Christianity 201

August 22, 2022

As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter

There’s a bad Sunday School joke that goes something like, “Who in the Bible broke all ten commandments?” The answer is Moses, when he returned from the mountain and exasperated over the sin of the people sent the tablets crashing to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First of all, the giving of the commandments in a physical form does not mean that this is the first time God establishes moral and behavioral boundaries of the people of Israel. The website Life Hope and Truth states,

…The answer is found in a fascinating statement God made about Abraham, recorded in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

This is significant because Abraham was born hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Mount Sinai!

In order for Abraham to obey God’s commandments, statutes and laws, he had to know what they were. This means that Abraham was taught the laws directly from God or from others (or possibly both). God was not giving Moses a brand-new law on Mount Sinai. He was merely giving a codified, or formal, version of His law so that it could be used to govern the emerging nation of Israel…

The article then goes on to illustrate instances of such laws existing prior to Moses.

Let’s pick up the store in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20

NIV.Ex.19.20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”  …

NIV.Ex.20.1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  …

It’s verses 4-6, which we call the second commandment — see the post from last month where we break them up into commandment 2a and 2b — where we want to focus. It’s reiterated in verse 22

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Then, for nearly a dozen chapters, God gives Moses instructions for worship, and also some amplification of the “big ten” commandments given. But then he tells Moses it’s time “get down to earth” because there’s trouble stirring.

NIV.Ex.32.1  When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”…

…7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…

…15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Moses returns to see the people breaking the second commandment which was cited above. And he is livid. In his anger and frustration he shatters the “big ten,” which we’re told God Himself engraved.

It’s a very Moses thing to do. In his anger he will later strike a rock he is told to simply speak to, and that particular act of anger costs him entry into the promised land.

But here’s my point.

Before I started writing this, I gave it the title, “As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter.” I was thinking about Moses and what the people did in his absence. But I was also thinking about pastors and church leaders today.

Depending on whose statistics you read, in North America 1,200 or 1,500 pastors resign (quit) from ministry each month. While conservatives are busy arguing about women in ministry, it’s probably a good thing some of those women are in place, because the mostly-men pastoral workforce is abandoning ministry in droves.

There are a number of reasons, but I’m sure one of them is frustration over the lack of spiritual dedication among the parishioners. Or, as Moses observed, a flagrant disregard for the will of God.

So figuratively, over a thousand each month are throwing the tablets up in the air and letting them crash to the ground while literally, they pack up of their church office library and dust off their resumés and begin to look for another career path.

Vocational ministry life can be frustrating. I write that even as a member of my immediate family prepares to enter into a greater level of vocational pastoral commitment. I am sure that like Moses, I would get exasperated by what I would see and would want to toss the tablets up in the air as well.

In North America, October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” however if people were serious about appreciating their pastor, they would, to use an archaic word, “harken” more to the things about the ways of God that he or she is trying to teach the congregation. Yes, they should live a certain way because it’s what God desires and what God requires, but there should also be a recognition that the very reason this person has been set apart for career ministry is to teach them such things with the expectation that they will follow.

Otherwise it’s all just empty words and meaningless worship.

Are there “ten commandments” violations that you see that would cause your pastor/rector/priest to want to toss the stone tablets in the air?


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April 22, 2022

The Unspoken Lie of Genesis 3

For those of you who became subscribers of C201 because of previous contact with my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, you may remember that we occasionally linked to Kuya Kevin, an American living in the Philippines. His real name is Kevin Sanders. We somewhat lost contact with him (my fault, not his) here after running three of his articles here at C201, but this week he landed back on my radar.

His blog is simply titled Pastor Kevin Sanders, and he’s been a pastor in El Paso, Texas (for our Brit friends, it’s right on the border with Mexico) for over 15 years and recently completed his DMin from Gateway Seminary. Clicking the header which follows will take you to his site to read this, which is encouraged.

The Lie Beneath the Lie

Most of us are familiar with the Genesis account of sin entering into the world. The serpent approached Eve and convinced her that the forbidden fruit was the key to realizing her own divine potential:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5

We know that was a lie: the act of disobedience brought death, not divinity.

But it seems to me there was a lie underneath that lie. It was just as subtle as the serpent that delivered it. This is a lie that assaults the very character of God. Here it is:

“God is holding out on you.”

Believing this lie can lead to at least two terrible outcomes.

The first is outright disobedience. Eve, then Adam took this route. They instantaneously learned a harsh lesson: God’s prohibitions are ultimately for our protection. They exchanged fruit for thorns, paradise for pain, life for death, and glory for dust. Consequence is a cruel teacher for those who disobey God.

The second is bitterness. This may not be outright, external rebellion against God, but it’s just as toxic for the soul. Perhaps the inward, hidden nature of bitterness makes it even worse (or at least harder to recognize) than outward rebellion. The older son’s heart, after all, seemed just as far from his father as those swine his prodigal brother had fed (Luke 15:11-32). Grace and bitterness do not tend to peacefully coexist in the same heart.

I feel I should expound on this second outcome because it is one I am more familiar with than I care to admit. There have been times I have entertained the lie beneath the lie and experienced the bitterness that follows.

Life disappoints us all at some point. Here are just a few examples that come to mind:

  • That attractive man or woman that won’t pay any attention to you.
  • That job or job promotion which should have been yours.
  • That narcissist who has been blessed with so much talent and/or treasure (you, of course, would have used it all selflessly).
  • That hardship or tragedy that your neighbor deserved more than you.

Sometimes we choose to interpret some of these disappointments as God holding out on us. We often look back and see how silly we were to think this way. We realize that God was, indeed, working for our good (Romans 8:28).

We should know better. I should know better–especially when I consider that God “did not spare His own Son” for my sake (Romans 8:32).

Lord, you have loved me perfectly and blessed me more than I will ever deserve. Forgive me for those times I have failed to trust You. May I always guard my heart against lies and bitterness.


Second Helping: By the same author, The Advance of the Gospel in an Evil World

March 24, 2022

Are You Being Faithful to God?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 13:1-9

by Clarke Dixon

  • Watch the sermon on which today’s devotional is based at this link.

What does faithfulness to God look like? A typical response from Christians and non-Christians alike might be summarized as “sin avoidance,” which for most people means not breaking the rules. Is that it?

Judgement Looms

As we dig into this question let us consider that in Old Testament times God sent prophets to remind people that he is always faithful and that they should be faithful too. It would not end well if they were not and indeed, as the prophets warned, the Northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian army in eighth century BC and the Southern kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonian army in the sixth century BC. These calamities were spoken of by the prophets as being the judgement of God for a lack of faithfulness to God.

Fast forward to another prophet, John the Baptist:

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Luke 3:7-9 (NRSV)

What did the people hearing John think the judgement he spoke of would look like? Just as judgement previously referred to destructive invasions by the Assyrians and Babylonians, judgement here would be taken to mean the occupying Romans would go beyond a mere occupation to a complete overrun.

Fast forward to another prophet, Jesus:

At that very time there were some present who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Luke 13:1-5 (NRSV)

Bible scholar NT Wright has pointed out that the words “just as they did” are key to understanding this passage. Just as the Galileans were murdered by the Romans, possibly for some anti-Roman activity, the whole nation was in danger of experiencing violence at the hand of the Romans. Just as people died when the tower of Siloam fell, many will die when other buildings are thrown down by the Romans in a full scale attack.

The idea here is that unless God’ people repent, the Romans will destroy the nation in the same way that the Assyrians and Babylonians did in the past. The Romans did so in 70AD. Yet again, though God was faithful to his covenant promises, his people were unfaithful.

What does faithfulness and unfaithfulness to God look like?

When God’s people faced judgement through the Assyrians and Babylonians, their lack of faithfulness was easy to spot. There was a lot of worshipping of other gods, which included doing detestable things like child sacrifice. There was a lack of attention to the old covenant law, the law of Moses. Yet in the days that Jesus and John the Baptist spoke of judgement, great attention was being paid to keeping the law. So how were God’s people failing in faithfulness this time?

Jesus spoke to the problem in what he said next:

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Luke 13:6-9 (NRSV)

What does faithfulness to God look like according to Jesus? Fruitfulness! Under the direction of the religious leaders God’s people may have been trying hard to be faithful to the law, but that was part of the problem. They substituted faithfulness to the law, more particularly their interpretations of the law, for faithfulness to God. In doing so they were not bearing good fruit.

The scribes and Pharisees had become “experts” in the law, and came up with extra rules to keep people from breaking the rules. Therefore the people were expected to keep many customs and traditions pushed by the religious leaders. But in pushing people to be righteous and always do the right thing, they were not helping people become righteous in becoming a good kind of people. Jesus pushed for a better kind of righteousness, the kind that comes, not just from observance of the law, but from character, not just from doing the right things, but becoming the right kind of person:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20 (NRSV)

Despite their “righteousness” the religious leaders instigated the execution of the Son of God! There is a better kind of righteousness.

Fruitful!

Faithfulness to God in our day is often thought to simply be ”sin avoidance,” defined as keeping all the rules and breaking none. The problem is, we can keep all the rules and yet be lacking in good fruit. In fact sometimes we can keep a rule yet end up doing the wrong thing, the thing that bears bad fruit.

There is no set of rules found anywhere in the world, proposed by even the smartest people in the world, or defined by the “best” expression of faith ever known, that, by following them you would always be doing the right thing, the good thing, every time. What is good and right in one circumstance, that could be considered fruitful, can, in another situation be the wrong thing to do and end up being destructive.

Jesus himself gives an example:

And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took [a man with an illness] and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

Luke 14:3-6 (NRSV emphasis added)

The rule about not working on a Sabbath is a good one, a fruitful one. It is good for everyone to have a rhythm of rest. Jesus pointed to an example where keeping the rule would not be a good thing. One’s child might die if you keep the rule! To keep the rule would be destructive. To break the rule, on the other hand, would be fruitful.

You can imagine a scenario where a very religious type of person holding to a particularly rigid kind of theology might fail to do anything for the child out of concern for their own personal salvation. Indeed religion can motivate people to turn a blind eye to good consequences for others in deference to their own supposed standing before their vision of God. We saw this play out tragically on September 11th, 2001. Perhaps you can think of examples that involve Christians.

Here is another example from Jesus:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1-8 (NRSV)

More broken rules! But also an emphasis on the heart of God: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Though the religious leaders were striving for righteousness, they were not considering the righteousness, the mercy, the goodness, the character, of God. In their view, one need not be a person of good character, but merely a person who always does the right things, according to their interpretation. Blind obedience to rules set by one tradition is no guarantee of faithfulness to God. We are more faithful to God, bearing better fruit, when our character reflects the compassionate character of God. To go back to an earlier example, out of a compassionate character you break the sabbath rule and rescue the child. With good character you bear better fruit.

We are more faithful to God, bearing better fruit, when we follow Jesus in the way of love, the way of the cross, not meaning love as mere emotion, but love as concern for consequence. Think of the amazing consequence of the death and resurrection of Jesus and our experience of God’s grace! Out of love for the child you break the sabbath rule and rescue the child. With love you bear better fruit.

We are more faithful to God, bearing better fruit, when we dig deep for wisdom. There is so much about wisdom in the Bible. The Book of Proverbs can never be turned into a Book of Rules for there would be too many contradictions. Wisdom is about knowing when and where is the right time and place to do this and not that. Wisdom takes into account consequences, it is concerned with fruitfulness. Wisdom requires thought and thoughtfulness. Blind obedience to rules, on the other hand, can be thoughtless in every sense of the word. Out of wisdom you break the sabbath rule and rescue the child. With wisdom you bear better fruit.

In Conclusion

So what does faithfulness to God look like? Fruitfulness! Our lives will have a positive impact as we reflect the gracious character of God, follow Jesus in the way of love, and dig deep for wisdom.

God is faithful. Are you?

(I have written about Luke 13:1-5 before, here)

February 11, 2022

The Wisdom of Solomon

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a new writer to introduce to you. Matt Tracy writes at Kingdom Ethos. Today’s devotional has a chart and if it doesn’t appear properly on your screen (or even if it does) you are encouraged to read this via the link in the header which follows.

Was Solomon Truly Wise? | Reading 1 Kings 1-11 in Light of Deuteronomy 17:14-20 & Proverbs 9:10

King Solomon was an immensely famous Israelite king, perhaps second only to David in terms of his significance in Israel’s history. 1 Kings 1-11 recounts his magnificent accomplishments as ruler. The most notable of these was the construction of a Temple for Yahweh. He is celebrated for his superior wisdom, bestowed upon him by God, which he put on display for the nations of the world to see (1 Kings 4:29-34). Solomon was also notorious for his taste for splendor. Even today, he serves as the paradigmatic example of absurd wealth. Some scholars estimate Solomon’s worth to have been over $2 trillion. That’s Elon Musk, times 8. On the surface, 1 Kings 1-10 is a glowing review of Solomon’s reign, marked by tremendous material success for both Israel and Solomon himself: It appears Solomon is taking up his father David’s mantle as a righteous and obedient king, and God is rewarding him with an extravagant amount of wealth. But upon closer reading, it becomes apparent that this is certainly not the case. The author of 1 Kings includes in the account a number of troubling details that chip away at Solomon’s seemingly spotless veneer, hinting at divided loyalties that will eventually lead Israel’s Wisest King to outright apostasy.

A seemingly minor, “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” detail in 1 Kings 2 provides the backdrop against which the reader is intended to evaluate Solomon’s reign. If you pick up on it, then Solomon’s sin in chapter 11 will not come as a surprise – or at least, not as much. Here’s what I mean:

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn

1 Kings 2:1-3

The Law of Moses in this case refers to the Deuteronomic law code (c.f. Deut. 29:9; “that you may prosper in all that you do”). As it turns out, a section of Deuteronomy (17:14-20) includes laws for Israelite kings to obey – a reminder that even kings are under Yahweh’s command and not exempt from obedience:

14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

Do you see the problem?

When we evaluate Solomon’s job as king in terms of his outward accomplishments, he appears to have been a roaring success. Yet when we evaluate his reign in terms of his obedience to God, particularly with respect to Deuteronomy 17, we see that Solomon was precisely disobedient to the very laws that applied to him; laws that God himself dictated through Moses.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 – “A king should not…” Solomon…
Acquire a great number of horses – especially chariot horses. Further, a king may not import them from Egypt. Chariot horses were a signature of the Egyptian army. God’s embargo on Egyptian imports was meant to distance Israel as much as possible from their time of captivity in Egypt (i.e. “You are no longer slaves!) Had 12,000 chariot horses . . . from Egypt (1 Kings 4:26; 10:26-29).
Accumulate vast wealth. Had an absolutely ridiculous amount of money and property.
Marry numerous wives. Had an even more ridiculous number of wives, one of whom was the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh (1 Kings 7:8; 11:1-3)

Solomon’s divided loyalties eventually led him away from God altogether. The Temple of Jerusalem was only one of many temples Solomon built – one for the God of Israel, and the others for the fraudulent gods of his many, many wives (1 Kings 11). The author of 1 Kings has no qualms about connecting Solomon’s apostasy with the decline and eventual downfall of the Kingdom of Israel. His sin was the catalyst for a chain of events that eventually led to the Exile. While Solomon’s rule appeared wildly successful in terms of the wealth and fame he amassed, it amounted to nothing because he was not obedient to God.

If a king who was so lauded for his immense wisdom could turn away from God so easily, it begs the question: If “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), was Solomon ever truly wise?

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

1 Samuel 16:7


How we discovered Kingdom Ethos is a story in itself. Today Matt posted an article which was too long for C201, and I didn’t want to just excerpt from it. It’s based on this narrative:

[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.

2 Kings 2:23-25, ESV

If you’ve ever struggled with this passage, you want to click this link.

October 27, 2021

Looking 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.

October 21, 2021

The Most Important Decision We Face

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Thinking Through Deuteronomy 30:15-20

by Clarke Dixon

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices. This means we are confronted with so many decisions, perhaps too many. There is such a thing as decision fatigue as we are bombarded with having to make a multitude of decisions daily. This might explain why I start each day with the exact same breakfast, porridge. That is one less decision on my plate!

The other, and greater, problem, is that with all the decisions we make in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime, the most important decision we face gets lost. What is that decision? Let us go to Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for a hint.

The Book of Deuteronomy captures what Moses said to God’s people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. This was an important new beginning for the people who had spent the last forty years in the wilderness following their rescue from slavery in Egypt. As they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, Moses called the people to make a decision:

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.

Deuteronomy 30:15 (NLT)

While it sounds like the people are to choose between life and good, or death and bad, that is not the real decision that is to be made. Those are the consequences of the decision that must be made:

For I command you this day to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.
“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, . . .

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

Deuteronomy 30:16-17,19,20 (NLT emphasis added)

The decision is whether to be in a love relationship with God, or not.

God had already called this one people into a special relationship through the call of Abraham. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness. God gave them the law and made promises about the future. In other words, the people were called to decide whether or not to be in a love relationship with the God Who had already decided to be in a love relationship with them. God had already made his choice. He chose this people, Israel, to be a special people through whom He would work out His purposes for the world. Now it was their turn to commit to the relationship.

There were consequences to their decision. It was as if God was saying “I choose you, we can do this life together, or you can be on your own. Of course, being on your own will not go well, for there are big bad nations out there who will want your land for resources and security, and your people as slaves. But if you want to do life with me, I will be with you, and protect you.”

Today, God offers to be in a love relationship with each one of us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

We each face a decision on whether or not be in that love relationship God offers. God has already made His choice, and that choice was made clear at the cross. God chooses a love relationship with us. Do we choose to be in that love relationship? There are consequences to what we choose. God will either be in our future, or not. That is our decision to make. Has a lifetime of decision-making pushed this, the biggest decision of our lives, onto the back-burner?

This one big decision, to be in a love relationship with God, will be reflected in every little decision.

The call to love God was accompanied with a call to follow God’s ways: “love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways” (verse 16). This would affect all of life’s decisions. God’s people could not be in a love relationship with God and live like the Egyptians, or the Assyrians, or the Canaanites, or anyone else. Choosing to be in a love relationship with God meant being different, marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Some may think of God’s law negatively, like it was a straight jacket and all about control. It was, however, really about becoming a better people and a more just society. We might read the Old Testament law and think, “what, they didn’t get to eat bacon?!” The Canaanites might think “what, they don’t need to set their children on fire?!”

Through the law, God’s people had the opportunity to be freed from foolish and evil practices, from the injustices that plague unjust societies. Reading the Old Testament prophets, the concept of justice comes up often. They often mention how the Israelites failed to follow God’s ways, failing to take care of the most vulnerable of their society. Through following God’s ways the people would be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. In choosing to be in a love relationship with God, and in allowing that one decision to shape all their decisions, God’s people would be taking steps toward the Kingdom of God.

Today, a love relationship with God will be reflected in every choice we make.

Spirituality is not something we fit into a time slot each day. Spirituality is at the centre of our being, affecting every decision.

Let’s not assume that the way we allow our decision to be in a love relationship with God shape all our decisions is by listing every rule we find in the Bible. We are not old covenant people, so to blindly apply every rule we find in Deuteronomy would be to miss the moment that we live in, the love relationship with God that we are offered. We are new covenant people, with a focus on Jesus, his teaching and example. Through following Jesus we take steps toward the Kingdom of God.

The Christian walk is more about heart work than keeping a set of rules. Developing character is hard work and takes a lifetime. It also takes God’s Spirit.

To choose a love relationship with God is to choose God every time over everything else that would want our allegiance.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

Deuteronomy 30:17-18 (NLT emphasis added)

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we discover that God’s people were often likened to a faithless spouse. Sometimes they did worship other gods, which meant that sometimes they did live according to the lifestyles and standards of other nations. Sometimes they did end up sacrificing their children. Seemingly the Canaanite god Molech liked that kind of thing. The God Who led the people out of Egypt did not. GOD offered them a love relationship, but GOD must be their only God.

Today, there are many gods looking for our allegiance.

Money can accomplish great things. However the love of money can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects so many other decisions. Sex is a wonderful gift of God. However the love of sex can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects other decisions. Similar things can be said of power, image, fame, family, celebrity, alcohol, influence, politics and so much more. These things and more can become like gods to us, negatively impacting our capacity to make godly and wise decisions. For a society that has largely rejected God and the supernatural, we sure do have many gods.

In conclusion.

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices, we are therefore confronted with so many decisions. There is one decision we face that is greater than any other. It is making a choice that is more important than choosing vocation, location, or even marriage partner: What are we going to do with God’s offer of a love relationship?

If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, all our decisions will be shaped by that one decision. If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, we will make the effort to identity and cease the worship of any gods that may be affecting our decisions.

GOD has already made His choice. Have you?

October 13, 2021

Success or Failure Depends on Who Sets the Standards

NIV.Luke.11.13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

This our second time sharing the writing of Pastor Mark Anderson. The first time, in 2012 was an article we found through a blog by Steve Martin called “The Old Adam Lives.” The link below is actually to that site because this time around we couldn’t locate the original source.

Mark Anderson is a Lutheran Church pastor. There’s a simple but profound thought here that I’d missed in the story of The Prodigal Son before. (The parable is so rich, it just keeps on giving.) We often skip devotionals which spend a long time in an introductory analogy, but in this case, the contemporary story is a very fitting lead-in.

Click the header below to read this at Steve’s blog with other articles.

“…the younger son got together all he had, and set off for a far country.”

Two young men went to work in the same company. After a time a friend of the one of the families inquired after their son. “He is doing very well”, his father reported. “He has received two promotions and is making good money. His hours are good and everyone seems to like him” .

At about the same time, the other young man was fired from the same company. He had received no raises and no promotions. When his wife heard the news she was quite upset until she learned that he had lost his job because he would not participate in the corruption that was the standard in his office.

The first young man ‘succeeded’ according to the standards he was willing to abide by. The second young man ‘failed’ for the same reason.

In a real sense it would not have mattered if the Prodigal Son had failed or succeeded in the far country. Either way, his life was measured by the sordid standards of that place. Success would have been just as damning as was his groveling with the whores and pigs.

You and I were created for the standards of the Father’s house. No matter how high we may fly by any others, they are not sufficient measures by which can claim success. Our s0- called success may actually be nothing more than evidence of our corruption.

In Jesus Christ God calls us all, His sons and daughters, to return from the far country to the Father’s house. The shape of our shabbiness, whether rich or poor, is immaterial. What matters is that we know we are His. The Church has been given the Gospel for just this purpose. For it is through its gracious, merciful message that we are awakened to the standards of the Kingdom and drawn into the forgiving, loving arms of the Father, for Jesus’ sake.

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

July 11, 2021

The Holy Spirit Gives GPS-like Guidance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced Jenny Lee Young who lives in Randburg, South Africa and describes herself as a “former Methodist local preacher” who writes at Coffee in the Rain. I found this to be a helpful illustration. Click on the header which follows to read this at source.

Driving with a GPS

My hairdresser moved about two months ago. Her business took a serious knock due to the lockdown and she could no longer afford the rent in a small shopping centre where she ran her salon. She decided to operate from her home instead.

I have always travelled about half an hour to have my hair cut. In the past I have seldom been happy with hairdressers and once I found one I liked, I stuck with her, even though she moved out towards the West Rand about five years ago. Her prices and pensioner’s discount are also the best I’ve found.

The first time I went to her home, I got lost. I had looked at the directions on Google Maps before I left and had a general idea of the first couple of kilometers. Then it was time to switch on the GPS.

I have two cell phones. The one that is connected to the cell phone network has limited connectivity (WIFI, Bluetooth and GPS) after it was dropped on its face and repaired. My backup, which is old, has limited battery life. I stopped at the side of the road to connect my main phone. Predictably, it gave me the first instruction then lost the GPS signal. I drove straight, hoping it would regain connection but it didn’t. There was nothing for it but to call on the backup. To do that, I had to pull over again, create a hotspot on my main phone and connect the backup. I connected the backup to my phone charger because I saw there was only 20% charge left although it had been fully charged just three hours earlier. I sent a message to my hairdresser saying I was running late but on my way.

By now I was in territory totally unfamiliar to me. After about five minutes, my backup phone gave me the low battery warning and then went dead. Obviously it was losing more power than it was gaining. I couldn’t switch it on again.

I was lost.

I looked at my WhatsApp messages to see that my hairdresser hadn’t read my message. I was about to phone her when she phoned me wondering where I was. In the end she came to fetch me and I followed her home and charged my flat phone while I had my hair cut so at least I could find my way home.

If we get lost using a GPS device or app, there are three possible reasons.

  1. We think we know better and ignore the instructions.
  2. Our reception of the GPS satellite is faulty or intermittent.
  3. We run out of battery on our device.

The spiritual life is like driving using a GPS device. The signal is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13 NIV)

Romans 8:14 says, For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (NIV)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:18 NIV)

All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they accept Jesus into their lives as Lord and Saviour. However, we can still get lost on our spiritual journey. This can be for similar reasons to getting lost with a GPS.

  1. We think we know better and ignore instructions.
  2. We do not hear the Spirit’s promptings because our minds are filled with too many other things. Our reception of the signal is faulty or intermittent.
  3. We have run out of power. We have not been in the habit of plugging into Jesus for daily prayer and scripture reading. We have not spent enough time with our Lord to recharge our batteries.

There is one other reason for getting lost, both in the physical drive and the spiritual walk. We misunderstand the instructions. The voice on my phone says turn right and I turn immediately into a building site when I was meant to turn at the next road.

Spiritually, it is when God calls us to something and we try to do it in our own strength immediately and run ahead of God.

I’m happy to say I have been to have my hair cut subsequently and I did not get lost. I took precautions. I made sure my backup phone was charged 100% and I plugged it into my car charger as I left. Moreover, I had gone to Google Maps on my computer and printed instructions to my destination.

I am sure there are precautions we can take in our Spiritual walk too. By constant communion with our Lord, we can make sure our spiritual batteries are charged.

My Prayer

Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)

December 31, 2020

Bible Verse of the Year 2020; Four Ways to Handle 2021

by Clarke Dixon

For the past two years I have used the verse of the year, as determined by a very popular Bible app, YouVersion, for the sermon on the last Sunday of the year. This year I asked our church family to send in what would be their pick for verse or passage of the year. Below you will read their picks, which not only help us reflect on 2020, they point out four ways to handle 2021. So let us read them and reflect on four strategies for handling 2021:

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31 NRSV

There are wonderful truths about God and wonderful promises here, but we don’t want to gloss over the pain that is also represented in this passage. This passage was originally written to a people who would feel beaten down, that God was distant. Perhaps you feel that way too?

The first way of handling 2021 is to be honest about the pain.

Likewise, we have this passage from the Psalms:

But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors

Psalm 31:14,15 NRSV

In context, the Psalm is about facing death because of enemies. Perhaps we live in the kind of society where we cannot name a single person we could think would want to take our lives. We are fortunate. But there are diseases and infections that we can think of. We can be honest with God about our anxiety over the things that threaten and impact our lives.

We do well to be honest, even vulnerable, in our relationship with God, but sometimes with trusted people as well. Lament has a place in the Bible. Does it have a place in our lives, in our prayers, in our relationships, and in our churches?

Let us move on:

“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:7 NRSV

Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Psalm 46:8-11 NRSV

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Psalm 91:1-6 NRSV

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 NRSV

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV

What do these all have in common? Trust in God.

The second way of handling 2021 is to nurture trust in God.

We can put our hope in God’s love and power. God is, God is for us, and God is able. A couple of the passages sent to me further define it as trust in God, rather than ourselves:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5,6 NRSV

The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way.

Proverbs 20:24 NLT

Are we okay with not having all the answers? Can we trust God, even when we are in a deep fog?

The next few passages may seem quite different from one another, but there is a common thread:

. . . for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 NRSV

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 NRSV

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NRSV

do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 NRSV

What is the common thread that holds these passages together? Rise to the challenge.

The third way of handling 2021 is to rise to the challenge of living out life as Christ followers, whatever the circumstances may be.

We continue thinking, meditating, praying, loving, doing, and facing fears. These are all activities that we do. Yes, there are things we cannot change. But yes, there are things we can. We don’t just let 2021 happen to us, we give shape to it as it unfolds. We are active, not passive.

Here is the last verse shared with me as someone’s pick for “verse of the year 2020.”

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—

Ephesians 2:8 NRSV

However our circumstances might affect our choice of verse for the year, there is a circumstance that affects us all; separation from God because of sin and the need for grace. We can get flustered by situations we may be in, but if we have not been reconciled to God, then whatever dire circumstance we face pales in comparison to this much bigger problem. It is not a problem we can fix. It is a problem, however, that God fixes for us, in Jesus. When we look at the big picture, we see God’s love for us.

The fourth way of handling 2021 is to look at the big picture.

2020 was a hard year. How might we capture 2020 in a painting? We might use a lot of dark colours for one thing. 2021 may be a challenging year. How might we capture 2021 in a painting as we look forward? Perhaps a lot of grey tones, painting a foggy scene ahead. Now how might we capture our relationship with God in a painting? Our relationship with God is something that will never fade into history. Let us remember that 2020 and 2021 will both someday fade into history. Our relationship with God is something we enjoy now, and every day in the future. We may want a much larger canvas to paint on to reflect the fact that this is a big picture. As we reflect on God’s love we may want to use bright colours, painting a much more joyful scene.

As we face 2021, let us be honest about our pain, nurture our trust in God, rise to the challenge of the Christian life, and look at the big picture.

Many thanks to those who read these “Shrunk Sermons” over the year. May you have a Happy New Year!

 


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, a small town one hour from Toronto. The full reflection (sermon content) can be seen as part of this “online worship expression

November 16, 2020

Interpreting the Perceived Silences of God

A year ago we introduced you to Maryland pastor Mark Stephenson who writes at Fire and Light. Today we have the following article for you — click the link to read at source — but also at the bottom of the page a link to an article which in many ways is a continuation of this one and points to areas where perhaps God wants to open the windows of heaven and reveal himself, but we’ve created blockages. But first…

Contemplative Silence or Spiritual Deafness

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 

John 10:1-5

I spent years thinking I was engaging in the contemplative silence of God, as if to spend time with God was mainly about embracing His silence and learning to be silent myself. But I was mistaking my spiritual deafness for God’s silence. Many Christians, especially progressive Christians trying to embrace contemplative Christianity, are making this same mistake. God likes to talk. Jesus’s own nickname is Word of God. God is not perpetually silent. How many times does Genesis 1 say, “And God said…”? God is speaking all the time. Most of the time, we just haven’t learned how to hear Him (or haven’t taken the time to).

Silence with God is like arguments between spouses. When I hear married couples say, “We never fight!” I get worried. Never fighting is awesome if you are an older couple who has spent decades learning how to communicate. However, for younger couples “never fighting” is too often an indication that one or both spouses are avoiding things for the sake of a false peace.

I have the same feeling when I hear Christians say things like, “God’s primary language is silence.” If you have spent decades hearing His voice, learning to listen and obey, and have learned to enjoy His Presence so much that both you and God can just sit in silence with each other, wonderful! That’s beautiful. But that’s not most American Christians.

Most Christians are never addressing their spiritual deafness because they are mistaking it for God’s silence. God wants to speak, and if our spiritual ears are open, we will hear Him. His sheep know His voice and listen to His voice.

An 80-year-old couple sitting in silence at a restaurant speaks to how they know each other so well. A newlywed couple sitting in silence at a restaurant often signals a breakdown in healthy communication. Not all silence is golden.

I have found God to be most silent when He has already spoken. He is silent because He’s already told me what I need to know and now it is time for me to trust and rest and follow His lead. Too many Christians believe that God is mostly silent and only speaks occasionally. I used to believe the same thing. But I was spiritually deaf, not understanding all the ways that God speaks through the Holy Spirit. My spiritual ears were clogged with doubt, unbelief, and skepticism.

Too many Christians have managed to take a spiritual problem (the inability to hear God) and have spun it into a spiritual attribute (“I embrace the silence of God”). It reminds me of the husband who, when asked about his marriage, says it’s going great only to look over at his wife and see her eyes rolling. She knows their problems are deep and many. He’s the kind of guy who will boast about never fighting with his wife only to experience a divorce a few short years later.

If God is silent, do not assume you are a master of contemplation enjoying the quiet presence of God. Assume, instead, that you are spiritually deaf and have a long way to go in learning to hear God’s voice. Cry out for an opening of your ears. Surrender the false belief that God doesn’t speak to you. Only after we learn to hear the Holy Spirit regularly can we then learn to enjoy God’s silence in a way that is healthy.


Christianity 301: Go deeper with this article on how the laws of God’s kingdom can be superseded by other laws. Click here to read.


October 27, 2020

What Motivates You Not To Sin?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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“We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.” – Jerry Bridges


Yesterday I was scrolling through blog posts here from 2011 and came across the name Clay Gentry whose writing was highlighted three times in total. It was nice to go back to his blog and find it still active; find him still writing. His blog at claygentry.com is called Sharing the Good News of the Lord.

Click the header below to read this online, including contact information there for Clay if you want to reach out to him.

The #1 Reason Not To Sin

What motivates you to not give into temptation? Now, I realize, depending on the situation several different reasons might be cited. For example, an unhappily-married couple facing the temptation of divorce might stay together for the sake of the kids. Or, an employee may not steal because he or she is afraid of getting caught. Or, a teenage couple may abstain from sex because of the fear of pregnancy. These reasons are all well and good, however, there is one fatal flaw they all share… the motivation for not sinning is temporal in nature.

When the kids get older or leave for college, the marriage ends. When the employee figures out how not to get caught, he or she steals. When the teenagers no longer fear pregnancy, they will have sex. In essence, so long as our reasons for not sinning are solely based on our ever-changing circumstances, we will eventually yield to temptation and thus sin.

However, there is another approach to overcoming temptations; a motivation that will keep us from sinning. What is this reason you ask, well consider with me the example of young Joseph from Genesis 39:6b-10. In this reading, we find Joseph as a slave in the house of an Egyptian named Potiphar. But trouble is at hand in the form of Potiphar’s wife.

“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Come sleep with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to go to bed with her.” (Genesis 39:6-10 ESV)

Did you notice what motivated Joseph to resist what must have been an intense time of temptation? It was not merely his position or the kindness of his master; but more importantly, it was his relationship with God. Read it again, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” For Joseph, his relationship with God was the #1 reason not to sin. He would do nothing to compromise that relationship.

Consequently, if we want to overcome temptation then we have to see our relationship with our Heavenly Father as the #1 reason not to sin. He has saved us and thus calls for us as His children to live lives of holiness before Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). Therefore, may our prayer echo that of the Psalmist, “[Lord] may [we] store up Your words in [our] heart, that [we] might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).


The quotation from Jerry Bridges appeared most recently in this June, 2019 article here, Sinning Against Another, Against Yourself, Against God.


The last time Clay Gentry appeared here was in a 2014 piece on the danger of over-contextualizing which we were only able to use in part. The article is still online; check out The Contextual Meaning of Romans 15:4.

September 28, 2020

A Warning About Wandering

Don’t let your heart be hardened!

Today we’re introducing another new writer to you. Morning Glory Journal is written by Hannah and it’s the opposite of our devotional page here — which posts in the afternoon — as each of her articles’ titles begins with “Morning Pep Talk.” Send her some link love by reading this at her page instead of this one; just click the title which follows.

Morning Pep Talk: Beware

When just starting out in your relationship with Jesus you feel a couple different things: excitement and doubt, maybe fear. Excitement in that your stepping out of the norm in seeking the God of the universe! Doubt and maybe fear in that you still might not be sure if He really can hear you or if He even cares all that much. But then, once you get going in a habit of talking to Him everyday, if you’re like me, you might start a bit of a roller coaster ride going from spiritual highs down to lacking a desire to look for Him. I’ve probably talked about this before but I’m experiencing it once again and I know I shouldn’t and I really don’t want to so I have to do something to combat this feeling.

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their heart, and they have not know My ways.” So I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest.” ‘ ” Hebrews 3:7-11; NKJV

Reading those verses again, I feel a fear creeping into my chest. Whatever happened to that fear of slipping away from Jesus? That fear of leaving the path He set me on? Somewhere along the way the fear ebbed away and was slowly replaced with a sort of complacency. I was leaving Jesus! I don’t want to harden my heart against God! I don’t want to be one whose heart goes astray! I want to know the ways of God!

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’ Hebrews 3:12-15; NKJV

Isn’t that something? While it’s today talk to fellow believers, encourage each other, continue to seek out the Lord. Not, “Oh! I was going to do that yesterday!” or, “Oh, I can do that tomorrow.” None of that!

Just now reading the next few verses I have to include them:

“For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” Hebrews 3:16-19; NKJV

Do I need to add my thoughts on this? That’s pretty straightforward! It all boils down to their unbelief! When we stray and lose interest per se, in our God, that’s because we don’t fully believe. Oh God, please! don’t let my foolish heart stray! It’s as the Interpreter in the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress said, ” ‘Tis easier watching a night or two, than to sit up a whole year together: So ’tis easier for one to begin to profess well, than to hold out as he should to the end.” (p. 251.5)

Yes, it’s easier to leave our God, but we must hold out till the end! Satan wants us complacent, but don’t give in. Beg Jesus for help and He will gladly and readily help you. He helped me this morning so let this serve as proof that He can and will help you too. Just believe!



 

April 28, 2020

Coming Alongside a God Who Does Miracles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working Alongside a Miracle-Working God

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

WHEN THERE IS A NEED. . .

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

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

SENSED BY A FEW . . .

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

AND EACH INDIVIDUAL TAKES RESPONSIBILITY . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEN JESUS WORKS A MIRACLE

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

TAKEAWAY

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


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

February 12, 2020

Walking with Integrity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we’re back at the the blog My Morning Meal, written by Peter Corak. You can encourage the writers here by reading the various posts at their sites.

My Integrity, Your Faithfulness

Don’t know what was happening in the songwriter’s life when he composed the twenty-sixth psalm, but whatever it was, he cries out to Jehovah for vindication. Sounds like there were some accusations made that weren’t true. Rumors being spread that were false. A smear campaign being conducted about the sorts of people the songwriter hung with and the kind of company he kept. A “he said, they said” sort of situation. And so, he prays for God to insert Himself as judge and preside over the proceedings. To investigate the accusations. To render a decision.

The evidence presented? The songwriter’s walk. His manner of life. His motivation and mission.

And the witnesses presented to the Judge of all the earth? “My integrity,” he says, and “Your faithfulness.”

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in Your faithfulness.
(Psalm 26:1-3 ESV)

They said that he hung with men who were liars and ran with those who were hypocrites. That he gathered with those bent on wickedness and evil (26:4-5). To which he responds, “I have walked in my integrity.”

While not pleading perfection, the songwriter does present the evidence of his intent. That structurally, his motivational ambition has been sound and pure. That though he may have stumbled along the way in step, he had not wavered inside as to desire. That he has sought to conduct himself throughout his life in a manner consistent with trusting the One who had given Him life.

And so he invites the Judge of all the earth to examine evidence that only an all-knowing Judge can examine. To test the inner-workings of his heart. To review the unspoken thoughts of his mind. To prove the completeness and fullness of his longing to trust in the Lord.

For I have walked in my integrity.

But integrity, consistency of purpose, and undivided desire is of little value if it’s consistently pursuing the wrong thing. If it’s aligned to an errant purpose or set on a corrupt prize. And so, while the songwriter could say with clear conscience, “I have walked in my integrity,” the judiciary weight of such evidence is that he walked in the Lord’s faithfulness.

Having trusted in the Lord, he would follow the Lord. Wanting to walk in a straight path, he wouldn’t rely on his own internal GPS, the way seeming right in his own eyes. Instead, we would seek the way of the One who had already brought him safe thus far, having already shown His steadfast love toward him.

And so, with singleness of mind, He would continue to trust that His God really was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He would walk in his integrity and He would walk in Jehovah’s faithfulness.

But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.
(Psalm 26:11-12 ESV)

But as for me, too. I have walked, and I shall walk in my integrity.

And, I walk in Your faithfulness.

By Your grace. For Your glory.

November 21, 2019

When We Face Lions

(This is from a series on The Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” The series begins here)

by Clarke Dixon

When facing the lions means facing the antagonism of society against Christianity, what do we do? There is no doubt that Christianity has held a privileged place in [North American and Western European] society from our beginning. But now? Not-so-much as church attendance drops to new lows, and traditional Christian values are dropped from the law books. The lions we face are nothing compared to the lions faced by the early Christians or the persecution felt by Christians around the world today. Nevertheless, many have a sense of fear that things will only get worse in our not-so-Christian-anymore society. How do we navigate the new and ever-changing normal? Daniel will help us. Daniel was a person of deep faith in a land where you could be threatened with lions. Let us pick up on some lessons from Daniel, chapter 6, when Daniel faced the lions.

First,

Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. Daniel 6:3-4 (NRSV)

Daniel is known for commendable service to king and country even though Darius is not his king, nor Babylon his country. When we first met Daniel as a teenager in Daniel, chapter 1, he had concern for his Jewish identity, but was also willing to serve the Babylonian king. Now that he is in his early eighties, he has served a few Babylonian kings and is still serving well. Daniel had a commitment to serve people who keep, and threaten people with, lions. Are we willing to serve [our nation and our people] no matter how threatened we might feel?

Second,

The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5 (NRSV)

Daniel’s colleagues are aware of Daniel’s faith. Daniel’s service to king and country is impeccable, so the jealous men are not able to find grounds for Daniel’s destruction. They know, however, that Daniel is a man of deep faith and conviction in his God. They know that he is man of prayer:

All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel 6:7 (NRSV)

Are people aware that we have deep conviction that God loves humanity in Christ? Do people know that we pray?

Third,

Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 (NRSV)

Though Daniel has been squeaky clean in his service to king and country, the time has come for deliberate defiance. The time had come to make a choice between devotion to the king, and devotion to the King of kings. Daniel had the courage to keep walking the walk, even when threatened with lions. Would we have had that courage?

We should note here that Daniel’s defiant attitude only arose when his own ability to walk according to his faith was threatened. He was not demanding that all Babylonians pray like he did. Courage for the Canadian Christian in our day does not mean having the courage to enforce Christian values upon all Canadians. But it does mean the courage to follow Jesus as a Canadian, even though it may bring us into disrepute. Do we have the courage to walk the walk and talk the talk? How Canadians live is not our number one priority. How we live is. Enforcing Christian values through Canadian law is not the goal. Helping people know Jesus is.

Fourth,

When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Daniel 6:14 (NRSV)

Back in chapter 4, Daniel was distraught over Nebuchadnezzar’s looming troubles. Now the tables are turned and the current king, Darius, is distraught over Daniel’s looming troubles. If we were rounded up and taken to prison for our faith, would our neighbours care? Would anyone beyond our church community even notice? Perhaps the king was disturbed by Daniel’s troubles because Daniel was the kind of person who would be disturbed by the king’s troubles. When people are troubled around us, do we notice? Are we prepared to serve, defend, and care for people who are very different from us? Do we care for people who hold very different values, who live very different lifestyles? Do we get the point of Jesus’ Good Samaritan story? The point is not that we become Samaritans, but that we become good. We should be the priest who actually crosses the road to help someone no matter how “unclean” that might make us feel. Daniel was known for what he is for, and not what he was against. Daniel was known to be for king and country. In choosing the lions he was known for his devotion to God. What are we known for as Christians today?

Fifth,

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23b (NRSV)

Consider the people who would have first learned about Daniel’s experience with the lions.

Those experiencing exile along with Daniel would have felt like they were living out a lion’s den experience. Would they survive? Would their faith survive? Would God abandon them there in the pit? Daniel trusted God and he came out of the pit alive. God’s people would be encouraged by that to keep trusting in God’s promises. The exile will end, they will come out of it alive. God’s people would face other lion’s den experiences once the exile was over. In later chapters, Daniel prophecies about difficulties the nation would face under Greek rule and rulers. Keep trusting, God will lift his people out of that lion’s pit also. Just as the story of Daniel in the lions den does not end with Daniel being eaten by lions, there is no storyline which ends with God’s people being destroyed. God has made promises. He can be trusted.

We may feel like the Christian Church in Canada is entering a lion’s den. We may feel like it may someday face extinction. There is no storyline where Christianity is destroyed. That is not how this story we live in will end. God has made promises. We can trust him.

What is true for Christianity is true for the Christian. There may be lion’s den experiences in our lives. We may feel like we have entered the lion’s den when we enter a doctor’s office to receive a diagnosis, or a counsellor’s office to work on a significant but hurtful relationship, or a workplace office to receive a pink slip. Daniel came out of the lion’s den alive. Jesus came out of the tomb alive:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (NRSV)

In Christ, there is no future where you do not come out alive. God has made promises. We can trust him.

To summarize, though we think we may face lions here in Canada, let us keep serving all kinds of Canadians, even those who keep lions. Let us keep walking the walk, and talking the talk. Let us keep trusting in God for the future.


Editor’s note: Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This article originally was written with a more definitive Canadian context in its original title and opening paragraphs. I edited a few of those at the beginning as this has a much wider application, but left successive paragraphs in the original form.

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