please God.

But, according to Jeremiah, God never wanted animal sacrifices in the first place:

For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.  But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’  Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” [Jeremiah 7:22-24]

Again, God did not want animal sacrifices. Moses did.

But, God allowed this to be practiced in spite of this and, instead, used this misunderstanding to point to Christ who would come and fulfill this picture of the scapegoat and redeem the barbaric practice of sacrifice to liberate us from the bondage of guilt and sin.

This is why Jesus echoes the prophet Hosea and says:

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” [Matt 9:13; 12:7]

God is always taking our disobedience, our misunderstandings, our limited vision, even our total rejection of Him, to redirect it back around to bless us and redeem us and draw us nearer to Himself.

God uses everything – all wisdom, all knowledge, all ignorance, all disobedience, all rejection, all striving – to declare His love to us and to set us free from everything that entangles us.

This is who God is. This is who God has always been. This is who God will always be.

His love endures forever.

 

February 3, 2018

There’s a Difference Between Doubt and Unbelief

Grab a warm drink and settle into a comfortable chair. Today’s is longer than usual. It’s our annual visit to the blog of K.W. Leslie and there was so much to choose from. Click the title below, read this at source, and then click the header to navigate to other pieces.

Doubt’s Okay, Unbelief’s the Problem

I’ve been told more than once, “In the scriptures, Jesus came down awfully hard against doubt. How then can you claim doubt is our friend?

’Cause Jesus’s objection wasn’t actually to doubt. It was to unbelief.

Contrary to popular opinion—and way too many bible translations—doubt isn’t the opposite of belief. Unbelief is. Doubt’s not the same as unbelief. Doubt means we’re not sure we believe. Unbelief means we’re totally sure—and we don’t believe at all.

Doubt’s what happens when we sorta kinda do believe. But we’re not entirely sure. So we suspend judgment till we get more evidence. And often that’s precisely the right thing to do. Y’realize Christians constantly get scammed by false teachers, fake prophets, and con artists who tell ’em, “Stop doubting me and just believe!” In so doing they’re trying to keep us from practicing discernment, because if we did use our heads we’d realize what they were up to. They don’t want us to think. Just feel. Follow your emotions, not your head. Ignore the gray matter God gave you, and listen to your brain chemicals… and ignore the fact most of us can turn them on and off if we tried.

Unbelievers definitely try to describe themselves as doubters. I’ve met plenty of nontheists who claim that’s what they really are: Doubters. Skeptics. Agnostics who are intellectually weighing the evidence for Christianity… but we Christians haven’t yet convinced them, so they’re gonna stay in the nontheist camp for now. Makes ’em sound open-minded and wise. But it’s hypocritical bushwa. Their minds are totally made up; they stopped investigating God long ago. They don’t believe; they’ve chosen their side of the issue; they’re straddling nothing.

Real doubt might likewise mean we’ve totally picked a side. There are Christians who doubt, but they’re still gonna remain Christian. (After all, where else are they gonna go? Jn 6.68 They’ve seen too much.) And there are nontheists who doubt, so they’re still gonna investigate Christianity from time to time, and talk with Christians, and try to see whether there’s anything to what we believe. Part of ’em kinda hopes there is. Or, part of ’em really hopes there’s not—but the Holy Spirit is making them doubt their convictions, ’cause he uses doubt like this all the time.

The goal of doubt is to get us to stop playing both sides, and finally pick one once and for all. The point of an open mind, as G.K. Chesterton once put it, is like that of an open mouth: At some point it’s gotta close on something solid. Belief—and conversely unbelief—means it has closed. Doubt means the question is still open. It’s not wrong to doubt. It is wrong to never deal with those doubts.

Our second guesses, or our unbelief.

Here’s one of the better-known stories about Jesus “rebuking doubt.” He was walking on water; Simon Peter wanted to do that too; the Holy Spirit let him give it a try. It’s a faith exercise. Worked as long as Peter trusted the Spirit… and stopped working the moment he stopped trusting, and started second-guessing.

Matthew 14.28-31 KWL
28 Replying to Jesus, Simon Peter said, “Master if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”
29 Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and came to Jesus, walking on the water.
30 Seeing the strong wind, Peter feared… and starting to drown, he called Jesus: “Master, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out a hand, grabbed him, and told him, “Tiny-faith, why’d you backtrack?”

The KJV has Jesus ask, “Wherefore didst thou doubt?”—interpreting edístasas/“to rethink” as doubt. It actually wasn’t that. If he had doubted, he’d have never stepped out of the boat. You don’t try walking on water unless you’re pretty darned sure you can walk on water. As demonstrated every time someone walks on ice: They’re entirely sure the ice is thick enough to walk on. If they have any doubts, they stay off.

So how’d Peter go wrong? He backtracked: “Wait, what’d I get myself into? I’m walking on water in this weather. I must be nuts!” He lost his nerve. He let his fears overwhelm his circumstances, and fell over instead of stepping forward. Movies tend to depict Peter slowly sinking into the water, but I’ve no idea why. Matthew implies he fell right in. Strikes me as far more dramatic.

Jesus fished him out. I don’t know whether he stood Peter back on the water with him, or dragged him back to the boat; I just know Jesus rescued him, ’cause he does that. But note he called Peter oligópistos/“tiny-faith.” Jesus didn’t call him no-faith, but tiny-faith. Like I said, Peter had enough faith to get out of the boat, and that’s considerably more faith than your average Christian. (More than the other students too.)

But he didn’t rebuke Peter’s doubt, ’cause doubt isn’t even the issue. It’s second-guessing ourselves, even though the Spirit is clearly okay with what we’re doing, and has empowered us to act. It’s, “Wait; I don’t wanna do this anymore.” God’s kingdom needs commitment. If people are gonna act in faith, and the Holy Spirit’s gonna empower us to do miracles, we’d better darned well follow through.

The rest of the time, Jesus’s rebukes again weren’t against doubt, but unbelief.

Mark 9.19-24 KWL
19 Jesus replied to his students, “You untrustworthy youngsters.
How long am I gonna be with you?—how long must I cover for you? Bring the boy to me.”
They brought him to Jesus. The spirit saw Jesus and immediately pitched a fit.
Falling on the ground, the boy rolled and foamed.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been going on?”
The father said, “Since he was a little boy.
22 Many times it throws him into fire and into water, to destroy him.
But if you’re able, help us! Have compassion on us!”
23 Jesus told him, “If you’re able. Those who believe in God, can do anything.”
24 The father of the little boy immediately shouted, “I believe!… Help me through my unbelief.”

When people get desperate, they’re not gonna cling to their unbelief. They’re willing to try anything. Including stuff they don’t really believe in at all. That was the deal with this guy and his demonized son: The evil spirit was mimicking epilepsy, which is why too many interpreters assume this was epilepsy. But the father realized it was an evil spirit, ’cause an epileptic seizure doesn’t intentionally throw its sufferer into fire or water. He realized there was some malevolence behind his boy’s condition. And since the pagan “physicians” (really, witch-doctors) were not only no help, but likely put these critters into his son, it was time to try the exorcist. First Jesus’s students—who, to Jesus’s great annoyance, weren’t up to the task, even though he’d trained them. Then Jesus himself, who could totally do it—but he wanted the father to act, not in desperation, but belief. Same as he expects of anyone who prays to him: Do it in faith!

But if we have our doubts? He can work with that. ’Cause when the father asked for Jesus to help him through his unbelief, Jesus did, and cured his kid.

Mark 9.25-29 KWL
25 Jesus, seeing the crowd gather rapidly, rebuked the unclean spirit,
telling it, “I command you speechless, mute spirit: Get out of him, and never enter him again.”
26 Shouting and tearing him up, it came out. The boy looked dead, so many people said, “He died.”
27 Jesus gripped the boy’s hand, lifted him, and stood him up.
28 Entering the house, when they were by themselves, the students asked him this: “Why weren’t we able to throw it out?”
29 Jesus told them, “That species can’t be thrown out by anything but prayer.”

In other words you can’t throw it out. Only God can. So don’t presume you have the power to drive out every evil spirit you come across, just because you’re God’s kid. Always pray for help. You might need it. But I digress.

Doubting fellow Christians.

Jesus is infallible. Our fellow Christians aren’t. That’s why we’re actually instructed to doubt them. Test them, make sure what they tell us is consistent with good theology. It’s gotta jibe with the scriptures, with what other Christians teach, with common sense, and with our previous God-experiences. We don’t just blindly follow one another. (Not even me. I could be wrong too, of course.)

Problem is, we Christians are way too likely to unquestioningly accept the things our favorite preachers tell us. We’re more apt to listen to them than even the Holy Spirit! The Spirit may tell a man, “Help the needy,” but his pastor’ll tell him, “God helps those who help themselves.” The pastor is quoting Benjamin Franklin, not bible. But to the man, karma sounds way more fair to him than grace. So he follows his pastor, not the Spirit.

Even the best of us get suckered into following our prejudices instead of God. Likely you’ve heard this story before: God sent a prophet, whom the story calls “God’s Man,” to condemn King Jeroboam ben Nebat for idolatry. En-route home, God’s Man encountered an older prophet who, for whatever reason, led him astray.

1 Kings 13.14-22 KWL
14 He rode after God’s Man and found him sitting beneath an oak.
He said, “Are you God’s Man who came from Judah?” God’s Man said, “I am.”
15 The prophet said, “Go with me to the house, and eat bread.”
16 God’s Man told him, “I won’t go with you or come with you.
I won’t eat bread, won’t drink water in this place.
17 The message to me, the LORD’s word, is ‘Don’t eat bread, don’t drink water there.
Don’t return the way you came.’ ”
18 The prophet told God’s Man, “But I’m a prophet like you!
An angel spoke the LORD’s word to me, saying, ‘Bring him back to your house.
He will eat bread; he will drink water.’ ” But he lied.
19 God’s Man returned with the prophet, and ate bread and drank water at his house.
20 As they sat at table, the LORD’s word came to the prophet who’d brought God’s Man back.
21 He called out to God’s Man who came from Judah, saying: “The LORD says this:
‘You rebelled against the LORD’s mouth and didn’t keep the command your LORD God commanded.
22 You returned, ate bread, and drank water
in a place where I told you not to eat bread and drink water.
So your corpse won’t come to your fathers’ tomb.’ ”

Very soon after, a lion killed God’s Man, and the older prophet buried him in his own tomb, thus fulfilling this prophecy.

Yeah, it sounds harsh. But we don’t know all the circumstances behind God’s odd instructions to God’s Man: Maybe they were meant to keep him from getting killed by lions! In any case, the main point is God’s Man didn’t doubt. He heard, “I’m a prophet too,” and his discernment went right out the window. He accepted the lie because he wanted to fill his stomach, and didn’t care God had instructed otherwise. Any loophole would do.

We pull the same stunt all the time. Plenty of Christians accept everything our preachers tell us, without a doubt, without a concern, without question, because our preachers are telling us just what we wanna hear. We aren’t engaging in the sort of healthy skepticism God wants of us when he told us to test prophets and teachers.

1 John 4.1 KWL
Beloved, don’t trust every spirit, but put the spirits to the test to see if they’re from God,
because many fake prophets have been coming out of the universe.
1 Thessalonians 5.19-22 KWL
19 Don’t quiet the Spirit: 20 Don’t dismiss prophecy, 21 and put everything to the test.
Hold tight to what’s good. 22 Stay far away from what seems bad.

We’re expected to entertain a certain degree of healthy skepticism—healthy in the sense that the goal isn’t to reject everything, but test everything. Keep what’s good, shun what’s bad. We expect prophecies, moves of the Spirit, and solid teaching. But at the same time we’re meant to confirm prophecies, test spirits, double-check our teachers, and compare what we’ve heard to the scriptures, to Christians, and to reason. God isn’t just okay with this: He ordered this.

A fake prophet, false teacher, and iffy Christian will call it unbelief, and call our devotion into question. That’s their tactic, meant to frighten us into leaving them alone. Works too well, too often. Way too many Christians never admit our doubts, never publicly ask questions, keep our mouths shut, and meekly allow ourselves to be led astray. Every legalistic church, every child-molesting pastor, every fool who teaches something stupid and ridiculous and embarrasses Christianity with it, has benefited by the fact Christians refuse to doubt. We refuse to engage our brains, and apply any critical thinking. It makes us look like idiots. But whenever we refuse to ask questions, we are idiots.

Every Christian should doubt. Make sure it’s of God, and once you find out it’s him, follow him to the ends of the earth. But first we gotta reasonably confirm it’s him. So don’t slack on that.

January 23, 2018

We Must Obey God

A year ago we paid our first visit to The Life Project written by Don Merritt who was at that time working his way through the Gospel of Luke. We caught up with him yesterday to find him in the Acts of the Apostles. If you’re looking for more in your Bible study time, this would be a great journey to join. They’re still in early chapters so you can catch up. Click the title below to read this one at source. (With yesterday’s cliff-hanger ending, you might want to go back again today!)

The Apostles Before the Sanhedrin

When Peter and John had first appeared before the Sanhedrin (4:1-22), they were not guilty of any particular offense against the Jewish leadership, but this time they were guilty of continuing to preach Christ after they had been ordered to cease and desist. In addition, there was the matter of their little escape from custody; surely the Twelve had cause for concern, and ample reason to be very careful about what they said.

The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” (5:27-28)

So, here is the scene: They have been brought forward to be questioned by the high priest in front of the full leadership, only the high priest has no questions for them; look at what he said, there was no question asked at all. Any lawyer would tell the apostles to remain silent at this point.

The high priest, rather than ask a question, has made accusation without asking a question which I would suggest is a rather ominous sign that he has already made up his mind about what happens next. In fact, his accusation that the apostles have acted in disobedience to his previous command is accurate, for they have most assuredly disobeyed his order to cease and desist. Of course, there is a rather humorous note to all of this when he accuses the apostles of being “determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood” which of course everyone in the room knows that they are guilty of.

If you were in the apostles’ sandals, what would you do at this point?

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (5:29-32)

Well, “in for a penny, in for a pound” as the saying goes; Peter and the others fire a full broadside at their attackers, who by the way are also their judges. That they must obey God and not humans is about the equivalent of telling the court that it lacks competent jurisdiction to judge them, not usually a wise assertion for a defendant to make. Then, they make their assertion that the Jewish leaders were in fact guilty of Jesus’ blood, which in this instance would be essentially a guilty plea considering what they’ve been accused of. Finally, they claim that Jesus sits at the right hand of Almighty God and is ready to forgive the Jewish leaders of their sins if they will only repent of their misdeeds.

At this point, we must remember who these leaders are; they consider themselves the most righteous and holy of all Creation, they keep the Law of God best of all, just ask them. Forgiveness − they don’t need forgiveness; they keep the Law.

At this point, we must come to grips with the real facts of the matter, which are that the apostles have only just begun to carry out their Commission from our Lord, and that Commission is God’s eternal purpose to build up a Body of believers on the earth. As long as the apostles still have work to do on the earth, no human authority is going to stop them.

Yet if we look upon this scene from an earthly perspective, the apostles are doomed:

When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. (5:33)

It was now time for God to make His next move…

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

Next Page »