Christianity 201

April 28, 2022

Has Fear or Fighting Stolen Your Peace?

Thinking Through John 20:19-23

by Clarke Dixon

Has either fear or fighting stolen your peace? You might wonder how you could have peace right now with this scary situation, or that horrible relationship. It might be a nasty virus or a nasty war that is stealing your peace. Jesus speaks to themes of fear, fighting, and peace.

Let us begin with how fear steals our peace

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.

John 20:19 (NLT)

The disciples knew all about fear. They were holed up in a room with the doors locked out of the fear that they would end up crucified and dead like their leader. They knew they had targets on their backs, so locked doors it was. Until Jesus showed up.

Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

John 20:21 (NLT)

While there was rejoicing over seeing Jesus alive, the fear was still real, if not heightened by what Jesus had just said. No more hiding behind locked doors, go out into that scary world where you may well get killed! According to tradition, most of them were.

Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:22 (NLT)

Breathing on the disciples might seem odd, but as often happens the odd things in the Bible are a clue that something symbolic is happening. Here the breathing on the disciples points back to Genesis:

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Genesis 2:7 (NLT)

God breathed life into humanity at Creation. Now here in Jesus God was doing it again. The Giver of life is with you, even in the face of death. Even though the fear of death was real for the disciples, their peace about life, death, and life after death could be real also.

Our fears can be legitimate. We may well end up wounded, emotionally from relationships, or physically from disease. We will likely face death at some point. Fear helps us seek wisdom, on how to stay alive and healthy. Fear is not all bad. But while fear may be helpful, even necessary at times, fear need not steal our peace. While the worst thing that we imagine might happen, could happen, in Christ the best thing that could happen, even beyond our imagination, shall definitely happen.

Let us continue with how fighting steals our peace

When Jesus says “peace be with you,” it is important that we recognize the word used for peace. Jesus would have spoken mostly in Aramaic and used a word related to the Hebrew word for peace; shalom. While our word peace may be used to describe situations where there is no fighting, the word shalom goes deeper to describe a situation where there is harmony. Two nations may be said to be at peace if they are not lobbing bombs as each other, but they may not be experiencing shalom if the relationship is not good. Likewise, you may experience peace in your relationships, but not shalom.

When Jesus told the disciples he was sending them out, he was sending them out among people with whom they did not have shalom. Their enemies were real, the enmity was real.

Jesus said, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” How did the Father send Jesus?

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Father sent the son with the agenda of offering forgiveness, of bringing love in the face of hatred. The disciples were to go out among their enemies with the intention of bringing love in the face of hatred.

As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side.

John 20:20 (NLT)

When Jesus showed the disciples his wounds he could have said “where were you when this happened? Why didn’t you stand by me?” But instead he said “Peace be with you.” Jesus showed them his wounds, not as evidence of their wrongdoing, or anyone else’s wrongdoing, but as a sign that he was real, and that his love for them and his forgiveness of them was real. Having experienced that love, they were now sent out to live it. So are we.

If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

John 20:23 (NLT)

We might automatically think Jesus is speaking of the forgiveness from God that leads to eternal life here. We might therefore smell power, our power. But is that necessary? I like Eugene Peterson’s take on what Jesus said:

If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?

John 20:23 (MSG)

Good question! If we don’t forgive people’s sins against us, we will let those sins fester in our lives and in our relationships. We will let them steal our peace, our shalom.

Jesus is speaking here about the opportunity of experiencing peace in our relationships, and of bringing shalom to others. In breathing on the disciples, Jesus breathed a breath of fresh air into their relationship with him. Gone was any thought of experiencing judgement and condemnation. We can breathe new life into our relationships through forgiveness.

We enjoy shalom with God because God in Jesus has taken the path of the cross with us. Jesus said “As the father has sent me, I’m sending you,” meaning we are now sent on that same path of the cross, of love and forgiveness.

In Conclusion

Has fear stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “peace be with you.” Our fears may be real, but they need not steal our peace.

Has fighting stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Fighting can end in peace and enmity in friendship when we follow Jesus in the way of the cross.

“Peace be with you.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and appears here most Thursdays.

February 5, 2022

Unsurrendered Places of the Heart

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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A year ago at this time we introduced you to Bernie Lyle who writes faithfully at Musings from an Idle Mind. Click the header which follows immediately to read this where we located it.

Contrition

“Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

“For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭51:16-17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Contrition

The closer I get to my end, the more I behold the holiness of Jesus, the One I will one day meet face to face. As I draw closer, I am also more aware of my own uncleanness, of the places in me that have not been surrendered to the admonitions and convictions of the Holy Spirit.

The more I behold God’s glory, and its infinite brightness, the more my sin stands out. In my flesh I seek to hide for Him, much like Adam before me, but He knows all. There is no hiding from Him.

After the stumble, the fall, I find myself sitting in devastation, mourning over the sin that has momentarily separated me from my Lord. It is in those moments of separation, mine, not His, when I feel like Jesus is so far away, that I am filled with contrition.

“Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”
Psalms 51:1-4 NKJV

I marvel at the grace of God, always plentiful, and more than enough to deal with my sin. I am also amazed at how His grace and love has, over time, transformed my heart, and the things that I desire. As the Holy Spirit has worked in me, I have seen those instances when sin draws my attention, dwindle, as its power over me has faded the closer I get to glory.

The Lord is faithful to forgive and He is also able to change me, cleansing me of sin, and the desire for more sin. That is the power of the Gospel. It saves us, and it makes us holy by freeing us from the need to sin.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
I John 1:9-10 NKJV

Brothers and sisters, we are in a time of testing. The evil one, the devil, knows that his time is short, and he is ratcheting up his war on the saints exponentially. I know that many of you are feeling this pressure like never before. I am reeling at the reports of some of things those who call upon the name of Lord are doing, such as giving into sins that are unprecedented for them.

It is time to draw closer to Jesus, to bask in His glory, that we see the true state of our lives in contrast to the pure light of His holiness. There are many today who will tell you that God is okay with your sin, that His grace will cover, or that He has crazy love for you that He overlooks it. The talk of a gray god, so soft and forgiving.

When Jesus returns, and He will soon, be will be very black and white and he will bring reward for those who have been steadfast in remaking holy.

Jesus loves. Jesus is also just.

As His ambassadors we are called to be holy, representing Him as He is.

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.””
I Peter 1:13-16 NKJV

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
II Corinthians 5:20-21 NKJV

Approach this life as if today is the last day you will live, and next you stand before the Lord. Is what you are doing, saying, thinking, what you want to be the last things before you see Jesus?

Read you bibles pray, and confess your sins. Establish a heart of repentance, being filled with mourning and contrition over your sins. Remember always, that God is faithful to forgive and establish you.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”
Psalms 51:10-12 NKJV


Second Helping: I want to recommend another devotional from Musings of an Idle Mind. Check out this look at a narrative from the book of Numbers in the life of Moses and Miriam, titled Crying Out.

January 13, 2022

Is Division Our Passion?

Thinking Through Luke 3:1-22

  • Watch the 17-minute teaching on which this based at this link.

These are days of great division. Wherever we look, whether within Christianity or the secular world, we see people taking stands on this, that, or the other issue. It was already becoming a polarized world before the pandemic, especially in politics and religion, but it seems worse now.

The world John the Baptist stepped into was also quite polarized, with divisions running deep within society. You may think I am referring to that big division between Jew and Gentile. Actually, I am referring to divisions within God’s people, the ones coming to John in the wilderness for baptism.

One big issue dividing people in our day is how to deal with the pandemic. In John’s day the issue was how to deal with the Roman occupation. There were four main lines of thought represented by four main groups:

  • The Zealots – let’s fight the Romans!
  • The Pharisees – let’s keep God’s law and wait for God to bring judgement on the Romans.
  • The Sadducees – let’s work with the Romans.
  • The Essenes – let’s do our own thing because we are better than the Romans, and the rest of the Jews.

When John the Baptist arrived on the scene, he challenged those deep divisions:

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Luke 3:3-6 (NRSV)

What is easy to miss here is that John was calling everyone to repentance. Everyone needed to focus on God and get baptized, cleaned up, so to speak.

People would have been prone to following divisive ideas on what was needed to prepare for the Lord’s promised return to his people. For example, If you were of the same opinion as the zealots, then you think everyone needs to prepare by training for a fight, for God expects us to fight the Romans on God’s behalf. On the other hand, if you were of the same opinion as the Pharisees, then you think that everyone need to prepare by training in righteousness, keeping the Old Covenant to the letter, for then we can expect God to fight the Romans on our behalf. John the Baptist was calling for something deeper:

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Luke 3:10-14 (NRSV)

Particularly striking is John’s instruction to the tax collectors who had the task of collecting taxes on behalf of the Romans. John didn’t tell them to stop colluding with the enemy. John didn’t pick sides in a political fight. John did call for the very same type of thing we find central in the teaching of Jesus, the focus on matters of the heart, like generosity, integrity, and not taking advantage of others. The teaching of Jesus on character, reflected by John’s call to character, transcended which political group one might belong to. It still does.

When the question was raised as to whether John might be the messiah, the one people expected would rescue God’s people from the Romans, John was quite clear that he was not:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Luke 3:15-17 (NRSV)

John was clear, he was baptizing with water, meaning everyone should take a look at their relationship with God, cleaning off any dirt. No one got a pass based on what side they took on how to deal with the Romans.

John was clear, the messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit looks forward to the Day of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit which we read about in Acts, chapter two. Fire refers to judgement.

Judgement? What judgement?

A clue to what that judgement is can be found in the baptism of Jesus:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Luke 3:21-22 (NRSV emphasis added)

That Jesus is spoken of as the Son of God, the one with whom God was well pleased takes us back to thinking of that foundational moment for God’s people, the exodus from Egypt:

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son. I said to you, “Let my son go that he may worship me.”

Exodus 4:22-23 (NRSV emphasis added)

That son was indeed let go, but he did not always worship the God that rescued him. Reading through the rest of the Old Testament, whether reading through the historical books, or the call of the prophets to get back to God, we discover that the nation of Israel was a son in whom God was not always pleased.

No doubt the divisions running deep among the people in John’s day, were not be pleasing to God. No doubt the call, from the Zealots, for violence against the Romans was not pleasing to God. No doubt the call, from many Pharisees, to a shallow form of righteousness that did not address the problems of the heart, was not pleasing to God.

Judgement did come. Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in AD70 following a rebellion against Rome. Everyone had to face the music, no matter their political or theological positions and posturing. Jesus told his followers to have nothing to do with it and flee to the hills. While people expected that the messiah would rescue Jerusalem from Roman control, instead Jerusalem faced judgement and everyone, Romans included, were offered a different, and better, kind of salvation in Jesus.

So what does this have to do with us?

Great energy was expended in John’s day on fueling political and religious divisions. Nothing was gained by it in the end when the Romans brought the hammer down.

The people of John’s day would have done well to let John’s baptism by water clean off their passion for their divisions. Perhaps we should rethink how much energy we are putting into division in our day. Will what we fight for today really matter at the return of Christ? Are we really walking with Jesus? Or are we walking with a divisive group? We don’t want to be so passionate about the things that divide us that we are not walking together with Jesus in faith, hope, and love.

John the Baptist called people to a baptism of repentance, a change of mind. Is there anything we need to repent of?

November 10, 2021

Recognizing Sin, Trusting God’s Assurance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today, after a four-year break, we’re returning for the fourth time to The River Walk, produced by Two Rivers Church in New York State.

The Weight Of The Story

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
Romans 3:22-24

Read: 1 Chronicles 22:1-23:32, Romans 3:9-31, Psalm 12:1-8, Proverbs 19:13-14

Relate: In Islam, right behind Muhammad in importance, is a group of people called the Companions. In many ways, they are like the Islamic version of the Apostles found in the gospels and Acts. One of the first of these companions, and many would say the most important of them, was a man named Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr was one of the first men to come to believe Muhammad’s message. He had been a very wealthy man, but he contributed much of that to Muhammad and to the cause. Beyond that, he gave his six year old daughter to become Muhammad’s third wife. He accompanied Muhammad on his famous flight to Medina (the date by which Islamic calendars measure time). He also succeeded as the first Caliph after Muhammad’s death. If ever there was a man who, under Islam, should be confident of entering Paradise, it would be Abu Bakr. But Abu Bakr knew better than that. He said, “I would not rest assured and feel safe from the judgment of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.”

Growing up, I was taught something called the Romans Road. Perhaps you might have heard of it, perhaps not. The Romans Road takes five verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans and uses them as a “road map” to explain the gospel. There might be different versions of this, but the way I learned it is as follows.

Step 1: We are all sinners – Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Step 2: Because of sin we all die and deserve hell – Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Step 3: Jesus died for our sins – Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Step 4: All we have to do to be saved is believe – Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Step 5: Because we are saved, we have peace with God – Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

React: Taken as a whole, the Romans Road is a beautiful and simple way to present the truth of the gospel. Unfortunately, it has always seemed to me that the first two steps seem to get nearly all the time and focus. Maybe my perception has been skewed, but I feel like I hear far more people talking all about how we are all sinners and we are all going to hell than I do about the confidence we can have in the grace of God.

Sometimes I feel as though we are talking, perhaps unintentionally, just like Abu Bakr did. Even if we’ve got one foot in the grave and the other in heaven, we better watch ourselves and not step out of line or we might backslide. (Or, if it is a Calvinist talking, prove that we were never truly saved.)

This is especially true when I hear people talking about the doctrine of original sin. One of the key texts on which this doctrine is based is Romans 3:23. The other is Psalm 51 where David, in poetically expressing his sorrow says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful since my mother conceived me.” Even if we are to take David’s lament literally, it should be balanced against Psalm 139 where David speaks at much greater length of his birth. He says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts concerning me, God! How vast is the sum of them!” Before getting too caught up in original sin let us not also forget these three truths: 1. God is good (Psalms 100:5). 2. God made us (Psalm 139:13). 3. Everything God makes is beautiful (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

So, yes, all have sinned. Sin is a willful choosing to do evil. We are not born as sin, but we all commit sin, and this sin causes us to fall short of the glory of God. There is no denying that truth, but even in conveying it, Paul sets it between two far greater truths. First, he leads it with, ” We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” Then he follows it with, ” Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”

Most people do not need to be convinced they are sinners. In fact, I do not think I have ever met a single person when they were honest with themselves and me, that was not already absolutely convinced that they were sinners. So perhaps, instead of spending 90% of our time and energy ranting about this, perhaps we should use it as our brief intro so that we can get to the heart of the gospel. God loves us. Because He loves us, He came, He died, He rose, and He saves. That is the gospel. That is the weight of Paul’s true Roman’s Road. And that is what people really need to hear.

Respond:

Dear God,
Let me never forget the heart of the gospel. I am loved by You. You fearfully and wonderfully knit me together in my mother’s womb and from that moment of Creation, I have held a special place in your heart. Because of that love, You came. You pursued me long before I was ever aware of You. Yes, I have sinned and turned from You, but you loved me even still. You came and You died, taking on Yourself the weight of my sin. But that weight did not hold You down. On the third day, You rose from the grave proving Your power over both sin and its consequences. Now the offer of salvation is freely open to me. I believe it. I believe that Your love, Your mercy, and Your grace have made a way for me to come home. So I do.
Amen


Second Helping: From the same source, check out A Passing Shadow.

November 6, 2021

To Follow Jesus is to be Saturated in Forgiveness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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For we live by faith, not by sight.
For we live by believing and not by seeing. – 2 Cor. 5:7 NIV, NLT

They told [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
… Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
– John 20:25,29 NLT

Frequently we remind you that C201 contains devotional material from across the widest swath of Christian writers. Today’s piece features Justin Elwell, who is the Messianic Rabbi of a congregation in Montana. He holds two doctorates, one in Biblical Ethics and one in New Testament Studies. You can learn more about his congregation at this link.

Justin’s blog is called The Mountain Mench. You’re encouraged to look around there; starting with clicking the header which follows to read this at its origin.

“I’ll believe it …”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” should not be an attitude we hold in faith. To do so would leave us in the realm of doubt, waiting for sensory confirmation in order to believe (II Cor. 5:7).

Forgiveness, is an elusive noun that is easy to define, but so much more difficult to do. In both Greek and Hebrew, forgiveness is derived from verbs; meaning to pardon, release, excuse, or send away.

Of all the concepts of faith that I have taught and counseled on, forgiveness is the most wrestled with, resisted, doubted, and dare I say, disbelieved. Why is that?

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” How hard it is for us to grasp forgiveness, and even harder to send away that which has been grasped: the offense.

The greatest obstacle to walking in forgiveness, is believing that the offender has really repented, was really sorry, or learned some type of lesson. Yet, that’s not what forgiveness is for. It is not for us to judge the efficacy of forgiveness in the life of the other, but to look deeply at how effective forgiveness has been in our heart. Have we let loose of the offense, and set the offender free in our heart?

I need not lay before you the scriptures on forgiveness, as that’s why the Bible contains them … go look them up … but suffice to say, forgiveness, like repentance, is a daily exercise in faith, rooted in God’s grace.

We do not deserve God’s grace. Furthermore, we do not deserve His forgiveness. Yet, both were freely given. Well, someone paid the price: Christ. Grace is costly, as is forgiveness. Yet it is a price you, and I, did not pay. Still, it is a debt we will carry when we do not release the offense; often in the form of bitterness, anger, resentment, and fear.

In teaching His disciples to pray, Yeshua/Jesus said, and I paraphrase, “Forgive us … as we forgive … “ To follow Yeshua is to be a person saturated in forgiveness: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” For sure, not easy; but then, we are not to rely on our strength or capability to forgive.

Imagine if we set a standard of “I’ll believe it when I see it,” regarding God’s forgiveness toward us? We would be paralyzed; unable to approach Him, pray to Him, worship Him. We would be locked up in a cage called unforgiveness, even more strongly: death.

I remember reading a rabbinic story years ago of a rabbi who inquired of an old study partner as to whether or not he believed a particular teaching in the Talmud. The man replied, “Of course!” The rabbi said, “I did not; until I did it.”

Forgiveness is difficult, not because of the other; but rather, some part of us still wrestling with it, with believing it. Until we do it, it will be theoretical. Once we do it, freedom.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” may work for those in a condition of doubt; but, “I know it because He did it,” recognizes our continuing maturation in faith, a trusting Him that necessitates doing, especially the most difficult of His teachings, in order to know it personally.

We never graduate from the feeling of pain that accompanies forgiveness, as some part of us dies, each time, in the process. But, we find more freedom in what Messiah did for us, especially when we did not deserve it.

Forgiveness: “I believe it, because He said it.”

Be well. Shalom.

 

October 22, 2021

Jesus: Inside or Outside the City?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been nearly a year since we last connected with veteran Christian musician and author John Fischer who is still writing faithfully at The Catch. This time around, there were two consecutive devotionals which were somewhat related, so I’ve taken the liberty of including both. Click on the headers which follow to read these where they originated.

Note: We usually offer bonus devotionals from some authors after you’ve finished reading, but if you want some earlier posts based on these same verses in Hebrews before you get started, click here and here.

Where grace meets disgrace

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. Hebrews 13:12-13

What happened?

According to this verse there is something disgraceful about meeting Jesus outside the camp. Did we miss something? Do you feel like you are walking around in a state of disgrace? I think we are trying everything we can to avoid disgrace.

Have we so bought into the American myth of success that we are attempting to “market” Christianity as helping make you wealthy, healthy, and successful, when none of that is guaranteed in the Bible? In fact, the truth is more likely to call us into failure in order to learn how to depend on Him. Failure is a far better teacher than success.

I think some of this grows out of our culture. We’ve tried to make Christianity cool thinking we could attract people to Christ. I remember in the early years of my ministry I used to like making Christianity cool because then I could be cool, too. But Jesus was never cool, and following Him guaranteed nothing except a wild ride and eternity.

But ultimately, following Him was all about disgrace. Why is that? Because of the way it ended. He took on my sin, and when I meet Him there outside the camp, I realize it was my sin that did it. So a large part of my disgrace is my sin that crucified Christ, but if I continue through the cross to the other side, I am met with His grace. Jesus meets my disgrace with His grace, and nothing can take that away.

So this is where we live, where grace meets disgrace. A guarantee that grace remains fresh. It’s not that my story is: 20 years ago, Jesus saved me. It’s more like 20 minutes ago, or 20 seconds ago. I live and walk in my deliverance. And my disgrace — His disgrace — plays an important part in that. And believe me, when you’ve been met on the other side of the cross by His grace, you have to tell the whole world about it!

No enduring city

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

Outside. Everything happens outside. Jesus died outside the camp. We go to meet Him outside the camp where He meets our disgrace with His grace. Once that’s happened and that grace has turned us outward toward others, why would we want to go back inside? Everybody’s out here. People inside already know, and they’re pretty much just sitting there. Outside is where the action is.

Jesus is outside the camp, but most people who don’t know Him don’t know that. They think He’s inside some building because that’s what we’ve told them (“This is God’s house”); we’ve even invited them into the building to meet Him. Now of course that isn’t necessary because He is already outside the camp. We only need to introduce Him to people. But it’s important that we know how to do this. Positioning is everything. Are we looking down on people when we introduce them to Jesus? No. Are we looking across at them? No. We are looking up to them. We are looking up to them because that’s what grace does to us. It puts us with the lowest of the low. Like the publican on his knees crying out for God’s mercy, while the Pharisee is thanking God he is not like that poor miserable man. Until I realize that I am that poor miserable man, I do not know what grace is.

But once you know, how beautiful is this? You look up to everybody! Everybody looks good to you. No matter who they are, you’re looking up to them and telling them about God’s grace that’s bound to reach them because, lo and behold, it reached all the way down to you. So, as Marti says, you love them like no other.

And so the reason for our existence is not to stay inside and win some spiritual look-alike contest, but to turn grace outward to all those within our sphere of influence who have yet to know who Jesus is and what He has done for them. Otherwise, why are we here? We’re not here to set up camp, but to go outside the camp. That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “For here we do not have an enduring city.”

Your city — the city you are living in right now — will not endure. Everything here is temporary. That isn’t to say we abandon all responsibilities here on earth and wait for eternity. It’s really all about perspective. We have responsibilities to our address here in our city, but we need to remember this is not an enduring city. Our life does not end here. Turn up the fire under us! We are preparing for and helping prepare others for the enduring city that is to come.

October 16, 2021

Rescued from a Life Apart from God to a Life With God

Eleven years ago, in 2010, many of us were glued to a live CNN feed from Copiapo, Chile; watching the rescue of the 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. That got me thinking at the time about what it means to be rescued.

In Psalm 18:17 we read:

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

In II Tim 3 10-11 Paul tells Timothy,

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

And Paul again, speaking in a broader sense in Col. 1:13-14 writes;

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The experience of the Chilean miners is similar to our own experience.  Maybe you became a Christ follower at a young age and didn’t experience much in the way of sin and depravity, but positionally, all of us were once captive and now we are numbered among the rescued. We’ve been set free!

But do we truly appreciate it? Instead of focusing on what you were saved out of, think of what you were saved from.  Think of what might have been — the things you were kept from and even today are kept from — were it not for the Holy Spirit working on and working in your life.

Let’s think about someone who knew exactly what she’d been saved out of. Consider this passage from Luke 7 — especially the climax of verse 47 — in the light of the personal rescue that has taken place just for you…

36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

While I believe we have a picture here of a woman who has been transformed, or at the very least is in the process of transformation. But note that her reputation has continued to follow her. It would take time (and an endorsement from the Teacher from Nazareth) before that reputation would start to change.

Additionally, the rest of the people there had every reason to be thankful as well because, by the grace of God, they had not succumbed to a life that would bring societal and community condemnation.

But wait, there’s more!

The dichotomy of what we’ve been saved from versus that what we’ve been saved out of, pales in comparison to what we’ve been saved to.

By this I mean that instead of letting sin set the standard, and focusing on whether we came from a dark background or if we dodged the proverbial bullet (and letting that identify us), we should instead focus on the idea that we’ve been saved to a life in Christ, which includes 24-hour access to his presence.

We’re no longer looking back, but we’re enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

The Chilean miners lived each successive day in the blessing of having been rescued, but I’m sure that this doesn’t define their lives today, eleven years later. Rather they are living in the present and looking forward to the future, and for them, I hope this also includes the life in Christ we’ve discussed.

 

August 9, 2021

Getting Rid of Resentment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This week I discovered a book by Nathan Foster, the son of Richard Foster, who wrote extensively about spiritual disciplines. I decided to see if Nathan had any writing online and came across a very applicable and helpful article about dealing with resentment, at the website Renovaré, founded by his father. What appears below is part one of the article, for the practical steps it’s recommended you click the article’s title, which follows and read everything there.

How to Release Resentment: Steps for Forgiving Others

On my thirty-fifth birthday I wrote the following phrase:

If you make it through life without becoming bitter and resentful, then you’ve done pretty well. To spend your life keeping your heart open to others and relationships is a great accomplishment. Resentment is the human default.

Sometimes I wonder why God laid claim to vengeance. It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

Woven deep in our DNA is a desire for justice. We ache for things to be turned right and good. Yet the anger, wounding, and intensity of retribution is so dangerous and potentially damaging to the human soul that I almost think God’s insistence on letting him handle affairs of judgment is a gift, a freedom of sorts. The truth is I’m not sure I have the capacity to rightly deal with those who have hurt me.

Learning to trust that he’s in control is not an easy task, but I believe it’s safe to assume that God is fully aware of human affairs and the evil we produce.

But I like my resentments

My resentments and me, we have a special relationship. Late at night when the house is quiet, I like to bring them out. I talk to them and they to me. I replay old words over and over again, like a pebble in my shoe. I squeeze my toes, turning, turning, never satisfied, always thinking one more shift and it will find its home. And the more I adjust, the worse things become. My heart races, my mind is on fire.

I line up my offenders like a child with little toy soldiers and compose detailed, articulate responses to all the wrongs they have done me. And, as I imagine the replay, I create new scenarios and new speeches. After months of conversations together, my resentments have taken on a life of their own. I fear the truth and reality of the offense becomes buried in the vengeful rush of my imaginative court.

I have no business holding onto resentments. They are just too powerful.

The old proverb rings so true: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill someone else.

If my own misery wasn’t enough motivation to deal with my resentments, Jesus had some helpful things to say: ​How many times should I forgive? Up to seven times?” Jesus’ answer almost sounds playful, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18: 21 – 22).

He was so serious about the business of humans forgiving each other that he even instructed people not to give offerings until their grudges were dealt with: ​Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23 – 24).

And then a series of difficult verses: ​For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14 – 15).

Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

I don’t quite know what to do with those words other than to try to obey. It certainly seems practicing forgiveness as a discipline is of extreme importance.

The recordings of the words of Jesus reveal that he was not only knowledgeable and kind, but he was practical as well. Therefore, I assume Jesus would not ask us to do something that was beyond our capacity to do. With that information, I’m of the opinion we start where we are. For some it’s as simple as making our unforgiveness a prayer. ​Father, I want to forgive. I don’t know how. Teach me.” I’ve found God is ever so open to meet us where we are, and not where we want or think we should be.

Now I’m not an expert on forgiving others, although I’ve had my share of practice. I’d like to use this space to share a few things I’ve picked up through the years in my work as a counselor and how I personally practice forgiveness as a discipline.

I realize that for some this is an extremely difficult matter to deal with, so please don’t let my short teaching feel trite. I should note that I’m not intending these ideas to replace working with a trained professional or clergy. Some matters just should not be undertaken alone.

I have come to conceptualize my resentments as primarily a debt that I’m rightfully owed. Someone has offended me and I am justly entitled to recompense. Consequently, it is this debt and the collection of its payment that I offer to God. I say something to this effect: ​This person wronged me. God you take it. I’m not holding this debt any longer. I’m releasing retribution to you for you to do with as you please. If you would like to go after them and punish them, that is none of my business. If you have some other arrangement in mind that involves some sort of forgiveness, that is up to you. I no longer hold this debt. It is yours. Take it and do as you please.” …

…continue reading here


Nathan Foster’s 2014 book  which I mentioned above is titled, The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines. It’s available in print and audio (read by Nathan himself).

August 6, 2021

If You’re Not Sorry, You’re Not Forgiven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Bring your confessions, and return to the LORD. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises.
 – Hosea 14:2 NLT

Once again we’re back at the blog, Broken Believers, only this time, instead of hearing from Bryan, we have an article for you from Linda Kruschke. There are some excellent, very transparent devotional articles at this site, and you’re encouraged to click the title which follows to explore more.

Sorry, Not Sorry

Have you ever heard someone say those words? “Sorry, not sorry.” It’s kind of annoying. It’s said following a statement or action the speaker knows is unkind or won’t be appreciated by someone else, but they just don’t care. It’s worse than not saying sorry at all.

We humans have a terrible time admitting when we are in the wrong. There’s always some justification for our actions, often that we were wronged first, or we had no choice, or some such nonsense. Misunderstandings escalate into disagreements, which quickly become heated arguments, and nobody really wins in the end. Sometimes good friends end up enemies, all because no one will say those two simple, yet truly difficult, words: “I’m sorry.”

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
 – Psalm 51:17

We sometimes have the same problem with God. We know we have not acted as we should, but we can’t let go of pride and say we are sorry. Scripture reveals the truth: a contrite heart is all God wants from us. He desires for us to admit when we’ve missed the mark.

The stories of King David and King Saul illustrate this principle. Both were in the wrong. David committed adultery, and then had the husband of the woman he slept with sent to the front lines of a battle, knowing he would be killed. But when the prophet Nathan brought David’s transgressions to his attention, David’s response was a remorseful attitude. He immediately fell to his knees and confessed his sin. And God forgave David.

Saul, on the other hand, committed a transgression that seems much less serious. He counted his army. Doesn’t sound like much of a sin, does it? But the heart of Saul’s transgression was a lack of trust in God. He didn’t believe he would win a battle even though God had promised him victory. Not only did Saul not trust God, he refused to confess his lack of trust. Instead he made excuses, tried to justify his actions. As a result, God took away Saul’s kingdom and gave it to David. And God did not forgive Saul.

David is remembered as a man after God’s own heart in spite of his many sins because a relationship with God was most important to him. Saul is not remembered so kindly.

What have we lost because we refuse to say we are sorry? A kind word, an admission of our own contribution to a dispute, can go a long way toward healing relationships. Is there someone you need to say “I’m sorry” to today? What’s holding you back? Is it a stubborn nature, like what often holds me back? What do you have to lose? What do I have to lose? More importantly, think what we have to gain.

What about your relationship with God? Is there some transgression you need to confess to restore the intimacy you once enjoyed with your Savior? What do you have to lose? You have the best God intends for you to gain.

 

July 16, 2021

The Angel Taking Notes

Today’s devotional doesn’t have direct scripture references, but you’ll see allusions to key passages all over this piece of writing.

This is a poem written by Canadian pastor Craig Pitts. It’s been reprinted in a handful of other places by permission, so we’re taking the liberty of doing so here as we were unable to contact anyone directly.

God’s Eternal Ink

by Craig Pitts

I dreamed I was in heaven
Where an angel kept God’s book.
He was writing so intently
I just had to take a look.

It was not, at first, his writing
That made me stop and think
But the fluid in the bottle
That was marked eternal ink.

This ink was most amazing,
Dark black upon his blotter
But as it touched the parchment
It became as clear as water.

The angel kept on writing,
But as quickly as a wink
The words were disappearing
With that strange eternal ink.

The angel took no notice,
But kept writing on and on.
He turned each page and filled it
Till all its space was gone.

I thought he wrote to no avail,
His efforts were so vain
For he wrote a thousand pages
That he’d never read again.

And as I watched and wondered that
This awesome sight was mine,
I actually saw a word stay black
As it dried upon the line.

The angel wrote and I thought I saw
A look of satisfaction.
At last he had some print to show
For all his earnest action.

A line or two dried dark and stayed
As black as black can be,
But strangely the next paragraph
Became invisible to see.

The book was getting fuller,
The angel’s records true,
But most of it was blank, with
Just a few words coming through.

I knew there was some reason,
But as hard as I could think,
I couldn’t grasp the significance
Of that eternal ink.

The mystery burned within me,
And I finally dared to ask
The angel to explain to me
Of his amazing task.

And what I heard was frightful
As the angel turned his head.
He looked directly at me,
And this is what he said…

I know you stand and wonder
At what my writing’s worth
But God has told me to record
The lives of those on earth.

The book that I am filling
Is an accurate account
Of every word and action
And to what they do amount.

And since you have been watching
I must tell you what is true;
The details of my journal
Are the strict accounts of YOU.

The Lord asked me to watch you
As each day you worked and played.
I saw you as you went to church,
I saw you as you prayed.

But I was told to document
Your life through all the week.
I wrote when you were proud and bold,
I wrote when you were meek.

I recorded all your attitudes
Whether they were good or bad.
I was sorry that I had to write
The things that make God sad.

So now I’ll tell the wonder
Of this eternal ink,
For the reason for it’s mystery
Should make you stop and think.

This ink that God created
To help me keep my journal
Will only keep a record of
Things that are eternal.

So much of life is wasted
On things that matter not
So instead of my erasing,
Smudging ink and ugly blot.

I just keep writing faithfully and
Let the ink do all the rest
For it is able to decide
What’s useless and what’s best.

And God ordained that as I write
Of all you do and say
Your deeds that count for nothing
Will just disappear away.

When books are opened someday,
As sure as heaven is true;
The Lord’s eternal ink will tell
What mattered most to you.

If you just lived to please yourself
The pages will be bare,
And God will issue no reward
For you when you get there.

In fact, you’ll be embarrassed,
You will hang your head in shame
Because you did not give yourself
In love to God’s Name.

Yet maybe there will be a few
Recorded lines that stayed
That showed the times you truly cared,
Sincerely loved and prayed.

But you will always wonder
As you enter heaven’s door
How much more glad you would have been
If only you’d done more.

For I record as God sees,
I don’t stop to even think
Because the truth is written
With God’s eternal ink.

When I heard the angel’s story
I fell down and wept and cried
For as yet I still was dreaming
I hadn’t really died.

And I said: O angel tell the Lord
That soon as I awake
I’ll live my life for God-
I’ll do all for His dear sake.

I’ll give in full surrender;
I’ll do all He wants me to
I’ll turn my back on self and sin
And whatever isn’t true.

And though the way seems long and rough
I promise to endure.
I’m determined to pursue the things
That are holy, clean and pure.

With God as my helper,
I will win lost souls to Thee,
For I know that they will live with thee
For all eternity.

And that’s what really matters
When my life on earth is gone
That I will stand before the Lord
And hear Him say, well done.

For is it really worth it
As my life lies at the brink?
And I realize that God keeps books
With His eternal ink.

Should all my life be focused
On things that turn to dust?
From this point on I’ll serve the Lord;
I can, I will, I must!

I will NOT send blank pages
Up to God’s majestic throne
For where that record’s going now
Is my eternal home.

I’m giving all to God
I now have seen the link
For I saw an angel write my life
With God’s eternal ink.

Copyright © Craig F. Pitts

July 6, 2021

When You’re in Bondage

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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This is the third time we’ve featured the writing of Scott Savage whose writes frequently at the website of  Air1, a multi-location Christian 24/7 Praise and Worship radio station in the United States. Click the header which follows to read it there along with some social media graphics you can use.

How to Experience True Freedom in Christ

What snuck up on you over the last year or so?

Was it a sense of exhaustion and burnout with all the changes and time online?

Did you go back to normal clothes only to discover some unwanted weight gain?

Have you found an increased sense of cynicism about people and the future?

Are you finding your reactions more and more driven by anger?

Starving Baker Syndrome” snuck up on me last year. This syndrome is based on the old parable about a baker who finds himself drowning in overwork due to the success of his bakery. One day, his customers started forming their normal line outside his store before it opened. On this day, however, opening time came and went.

After a lot of grumbling and peering in the windows, a man showed up and dispersed the crowd with a shocking message. The bakery would not be opening as the baker had died. The customers were shocked to later learn the cause of death.

Starvation. How on earth could a baker starve surrounded by food?! The parable ends with a reminder that we can be surrounded by the food we eat, only to starve because we are consumed by feeding everyone but ourselves.

Starving Baker Syndrome snuck up on me because as a parent homeschooling kids and a pastor leading a church, I allowed myself to be consumed on far too many occasions by the needs of others. By the grace of God, I didn’t starve and the reality hit me with enough time to adjust. But, I was surprised when I found weariness and skepticism reared their ugly heads in my life.

Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God have a similar experience. Surrounded by everything they needed to enjoy freedom, the people had the Law, including reminders of what would happen if they abandoned their covenant with God. In addition to a record of God’s faithful love towards them, they celebrated annual festivals, reminding them of how God had moved on their behalf. Yet, they were wooed away from God by idols which left them in bondage.

While the people of God in the Old Testament were often wooed away by literal idols (man made images which they worshiped), many theologians have taught that you don’t need a physical image to worship in order to be practicing idolatry. In his book on this topic entitled Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller wrote,

An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.

According to Keller, any gift from God can become our god. When we look to God’s gift to His creation rather than the Creator Himself for our hope, we surrender the freedom Christ purchased for us.

This is why the Apostle Paul pleaded with the believers in Galatia to remain vigilant about their freedom.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

Paul seemed to believe that spiritual bondage could sneak up on followers of Jesus who had experienced freedom in Christ. When we shift our heart’s affections away from Jesus and onto anything else, we’re moving away from freedom in Christ and towards idolatry.

Our idolatry reflects a foolish ignorance. Jesus has shown his willingness to give everything for our freedom and flourishing. As Paul later wrote in Romans, since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

While you’re reflecting this summer on the freedom you’re enjoying as an American, consider the freedom which goes far beyond that – the freedom you have because of what Christ did for you on the cross and in the empty tomb!

In reflecting on your freedom in Christ, consider spending some time with these 3 questions: 

1. What did I do the last time I was overwhelmed?

2. What is my reason for hope about the future?

3. What is my source of confidence amidst my current challenges?

After you answer those questions, compare your answers to these two reminders of our identity. In his new song, “House of the Lord,” Phil Wickham points us to the truth of 1 Peter 2:9-10. Phil sings:

“Now we’re royalty
We were the prisoners
Now we’re running free.”

We don’t know if Peter sang as beautifully as Phil, but he did write this poetic reminder of our identity as people freed in Christ.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We may have been born into freedom as Americans, but we weren’t born into spiritual freedom. Our eternal freedom is only made possible by trusting Jesus alone. This weekend, pause and give thanks for your freedom in Christ!


Related Content: “House of the Lord” by Phil Wickham


Scott Savage is a pastor and a writer who leads Cornerstone Church in Prescott, Arizona. He helps hurting people forgive others through his Free to Forgive course and you can read more of his writing at scottsavagelive.com


Subscribers: In the introduction to yesterday’s devotional and its writer, we used the terms he and his (no less than four times!) when it should have been she and her. We’ve corrected the text, apologized to the writer and apologize to you for the error.

 

June 13, 2021

Sins? What Sins?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Col.2.14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

Ever tried to complete a spiritual scorecard for yourself, just to see how you’re doing? It might surprise you to know that God himself doesn’t do that.

Today we’re introducing a new writer. Esau Moraes is a Brazilian currently serving at a YWAM base in England. He writes in Portuguese and then produces an English translation of each devotional. Click the headers for each of these to read there, and if you have Portuguese-speaking friends, tell them about his website.

[This devotional in Portuguese: Click here.]

My List of Sins

The other day, I thought I’d list the wrong attitudes I was still committing to remind myself that I needed to correct myself.

Immediately, that thought was countered by another: “You know who doesn’t keep a list of my sins? God!”. On the contrary, the Bible states in Hebrews 8:11,12 that:

“No one else will teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”.”

Once we acknowledge and confess our sins before God, he does not keep them in a heavenly file. He’s not waiting to throw our past failures in our face as soon as we make a slip. That, in fact, is the role of our Accuser, the Devil.

For “if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

In Christ, our sin debt was cancelled and removed by being nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). And the proof of payment no longer brings the list of faults committed, but declares that we are forgiven of all our transgressions.

And we do not need a piece of paper to tell us this, for the Spirit of God who now dwells in us testifies that we are washed and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He testifies that we are children of God and no longer slaves to sin.

Therefore, we no longer need to cling to the list of our sins, being constantly accused in our memory. Rather, let all our thoughts be led captive to the obedience of Christ. He – who forgives our sins – must be the center of our attention and not our past.

“As you therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith, as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.”(Colossians 2:6-7)


When frustration comes

[This devotional in Portuguese: Click here.]

“Sing for joy to the Lord, you who are righteous; it is good for those who are upright to praise him.” (Psalm 33:1 NIV)

After two years living in the missionary field, the time had come to return to Brazil and, in my heart, I was more than ready for it. However, hearing the news that my flight had been canceled and there was no new date available filled me with frustration.

Weeks before, I had been meditating on Psalm 33. But on that day, the first verses of this passage struck my heart in a totally different and much more genuine way.

What would my response be in the face of frustration? Would I still choose to sing and praise the Lord?

The psalmist declares that this is the attitude that fits the righteous and upright of heart. He does not give us a list of circumstances that tell us when it is fitting for us to give praise to God. Praising the Lord is simply part of our new identity as righteous in Christ.

Our emotions vary according to circumstances and they will never be truer than the truth of God’s Word.

I remember that night, before I went to sleep, I put on some worship songs and I started singing. I knew that wasn’t what I felt like doing, given the situation. But that was my choice, knowing that the Word of God remained the same: “Sing for joy to the Lord, you who are righteous; it is good for those who are upright to praise him” (Psalm 33:1).

“For the word of the Lord is true; he is faithful in all that he does.” (Psalm 33:4)

What I was feeling at that time or perhaps I am still feeling now does not alter the veracity of God’s Word. He has not changed and neither has His Word.

On the other hand, our feelings are constantly changing. Our emotions vary according to circumstances and they will never be truer than the truth of God’s Word. But we sing and give praise to our “Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

So I would like to leave a challenge here for you and me. Regardless of the circumstance or what you are feeling, decide to sing and give praise to the Lord. For it is fitting for the upright of heart to praise him!

May 24, 2021

The Blood that Speaks of a Better Covenant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been six months and we are happy to return to the writers at Our Living Hope. If you’ve got the time, click the link to the blog and spend some time with some really well-written devotions. The blood of Christ is a theme worth exploring. As central as this theme is to our atonement and redemption, sometimes it’s hard to find material, so you’re encouraged to read this type of writing every time the opportunity presents.

The Blood of Jesus

“to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”. Hebrews 12:24.

Abel’s blood spoke for Justice, Christ’s blood spoke Justification. Abel’s blood cried out in the pain of injustice of sin, the blood of Jesus cried out for the forgiveness of sins. Abel’s blood said one’s right and the other is wrong, Christ’s blood testifies all sinned and fell short of the glory of God, Abel’s blood brought in condemnation, the blood of Jesus brought in salvation. The blood of Jesus speaks a better word says the scriptures, since the new covenant with Jesus as the mediator offered much better sacrifice than that of Abel, a perfect sacrifice for the righteousness of many.

Forgiveness is the higher form of justice and love is the core of the law, showing the other cheek is not a choice to be insensitive to truth, it is giving space for transformation, since truth tolerates better than lies do. Jesus said ‘Love your enemies’, and ‘Pray for those who persecute you’. He knew that ‘Eye for an Eye can make the whole world blind’, somebody must forgive and accept, so that all might see. One man’s justice can be other man’s injustice, but forgiveness doesn’t have alternatives. Love can cover multitudes of sin, even the sins of others, the one’s who have willfully sinned against us. It is the reason Jesus cried out from the cross when the greatest injustice was committed by mankind, the highest form of justice was mightily shown, he responded ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. It was the heart of God revealed to prophet Jonah ‘How can I destroy the one’s who do not know the difference between the right hand and the left’.

“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar”. Matthew 23:35.

Does the righteous blood which cries out for justice matters still ? Yes, it does. It shows the presence of sin and injustice and the need for transformation. What is the role of justice under the new covenant of justification? The cry of justice under the blood of Jesus is not to condemn but to convict the world of sin and righteousness, and inspire to seek the truth (John 16:8,13). It prompts and directs humanity of it’s higher call. Justification doesn’t undermine justice, but inspires all towards more perfect justice and truth, it demands accountability by offering credibility. But even when justice fails, love and forgiveness will never fail, since even through pain it has the possibility of peace, as it agrees with the blood of Jesus and the spirit of Christ. It gives a vision to walk towards a better future, it gives hope of a better tomorrow. It shows the need for also seeking forgiveness.

As much as the new covenant asks us to forgive, it also reminds us to seek forgiveness. The demands of justice is to inspire not only to seek forgiveness from God, but also towards fellowman, and create pathway towards a higher conscience in the community. It is the reason even though Justification is free through faith, it has the demands of seeking forgiveness! The blood of Jesus not only washes us from sin, but also seeks the acceptance of the presence of sin, and leads us in to the paths of righteousness offering us the spirit of truth. Righteousness is not possible apart from being sensitive to justice. Holiness is greater than righteousness, and Holiness is the righteousness of God.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”. Amos 5:24.

The Lord’s coming is called the day of judgment for a reason. And how important is that day. The one who justifies all, will sit and seek justice. Even when the justice is denied through human systems, no one can escape the final judge. He cannot be bribed, threatened or wooed. He will judge fairly according to everyone’s deeds. We also fear him and act justly.

“For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” Hebrews 10:30.

Today conflicts are arising across, and it arises because everyone feel there is presence of injustice. There can be peace if forgiveness goes before and justice follows it. Forgiving the past and seeking a just and fair call for the future. No human system can offer perfect justice, but it cannot be an excuse if only all are willing to seek the truth.

The greater hope is that the blood of Jesus still intercedes for our forgiveness and transformation, and Abel’s blood looks on with hope.

“The incentive to peacemaking is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises. All authentic Christian peacemaking exhibits the love and justice – and so the pain – of the cross.”. -John Stott

Prayer : Heavenly Father, we pray for those who persecute us and help us to love and bless our enemies. May we forgive as well seek forgiveness. Let your spirit keep the lantern of justice and righteousness in our souls. Amen.

Bible Reading: Amos 4

May 6, 2021

Team Jesus

1st John 2:1-6

by Clarke Dixon

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Good news! Our sins are forgiven!

But then, if we read ahead in John’s letter, we may feel like we encounter bad news, especially when we get to statements like these:

No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. . . . Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil;. . . Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

Selections from 1 John 3:6-9 (NRSV)

What if the good news is that our past sins are forgiven and only our past sins? What if we are given a fresh start, but we had better not ever sin after that? Maybe we will be relieved to know that God’s Spirit indwells us and will keep us from sin? Most of us, however, would still have great anxiety since we know from experience that we still sin. Or am I the only one? In fact our anxiety may grow if we think that perhaps we have chased God’s Holy Spirit away somehow.

As a way to think through this, let us think of ourselves as being hockey players, perhaps we can think of ourselves as playing for the Boston Bruins. Now let us think of God as having a hockey team, that our Lord is the owner, general manager, and coach. Of course we can think of the Toronto Maple Leafs as being that team!

Given this analogy, what would forgiveness from God look like? We may think that God comes to us and says that any goal we have ever scored, or helped our team to score against his team is forgiven. We might say “well thank you for letting bygones be bygones.” But then we keep playing for the Bruins, and keep trying to score on the Leafs. John is telling us in his letter that this is not how faith in Jesus works. It is not just about the forgiveness of sins.

The words of Jesus were really important to John, they should be to us too. So let us take a moment to look at the last words of Jesus recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Let us note here that it is not just forgiveness of sins that is to be proclaimed, but also repentance, meaning a change of mind, a change of path.

Now let us consider the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

Forgiveness of sins is not even mentioned here in Matthew! Following Jesus is, paying attention to the commandments of Jesus is.

Jesus would have said a lot of things once risen form the dead, so Luke and John are not recording the very last words of Jesus so much as emphasizing the elements of Jesus’ teaching they thought they should pass on to us. Where we might emphasize forgiveness, they both emphasize a new life in Jesus.

Now let us go back to John’s letter:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)

John is pushing us to think of a much bigger change in our lives than just experiencing forgivenesses. We are not just forgiven, we are set on a new path. To go back to the hockey analogy, God is not just offering forgiveness for the goals we have scored against his team, God is offering us a place on the team!

We don’t deserve it, we don’t play like the star players on his team. We might not even know how to skate yet. But we are invited to join the team!

Now just because we join the team, this does not mean we instantly become great players. Hockey players sometimes make mistakes. A bad pass can be intercepted and lead to the other team scoring. This does not lead to an instant expulsion from the team. This is a problem we often have as Christians. We assume that we should instantly become the Wayne Gretzky of Christians. But we still miss the mark. When we do,

. . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

We are not booted off the team. Everything that is necessary for us to be on the team has been accomplished.

What if, however, having moved from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs, during a playoff series against the Bruins, we continually pass the puck to the Bruins, and sometimes we even take a shot on our own net? The natural conclusion reached by the coach and fans alike, is that we have not really changed teams. We are still playing for the Bruins, we want the Bruins to win. This is what John is getting at in verses 3-6:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)

If we really are in Jesus, then it will be evident that we are on team Jesus. When John says later in 3:6-9, that we will not sin, that we cannot sin, it is like a coach saying to a hockey player, “you will not pass to a player on the opposing team, indeed you cannot.” Well the hockey player might have a bad pass that goes to a member on the other team, which might lead them to score a goal. But the player will not pass it with the hope, “oh boy, I hope the other team wins.” He will not do that, and given his desire to win the Stanley Cup, he cannot do that.

If hockey players never wore a jersey, you would still be able to know who is playing for what team. When John says we don’t sin as Christ followers, what he means is that it should be obvious that we are on team Jesus, that we don’t play for the opposing team. We might still be learning to skate, and we might be awful at handling the puck, which might lead the other team to score from time to time, nevertheless, it is evident we are are on team Jesus.

As we read through 1st John, and especially here in 1:3-6 and later 3:6-9, we might ask, am I in deep trouble if I commit even one sin after coming to faith in Jesus? That is not a question that would have come to John’s mind. The question John is asking is: does your life show that you are on team Jesus? That you are in Christ?

Yes, we are going to mess up, there are forgivenesses when we do. But if we are on team Jesus, it will be obvious that we are on team Jesus, jerseys and Jesus fish not required. Those who are on team Jesus are easy to spot, even if they are not spotless. We may may not be superstar players, at least not yet, but let us commit to being on team Jesus! And let us enjoy that honor.


The full sermon can also be seen as part of this longer “online worship expressionClarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and doesn’t get the usual 1-2 paragraph intro! He’s a pastor in Ontario, Canada; and a good friend to have. Clarke and his wife have three boys, but I don’t know if any of them share his love of motorcycles.

April 6, 2021

There’s Never Been a More Last-Minute Conversion Than This

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Again this year we return to the writing of Matt Tullos and an item he posted in March which seems very appropriate for the days following Easter. Encourage the ministry of authors we feature by clicking on the headers like the one which follows to read on the original source site. Follow Matt on Twitter @mtullos.

Today, You Will Be With ME

Listen to this meditation on the Scattered Feast Podcast!

The mystery of salvation is never more astounding than this moment.

A few feet away from Jesus another man languished under the brutal hand of the Romans.

Just another man whose life would seemingly melt into the thin pages of history…

This was his day to die and be forgotten. And then He spoke these words

“Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.”

One sentence… a declaration, a cry into the bleak chasm of unworthiness.

“Remember me…”

This convicted rebel could do nothing.

He couldn’t earn his way into right standing.

He couldn’t grow into righteousness and worthiness of grace

His time was up.

He had no hands for service.

No feet for walking

Few words left to say in this brief and consequential day

Remember me…

It was almost like a shot in the dark, a wing and a prayer, a last desperate plea to the mercy of a Messiah

Remember me.

Jesus replied to this unnamed vagabond.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There’s never been a more outrageous last minute, death’s door, Hail Mary conversion that this.

And today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise-  such perfect word.

It’s a reference to the Garden of Eden before the fall.

Before hiding, shame, war, and death…

Eden, when all was right with the world and Jesus said, today everything will be made right with you.

The same is truth for all of us. The second declaration on the cross reminds us that it’s not about our nice tidy lives and good living that will usher us into the second Eden when he makes all things new.

It has nothing to do with us.

It’s not about the perfection of the man. It’s about the man of perfection. It’s not about one’s glory. It’s about the glory of one. It not about the greatness of your labor. It’s about the labor of his greatness. The gospel isn’t about your story. His story is the gospel. And that’s why they call it GOOD news

And one we’ll see the one who got there first, the one who walked, arm in arm, with Jesus into grand opening of the Father’s house. Because of the words that brought the ugly edifice of self-attained righteousness and works based acceptance crumbing down.

Today you will be with Me in paradise.

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