Christianity 201

April 22, 2021

No Other Gods

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Yesterday morning, the wife of an American journalist tweeted this scripture:

Joshua 23:16 “if you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

I was immediately struck by the principle — which we’ve shared here before — that while God’s dealings with people have changed between the First Covenant and the New Covenant, his essential nature; his character have not changed. He is, as scripture reminds us, the same.

While he may not drive us off our land — at least in a literal sense — he is angered; he is grieved when he are tempted and distracted by other lifestyles; other worldviews; other voices telling us how we should live. The times we wander off from his plan “A” are the times we are sinning. We’ve missed the mark; we’ve accepted less than his perfect way; we’ve trusted our own instincts or desires above his stated will for our lives.

The verse is part of the concluding two chapters of Joshua, his famous last words to the people of Israel. Chapter 23 in particular contains three exhortations. The first one:

2b [Joshua:]“I am very old. You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

The second follows immediately after:

“The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

And the third and last, immediately after that:

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

While commentators divide these accordingly, there is a common theme throughout: Don’t chase after (follow) other Gods.

It is a reiteration of the first of a set of commandments given by God to Moses to give to the people that we call “The Ten…” though some scholars see as many as 14 instructions.

Joshua says some other final things in chapter 24, and while that chapter is beyond the scope of this devotional, I do want to remind us of a verse 15, where not one, but two well-known sections of scripture are found in a single verse:

24.15 (italics added) But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The website Precept Austin offers an insight into our key passage today which it calls “To Chase or Be Chased.” Pause and consider that for a moment. The battle in which we find ourselves doesn’t offer moments of neutrality in the action. (For my Canadian readers, think of a hockey game as the play quickly moves from one end of the rink to another.)

The Lord has also equipped His children so we can be courageous in a hostile world. Although the foes we face may seem to be more powerful, we can resist them because of God’s special provision. This doesn’t mean He always protects His children from physical injury or even death. But when a child of God works together with God and does His will, he is unconquerable until his work on earth is done.

How do we find the protection that helps us “chase away” the enemy? By trusting and obeying God. Joshua told God’s people that if they would obey the Lord, no one could stand against them (Josh. 23:10). The same God who fought for them will also fight for us. He will strengthen us to meet any challenge when we are doing what He wants us to do in the way He wants us to do it (Phil. 4:13).

Yes, the Lord will give us courage as we draw strength from Him each day.

In a sermon on this passage, Canadian pastor Hilmer Jagersma reminds us where the courage comes from in a New Covenant sense; quoting Acts 4:13

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Returning to the covenant aspect of this passage, Hilmer adds that,

Whether you’re young or whether you’re old, God has called you has and set you apart for service, and you have promises that are extended to you and you enjoy the good things of the Lord… If you think about it… we grow up in a community that worships the Lord, and we part of a community where the word of God is preached, and many of you grew up in homes where the word of God is taught.

And that’s how God works. Through his Spirit. By his Word. God is working. We sing the promises of God. We teach the promises of God. As parents you’re trying to demonstrate and live out the promises of God.

But the warning that Joshua gives stands: Don’t take God’s grace for granted. The promises must be received in faith. And they have always needed to be received in faith.


Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon returns next week.

All scriptures today taken from the NIV.

Watch the complete sermon on Joshua 23 by Hilmer Jagersma at this link.

 

 

March 13, 2021

Fixing It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s is a shorter post, but I felt there was someone out there who needed to hear this; or perhaps hear these verses of scripture.

It all has to do with the word fix and its variants. What does it mean when we’re fixed on Jesus?  The site BibleResources.info offers this:

The Greek word “fix” contains the idea of concentrating your gaze; to focus all of your attention on one object. Paul explains that if we concentrate on Jesus, we will be able to avoid sin and experience peace. When Jesus walked on the water, the disciples were terrified. Peter, however, was able to walk on the water by keeping his eyes on Jesus. He faltered when he lost his concentration and looked away!

Let’s look at the texts when this word is searched in the NIV on BibleGateway.com:

Hebrews 12:2
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Deuteronomy 11:18
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

Psalm 141:8
But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.

2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Hebrews 3:1
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.

When I think of the word fixed I think of affixed, the idea of being stuck like glue!

Let’s return to the page at BibleResources:

If we actively focus on Jesus through Bible study, prayer and service – Jesus will become the center of our attention, and we will not fall. Deuteronomy 11:18 tells us to fix “his words in our hearts and minds”. Proverbs 3:5-6 enjoins us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV). Proverbs 4:24-31 reminds us that if we focus and “fix our gaze before us, making level paths for our feet in ways that are firm without swerving” (distractions), that we can “keep our feet from evil”.

Isaiah 26:3 promises “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee…”. If we keep this focus, we will not “be anxious about anything…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

If we keep our focus on the Lord as our “light and my salvation… the strength of my (our) life; of whom shall I (we) be afraid? (Psalms 27:1) We will not fear, “…for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”. (Isaiah 41:10)

With our eyes, thoughts, hearts and words fixed on Jesus we will be able to be “strong and courageous- all you who put your hope in the LORD! (Psalms 31:24)


Keep my Eyes on You by Graham Kendrick:


Monday is Devotional # 4000 here at Christianity 201. If you’ve been helped in any way by these readings, let us know.

 

March 12, 2021

Having a Hope-Filled View of the Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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After a break of 18 months, we return to the ministry of Toronto area Bible teacher Gordon Rumford and his devotional website.  Gordon writes faithfully, and he writes well. I am privileged to have heard him teach in person many, many years ago. You can click the header which follows, but you’ll also see two other options for viewing today’s reading.

Hopeless

“…without hope and without God in the world.”
Ephesians 2:12 (NIV)

View in your web browser | View a PDF version

It was a wonderful, but short lived, relationship. The doctor loved and owned quarter horses. My father, as a farmer, knew draft horses quite well. They bantered each other during his last two weeks in hospital. I recall having a consult with the doctor after my dad slipped into a coma. He gently and with some emotion explained that the end was hours away.

Perhaps that was one of my most painful experiences in life as I loved my father dearly and respected and admired him greatly. But his passing was bittersweet. How so? Bitter because our every other day phone calls, and many visits would be no more. Sweet because my father had endured much pain as the cancer migrated through his tired old body. So that ended with his death. Also, I had the glorious hope of reunion when it would be my turn to leave this world for my heavenly Father’s home. Without that hope I would have been devastated!

As a pastor I have had a lot of experience trying to help people who have no hope. It is a heart wrenching time for me and after the funeral I just want to go home and retreat to my study, to be alone, to pray and sometimes weep.

Many brilliant minds have struggled with their hopeless view of the future. The late Bertrand Russell famously said, “that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Against the backdrop of Russell’s dark view of the future we have the teaching of Scripture on a joyful future for all the people of God. Revelation 21:3-4 (NIV) reads,

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people,
and he will dwell with them. They will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”

Then in Revelation 22:17 (NIV) we read,

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’
And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’
Let the one who is thirsty come;
and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

We are free to accept Russell’s view of the future or we may listen to the Spirit and receive the free gift of eternal life. I have long ago been led by the Spirit to the foot of the cross where my heart was opened to receive the message of the truth of the Gospel. Dear reader consider well the wonderful message of the lowly Jesus and seek Him while He can be found.

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is fill’d,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill’d.

–  John Newton


By the same author:

I love the set-up for this devotional:

He was an abrasive personality and I quickly learned to avoid him as much as possible. Early in our relationship I mentioned that I was looking forward to a Florida holiday. He quickly retorted that Satan takes no holidays. I wanted to comment that he seemed very familiar with the devil’s activities. Instead, I commented that Satan was not my role model, rather Jesus was. Today’s verse silenced the clever but mistaken critic…

…Check out Rest for the Weary.

January 21, 2021

Genesis 3 and The End of a Golden Era

Ed. Note: Today we’re repeating the very first column we carried from Canadian Pastor and regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon, which appeared here on October 18, 2012.


by Clarke Dixon

A Golden Era is a time we look back upon with fondness, a time we think of as having something special about it. We might think of the golden era of cars, which for me would be the 1980s as I could still do my own oil changes on the cars I owned from that era. Since those cars I have not even been able to find the oil filters never mind change them. And we might think of the golden era for music. Eighties again with bands like U2, and REM, and other bands I could easily spell.

As for the Bible, there is no doubt that Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are a golden era. In those good ole days God “saw that it was good.” Also, Adam was over the moon about his new partner Eve and both of them could enjoy a full relationship with God. All is good. But it didn’t last very long. In fact in my edition of the Bible there are 1048 pages and the golden era is done by page 3! So what went wrong?

We might jump to the conclusion that everything went wrong when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit and that this is primarily a matter of obedience. However things began to unravel before that and in fact the disobedience was a symptom of a bigger problem. What is the root problem? Let’s look at where it all starts going wrong:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:1,2 NIV)

You can’t hear the serpent’s tone but you can imagine it: “Did God really say . . ?” I imagine the tone to be one that sows ominous seeds. It is a bit like my Dad’s complaint about how the Irish (which includes my Mum, my brother and I) will ask a question while giving the answer they want to hear: “you don’t really want to do that, do you?” On the lips of the serpent to Eve, “Surely God didn’t say something as silly as that, did he?” The seeds of doubt are sown. Eve corrects the snake somewhat, but then comes the punchline:

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “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 3:1-5 NIV)

The seeds of doubt give way to a blooming assault on trust. The serpent’s words may as well be “God is a liar, listen to me for I know better.” This is not merely a matter of obedience, this is primarily a matter of trust as Eve and Adam end up placing their trust in the serpent rather than God. Not only that but Eve trusts her own judgement, and Adam likewise, over God’s:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6)

We live in a time and place where the serpent’s words are like an echo that keeps coming back like a broken record (did I mention record players and the golden era of musical gadgets?); “God didn’t really say that, did he? God doesn’t really even exist, does he? You don’t really believe that, do you? Your religion is full of fools who are lying to you, trust us.” Seeds of doubt in previous generations have given way to a blooming assault on trust in our day. How must we cope as we see the core problem of the fall in Genesis 3, misplaced trust, replayed over and over again in our day? Two things:

  1. Training in apologetics.
    With Adam and Eve the problem was not merely that they stopped trusting God, but rather that they placed greater trust in the serpent and in their own ideas. And so today, I don’t think the problem is that people stop trusting God, or fail to place their trust in God, so much as they place greater trust elsewhere. Experts say this and that about such and such, and “we trust that, end of story”. However, there are many wonderful experts who have much to say about the same things from a Christian perspective and who evidence a wonderful trust in God. We do well to learn this stuff! There are many great resources for apologetics available, we might even call it a golden era of apologetics (email me for recommendations if you like).
  2. Follow Jesus.
    Just as there was a temptation at the beginning of humanity, there was a temptation at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. If you take a moment to read Luke 4:1-13 you will see something remarkable. With every temptation Jesus responds to the devil with “it is written” and a quotation from the Old Testament. “Actually, what God says is . . .” and Jesus begins his ministry with a complete trust and confidence in the Father.

As we live in such a skeptical society as ours, assaulting trust on every side as if we are somehow stuck in Genesis 3, let us commit to being more knowledgeable Christians who follow Jesus closely. And remember, by the grace of God the golden era is ahead of us!

 

November 24, 2020

Coming to God with Child-like Faith

The basic offer of Jesus to redeem us is so simple that even a child can understand it and act on it. But it’s part of a narrative that is so wonderfully, beautifully complex that theologians have never stopped marveling about it.

We come individually to God with a child-like faith; a child-like trust; but the good news of the gospel can never be considered childish. Notice how much this theme is repeated:

“Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
 – Matthew 18:3 CSB

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
 – Matthew 19:14 NLT

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
 – Mark 10:15 NIV

Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”
– Luke 18:17 MSG

I wasn’t familiar with Lacey Strum until I tuned in for a live feed of one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Celebration events. I was electrified as she started to share her personal testimony. She is a Christian musician who was in the band Flyleaf, and is the author of three books.

Her blog posts are no longer part of her website, but this one survives on GoodReads. This is a bit different than our usual devotionals here, but I felt there might be someone out there who needs this, or would benefit from her story, which I’ve included below.

Eyes of a child

My son is three. He is currently obsessed with taking pictures. The other night I was falling into a deep sleep in our dark hotel room when I heard his tiny voice from the other bed break the silence. “Daddy. Can I have da phone?” “No,” sighed my sleepy husband. “It’s not time to play.” “But daddy, I gotta take a peetchur!” As an artist himself, my husband sympathized with our sons urgency to seize a moment of inspiration and make it count. So he handed him the phone. My son slid off the bed, took the phone aimed it at the air conditioning unit and snapped. Satisfied he handed the phone back to his father, got back into bed and fell right to sleep.

It’s funny how many times I feel deeply about something right before I fall asleep or early in the morning before I’m ready to wake up. But instead of creating art to express those depths, like my soul is aching to, I turn over and fall back asleep. There are times when I know I should skip lunch to spend more time with my friend. Or times when I should skip working so I can help find dinosaur bones in the back yard like my imaginative boy keeps asking me to. Or times when I should turn off my phone cause I know I’m going to be with loved ones and they are a precious gift. But so often I know what I should do and I roll over and do the predictable, less heroic, self centered grown up thing.

But my beautiful little boy on the other hand… He will never willingly let sleepiness keep him from a moment of inspired creative exploration. His three year old heart would never willingly interrupt the laughter of playtime with friends in order to eat lunch! And when he is around the people he loves, they have his full attention and he is always competing for theirs. “Watch this Granna! Papa look what I can do!”

I love looking at the pictures my three year old takes. It reminds me to pay attention. And it reminds me to seize every moment for what’s most important. It challenges me to see the world with childlike wonder. I think we miss the “on earth as it is in heaven” perspective we need in order to experience life the way God intends for us to. But. I think children rarely miss it. Maybe we should pay more attention to them and learn what’s most important. And (Jesus) said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 18:3



I did an article about Lacey at Thinking Out Loud in October, 2014. Here’s the link.

November 20, 2020

Know Any Sorcerers?

Have you ever met someone whose God-following seems motivated by self-interest? Or recognized mix motives in your own life?

This article is by Penny Gadd who is featured here for the first time. Her blog is Seeking the Light. Click the the title which follows to read this at her site.

Acts 8: 9 – 25 Simon the sorcerer

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; They had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’

Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’

Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’

After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Sorcery was strictly forbidden under Mosaic Law. Perhaps the most emphatic statement against it is this:

“A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20: 27)

It would seem that Simon concealed the occult nature of his practices, for Luke reports that “all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ ”

Then Philip arrived in Samaria, chased out of Jerusalem when the church there was persecuted. He was one of the seven who had been appointed to oversee food distribution, and had been a co-worker with Stephen. He preached to the Samaritans about the kingdom of God and about Jesus, and his ministry was validated by many healings. People flocked to be baptized.

This must have had a bad effect on Simon’s prestige – and his income.

Nevertheless, Simon joined the congregation, and was himself baptized. Luke says “And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”

I wonder if it was only the signs and miracles that attracted him? Maybe he was also drawn to Jesus by Philip’s witness to him?

Simon’s self-interest was threatened by the miracles worked by God through Philip. A threat to self-interest often prompted the violent rejection of Jesus, as we’ve just seen in the stoning of Stephen. Yet Simon became baptized and followed Philip everywhere.

News of Philip’s success in preaching the word to the Samaritans was reported to the apostles in Jerusalem, who sent Peter and John to Samaria. They found that Philip had simply baptized the new believers in the name of Jesus; the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them.

Peter and John prayed for the Holy Spirit to be given to the new believers, placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Luke doesn’t describe the scene, but it must have been quite dramatic. In fact, it was so powerful that Simon immediately identified it as the source of the signs done by Philip and the apostles.

“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”

Peter’s reply bears close study.

“ ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!’ ”

The gift of God is the forgiveness of sins. It is free; it can’t be bought, or earned, or in any way deserved. Belief in Jesus is all that you need.

“You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

Simon had seen that the presence of the Holy Spirit had brought power, and he desired that power. But he hadn’t realized that the real gift of God wasn’t the power, but the forgiveness of his sins. He didn’t believe in Jesus, he believed in the power he saw. Simon had not sought and received forgiveness; how, then, could he have any share in the ministry?

“Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.”

What was the sin that needed repentance? Well, it was actually a very common sin, the one that underlies most sin. Simon wanted to retain control of his life. He wanted God’s power, but not God’s direction. He had been through the ritual of baptism but had not surrendered his life to Jesus.

“For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’ ”

Peter could see clearly that Simon wanted to retain control of his life and was therefore captive to sin.

Simon’s reply to Peter is intriguing

“ ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’ ”

He clearly trusts what Peter has told him. He fears the consequences of his sin. He’s some way short of repentance and belief, but he’s moving in the right direction, I think.

Meanwhile, Peter and John return to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. The good news of Jesus has started to spread!

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you that I can turn to you for guidance when I need to know your will. Please help me to allow you to direct my life.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

November 10, 2020

I Want to Know More (Spiritual Knowledge) and How to Use that Information (Spiritual Wisdom)

Today marks the longest title for a devotional here! I could have made that more concise, but I wanted to frame what follows within the title itself.

The basics of our faith are simple enough that even a child can understand. In fact, a child-like innocence is almost a requirement, since our sophisticated, adult, intellectual, rational processing can sometimes put us at a disadvantage.

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.
 – Matthew 18:3 NLT

Contextually, this chapter begins with a teaching on spiritual humility, but the model of child-like exuberance with which we enter the Kingdom makes it clear that child can understand all that’s needed to be understood to turn (ESV), change (NIV), become converted (NASB, NKJV) from a recognized pattern of sin to a desire to live, through the power of Christ’s atonement, a sin-rejecting life. (See how easy it is to lose the child-like language and make it complicated!)

But what comes next? Hopefully a desire to gain some sophistication in our knowledge of the one who saved us, who we endeavor to serve.

Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. – Hosea 6:3a NKJV

Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:3 NIV

And sometimes, this is where the subject matter can start to get dry for some people. It shouldn’t. We’re getting to know a someone. We want to follow that person the same way the students of a rabbi would follow his life and teachingWe want to be able to convey all of this to others so they can join us.

It should excite us.

My wife is working on a graduate degree in theology. This week they asked the following essay question. I’d love to reprint her answer here, and perhaps we’ll circle back to that at some point, but instead I’ll offer my own.

After morning worship one Sunday, you are chatting with a man named Bob, and he learns you are studying… Bob says, “Systematic Theology? Why would you waste your time with that? What’s the point of all those endless debates? We just need to get on with the mission!” How do you respond to Bob? …

I contemplated this earlier today, and all I could think of when I thought of the word theology was Theophilus. We meet him in the introduction to Luke’s writings:

NIV.Luke.1.1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

NIV.Acts.1.1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…

Theophilus’ name means a lover of God, or a lover of the things of God, or, if I may, a lover of theology! The name may refer to an actual person, or it may be a poetic way of indicating all those who have a heart for God as revealed in the life of Jesus.

From there I thought about all that is written about key people in our world. Especially sports heroes and entertainers such as actors, musicians, authors, etc.

Think of all the statistics that are kept on players of all types of sports (including, perhaps sadly, their financial earnings.) All those numbers! Is it boring? Yes; to me. I’m not a sports guy. To my friend Gary who has a ravenous appetite for all things hockey? Not at all.

Think of all the little details that websites like IMDb keep on actors. What they’ve done on television, in movies and on stage in live performance. All that data. Is it boring? For me; yes! (Seems I’m not a fan of the arts, either. Sorry, folks!) But to others, the information is almost intoxicating.

What about Jesus? I want to know more. The background information is never boring. And the implications of his life and teaching — to bring us back to the topic of theology — are always filled with material for discussion.

Theology will always seem boring if we don’t have a love for God; a desire to follow on and know more about Jesus. But if we are a Theophilus, we’ll want to soak it up like a sponge.

Are you a Theophilus?

 

 

October 25, 2020

Doing Things on Purpose for a Purpose

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today another new (unnamed) writer for you from the optimistically title blog, Everything is Going to be Okay. As usual click the header below to both read this at source, or contact the writer directly at the email address in the article. There were actually four different devotionals I considered using here, so be sure to check out this author.

Being Your Best Self

At the start of every new year, we have this tradition of saying, “New year, new me” and wanting the start of the year to signify us being better versions of ourselves. Well, it’s now  October and I don’t think that anyone saw anything that has happened in 2020 coming. However, that doesn’t mean you still can’t be your best self.

Being your best self or trying to be the best version of you sounds like a daunting challenge and not something that you can do quickly. But what I have found is that it’s a lot easier of a concept than we make it out to be because it’s really just all about the choices we are making. So, when I want to do something I’m not sure about, or I feel like I’m not doing enough, or I want to relive my past again, I ask myself one question and the answer determines what I do.

“Is this contributing to the life I want? Is this for my good?” Sometimes I also have to ask myself where is this desire coming from and if it would serve an actual purpose or just feel good for a little while. A lot of times we want to go back to what we know and who we know because it is comfortable, but we have to remember that we have already been there and there are greater places God has for us to go.

Another way we know that things are best for us is because God Himself told us what we should be focusing on in Philippians 4:8.Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

If the decisions you are making or you are thinking about making are stressing you out, or the people in your life are draining you of energy, then take a step back and reevaluate. This is your life,  it should be bringing you joy and smiles and the best way to do this is by shifting our perspective to what is good, what is praiseworthy, what is beautiful, what is right, and what sparks joy.

Being your best self doesn’t just happen on accident, it’s about intentionality and doing things on purpose and for a purpose. It’s about valuing your own time and doing little things that make you happy. It’s about choosing yourself and prioritizing the things that matter to you. You are your biggest investment, make sure that the choices you are making reflect that.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalms 119:105

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7

“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” 1 Corinthians 15:33


60 days from today it will be Christmas. Many of us have traditions and outreach programs that are connected to the place where we worship which simply won’t happen this year. As the countdown to December 25th becomes more earnest, try to think of ways that both your fellowship/congregation, and also your family can make a community impact this year (outward looking) and ways that you make the celebration of Christ’s birth become more meaningful (inward looking) in the weeks ahead.

October 24, 2020

Salvation Happens Only When We Say ‘Yes’

NIV.Luke.23.39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Today we introduce a new writer. Milly tells you a lot about her journey to faith in the first sentence and throughout her blog, Gracious Way, where this appeared in July. Click the header to read at source and check out other articles.

Love Saves Us When We Accept It

A few years ago, shortly after my conversion from atheist to believer, I joined a group of believers trying to plant a church in a very, very atheist Canadian city: Vancouver. One night a man joins us and the pastor, as well as some of the others, who were always so welcoming, seemed uneasy about him. He was a Christian universalist and, back then, I had no clue what that meant.

Now, friends, there are a lot of differences across religions. And we know that a relationship with God has nothing to do with any religion, but we are called to be patient with fellow believers who are blindsided by religious beliefs.

Christianity itself is a religion: Jesus did not found it and does not belong to it. He was always very critical of religion and if he would show up today, he would not be any less critical of Christian denominations.

But believing that we are all saved regardless of believing into God. Without making the decision to do his will. And without being willing to know what that will is. That is not just a difference. That’s a different story.

I completely understand the complexity of separating a relationship with God from religion. But while God will raise anything, and anyone, as a means to reach out to us, a relationship with him does not happen while we continue to pursue the things of the world and live by its standards.

What saves us is precisely our belief into God. This belief allows us to share his divinity and live a forgiven, peaceful and joyful life in a world of struggles.

The thief on the cross who believed and repented at the very last moment is an example of how God does not give up easily on us. Instead he gives us every single opportunity to leave death behind.

But ultimately we are free, and if we choose this world instead, we have to live with the consequences: death in the physical and spiritual sense.

This is all to say that when God calls us, we have the choice to answer or not. And it is only when we do answer that he can save us.


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

July 31, 2020

His Presence Doesn’t Need to Be ‘Worked At’

Today’s writer is new to us and simply goes by the (lower case) name appolus. His blog is titled A Call to the Remnant, with the subtitle Scottish Warriors for Christ and has been online since December, 2007.  As always, click the header below to read this at source. A number of resources are shown there in the left and right margins.

In Him We live

Acts 17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being

If we are passionate worshipers of Jesus, then everything else is secondary. If Jesus is the primary object of our passions, then everything else becomes the by-product. If we ever get that wrong, we cease to be effective. If soul winning is our primary object, we cease to be effective soul winners. If faith is our primary object then we cannot be faithful. If holiness is our primary object than we cannot be holy. If revival is our primary object then we will never see revival. Outside of Jesus being the primary object of our lives then we immediately begin to lose ground in every aspect of our walk, whether we are pastors or teachers or whatever role we have in the Body.

I would argue that the saints who have rocked this world for Jesus are the saints who have walked in intimate communion with Him. He is the source of all love and majesty and glory and power. Only by abiding in Him ( Him being our primary object) can we walk in forgiveness and mercy and grace. Out of the abundance of the passion that we experience as we walk with Jesus as our grand obsession comes the overflow that changes those around us and brings light into a dark world. Are you being ineffective in your walk? Have you wondered why? Is Jesus the primary object of your life? Is there joy in you life? Is there glory in your life? Are you an over-comer? Do you have a thankful spirit?

Listen saints, if Jesus is truly the primary object of your life then what flows from that is love, joy, peace, faithfulness, thankfulness, forgiveness and so on. How often have I heard a saint say, on any one of the aforementioned issues “I need to work on that.” That is quite exactly wrong. No amount of “work,” can muster up joy nor thankfulness nor love nor any of the issues of the heart. He must be our all in all. In Him we live and move and have our being. Jesus Himself is the answer to any problem you are having, any problem. The answer lies in Him alone, the answer lies before the throne.

Whatever you seek to achieve in the Kingdom of God comes directly from the depths of your relationship with Him. Find a man who is passionate about sports and he will bore your pants off speaking about it. Find a man who is passionate about politics and he will rip your shirt of telling you all about the latest policies and issues and the state of the world. Find a man who is truly passionate about Jesus and you will find a man who is changing the world. Out of the abundance of our passion flows the power of God.


Do you use BibleGateway.com? Today at our parent blog we included a guest post review of the updates to the site from our friend Clark Bunch at The Master’s Table.

July 8, 2020

Placing our Fear in the Right Place

Today’s devotional is taken from a devotional collection that was new to us, titled Hearing the Voice of God: A Devotional by David Chadwick (Harvest House, 2016). Learn more about the book at this link.

Fear God, Not Man

Today’s Reading: John 12:37-43

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[a]

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”[b]

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

Hearing God’s Voice for Today:

“Many of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

***

Sometimes people miss the fact even many authorities came to believe in Jesus. This included influential members of the Sanhedrin, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

Yet a major problem persisted. Though these authorities decided to put their faith in Jesus, their fear of the Pharisees remained strong. They were afraid to follow the Lord publicly for fear of being ostracized from their synagogues. They knew they would face rejection. Not to be able to have community with other Jews was a great fear.

The human heart is complex. People want to follow Jesus, but they fear public rejection. They want to follow him, but they also want the praises of people.

It’s impossible to have both. Some people in your sphere of influence will not like you if you choose to follow Jesus. They will label you a narrow-minded, bigoted obscurantist. They will call you intolerant. They will hate you because you love Jesus. If you follow him, you mist be willing to give up the praises of people.

If you do make your faith in Jesus public, your reward in heaven will be great. If you honour him before people, he will do the same with you before the Father.

Your public recognition of Jesus here on earth will bring you rejection from some. But from an eternal perspective, it will be worthwhile. When you hear his public commendation of your witness before the Father, all the angels and saints in heaven will break out in uproarious applause.

That one moment will soothe all your hurts from people’s rejection.

Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of the Father in heaven to change hearts–first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. There is no such thing as a secret-service Christian. You should never want to remain quiet about all you’ve seen the Lord do and all he has done for you.

You are called to be his witness. You begin locally, then reach out globally.

Ask yourself this question often: If you were put on trial for being Jesus’ witness, would the evidence be enough to convict you?

Don’t fear what others can do to you. Yes, they are able to kill your body. But that’s all. If you fear anything, fear God, who has the power and authority to cast both body and soul in hell. He will protect you from those who desire to do you harm.

His opinion is the only one that should concern you.


Footnotes:

  1. John 12:38 Isaiah 53:1
  2. John 12:40 Isaiah 6:10

David Chadwick has been a pastor for almost 40 years.  Along with this theological degrees, he earned a Specialist’s degree in counseling.  The love of his life is Marilynn, his wife for more than 40 years.  He has three married children, and six grandchildren.  David loves Jesus, his family, the church, and basketball—in that order.  He especially loves seeing people understand the power of Jesus’s grace to change a heart.

momentsofhopechurch.org

June 27, 2020

Works are Nice, Knowledge is Helpful; But God Wants Your Proximity

But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. (Matthew 26: 58)

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54)

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. (Matthew 27:55)

This is one of my oldest son’s favorite worship songs, I Just Want to be Where You Are by Don Moen. Because today (27th) is his birthday, it seemed like a good time.

The opening lines are:

I just want to be where you are
Dwelling daily in your presence
I don’t want to worship from afar
Draw me near to where you are.

The line that got to me was, “I don’t want to worship from afar.”

I realize this is rather superficial, but in my years in church I have attended some churches which fill the back rows first, and other churches in which the front rows fill up right away. I’m not sure what accounts for the difference in church culture. I’ve been to seminars and conferences where people will pay top dollar for airfare, hotel, food and conference admission, only to grab a seat in the very last row. But I’ve also seen people at Christian events who run to grab a seat near the front, with Bibles and notebooks already open before the speaker is even introduced.

Turning to today’s scripture texts, we certainly know why Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Jesus had just been arrested, and for all he knew, he might be next. So he became a ‘distant’ follower. Knowing how the lives of Peter and 10 of the other twelve disciples ended, we know that following Jesus came with great personal risk, and this begins after that scene in Gethsemane where the story takes on a new trajectory which, for persecuted Christians, continues to this day.

The same applies to the women in the third verse cited above. Matthew Henry says that either way, it was either the ‘fury’ of those who arrested Jesus or the ‘fear’ in themselves that kept them from getting too close.

Between these two considerations, where do you find yourself?

In terms of the superficial, do you gravitate to the front rows at Christian gatherings, or are you content to stay near the back? Even if life circumstances currently make you one of the people Ruth Graham calls “broken on the back row;” may I encourage you to try moving up. It’s a way of making a physical declaration of the interior intention of your heart.

In terms of the scripture text and today’s song, can you say, “I just want to be where you are;” or are you “following at a distance?” Perhaps where you live there is a stigma associated with Christianity, or a local church. You may already be paying a price for close association with Jesus.

Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t compare to what Peter and the women felt on that terrible night. What if Peter hadn’t denied his connection with Jesus? I can say from personal experience that life changes when you are willing to identify with the body of Christ no matter what may come; when you determine to a public statement that you’re all in.

There’s something about this simple song that intensifies as you hear it. Take time to listen to it more than once. Enter fully into God’s presence.


Bonus item:

This song is not as well known. It was part of the “Jesus Music” revolution that took place in the early 1970s. The songwriter was Gary Arthur and the band was simply called The Way. The song is called Closer to God.

May 24, 2020

For the Twelve, Answering the Call Came with Risk

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed…

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.)

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have suggested that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.

 



May 1, 2020

When Comparison is Healthy

It’s been six months already, so we’re back featuring Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. If you check out his devotional page you’ll see a number of 2-part and 3-part articles for those of you who want to go deeper on a particular subject. Another way to get there is to click the link in the title which follows.

Comparison Can be Good

I Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
I Corinthians 4:16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

As long as there are people around, there will be comparison. Unfair comparisons can hurt, of course, and we need to be on guard about the damage they can do. But avoiding comparison is a futile task.

It’s a little like stress. Years ago there was a shift in training on the subject. In the beginning, there were sessions on “stress reduction.” Then reality hit and the sessions began to focus on “stress management,” which made a lot more sense to everyone.

Comparison is like that. We’re not going to get rid of it, but we can embrace it in God. How? By different thinking and by a new way of embracing it.

Comparison can be a learning moment for all of us. For example, we can begin to realize how much we can learn by properly observing others. For example, by comparing ourselves to others, we can learn how to be more loving, how to bring grace to difficult situations, and how to have godlier perspectives on any number of topics. If we think of ourselves as lifelong learners, and of everyone else as the source of life lessons, we can learn every day.

Of course the big thing to work out (notice I didn’t say “avoid,” because that’s impossible) is resisting the comparison that’s accompanied by the enemy’s attacks. Noticing that someone is perhaps more gracious than you, for instance, can offer us the negative choice of turning in on ourselves and listening to voices that generalize and condemn: “See—you’re a failure in this area.” Whether it sounds like the devil or like us, that talk is straight from our enemy. Let’s learn to resist those voices! The fault here isn’t comparison per se, it’s listening to the negative voices that can accompany it.

Let’s learn from Paul, and release the sanctifying power of comparison by redirecting our focus. Instead of deepening the rut of comparison that leads to listening to the enemy, let’s cut a new mental pathway and embrace the many learning opportunities out there provided by God through the people around us. It’s like nature—sometimes we just have to stop and take a good long look around us at the physical beauty of this world. There are many examples God is providing us to grow from.

When it comes to people, let’s free them and us by taking on the role of the continual learner, and grab all the lessons of love, grace and wisdom we can learn. Yes, a few folks may provide lessons of what not to do (“Wow—note to self: Don’t ever do that!”). But if we have the right perspective, and imitate others as they imitate Christ, we can grow every day.

Prayer: Lord, the enemy has robbed me of so many learning moments because of his accusations. Help me to submit to you first, and then resist the devil. Give me eyes to see and a heart to learn all the many lessons in the Spirit that you have out there for me.


When circumstances suddenly change

Here’s a timely example of the two-part articles Mark writes which I mentioned in today’s introduction. Both look at Joshua chapter one.

April 15, 2020

‘Nominal Christian’ is an Oxymoron

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”
― Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus


“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46 NASB)

The mechanism by which the hammers strikes the strings in an acoustic piano was, in its day, a revolutionary invention. To that point, no matter how softly or heavily one engaged the keys, the sound would always be heard at the same volume level. When this new keyboard action was created, the resulting instrument was called a pianoforte which literally (in Italian) means “quiet-loud.” An oxymoron.

This morning at Thinking Out Loud, we looked at the idea of a “nominal-Christian.” After I write an article, I usually come up with a sentence or two to promote the piece on Twitter, and sometimes those ‘teasers’ have an extra level of clarity. I said,

“I’m a Christian, but I’m non-observant.”
Theologically speaking, that makes no sense at all.
And yet… there are people for whom this fits.

Truly, Jesus doesn’t give us the option of half-hearted service.

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Rev. 3:15-16NLT)

A pianoforte can be quiet or loud and even both at the same time, but the Christian has no such luxury of spiritual ambiguity. To push the analogy to its limits, we need to be loud all the time!

Mark Batterson posted this summary of his 2013 book All In on his website:

The Gospel costs nothing. You can’t earn it or buy it. It can only be received as a free gift compliments of God’s grace. It doesn’t cost anything, but it demands everything. It demands that we go “all in,” a term that simply means placing all that you have into God’s hands. Pushing it all in. And that’s where we get stuck―spiritual no man’s land. We’re afraid that if we go all in that we might miss out on what this life has to offer. It’s not true. The only thing you’ll miss out on is everything God has to offer…

…The message of All In is simple: if Jesus is not Lord of all then Jesus is not Lord at all.  It’s all or nothing. It’s now or never. Kneeling at the foot of cross of Christ and surrendering to His Lordship is a radical act of dethroning yourself and enthroning Christ as King.  It’s also an act of disowning yourself.  Nothing belongs to you. Not even you…

In the book he also writes,

We all want to spend eternity with God. We just don’t want to spend time with Him. We stand and stare from a distance, satisfied with superficiality. We Facebook more than we seek His face. We text more than we study The Text. And our eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus. They’re fixed on our iPhones and iPads – emphasis on “i.” Then we wonder why God feels so distant. It’s because we’re hugging the rim. We wonder why we’re bored with our faith. It’s because we’re holding out.

We want joy without sacrifice.
We want character without suffering.
We want success without failure.
We want gain without pain.
We want a testimony without the test.
We want it all without going all out for it.

and

There is a fine line between ‘Thy kingdom come’ and ‘my kingdom come.’ If you cross the line, your relationship with God is self-serving.

You aren’t serving God. You are using God.

You aren’t building altars to God. You are building monuments to yourself.

In a 2011 book, Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman emphasized that Jesus is looking followers not fans. Many who heard him teach were fans, but when the going got tough, the tough got going. Scripture tells us that many walked away. The ominously verse-referenced John 6:66 says, From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (James 1:22 NLT)

Yet many of those people could have been said to have a fairly good knowledge of what Jesus was teaching. (In fact that was the issue, some of them knew exactly what he was teaching, and exactly what this was going to cost them.)  Kyle writes,

Fans have a tendency to confuse their knowledge for intimacy. They don’t recognize the difference between knowing about Jesus and following Jesus. In Church we’ve got this confused. We have established systems of learning that result in knowledge, but not necessarily intimacy…

…Now don’t get me wrong, studying and learning from God’s word is invaluable. Jesus referenced, read and quoted all kinds of passages from the Old Testament, ample proof that he had studied God’s Word with great care and diligence. The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy. In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy. clearly where there is intimacy there should be growing knowledge, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy. …Knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.

And of course intimacy is developed over time and time involves an investment. Kyle also notes,

For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not part of the deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of the explanation, it was definitely the fine print. That’s especially true of American Christians. In part, this due to the collision of Christianity with American capitalism. It has created a culture of consumers in our churches. Instead of approaching their faith with a spirit of denial that says, “What can do for Jesus?” they have a consumer mentality that says, “What can Jesus do for me?”

…One of the reasons it’s so hard for us to deny ourselves is because the whole idea seems to go against our greatest desire in life. Most everyone would say that what they want more than anything else is to be happy. We’re convinced that the path to happiness means saying yes to ourselves. Indulgence is the path to happiness, so to deny ourselves seems to go in the opposite direction of what will make us happy. The right to pursue happiness seems to be in direct conflict with the call to deny.

…That’s what the story of the Rich Young Ruler is really all about. It’s not just about giving up money and the things that money can buy; it’s about giving up, period. That’s what it means to deny yourself and follow Christ.

 

 

 

 

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