Christianity 201

September 19, 2022

Legalism Leads with the Law, Rather Than the Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re back for a third time with author K.K. Hodge, who writes devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm and you can read this one at source by clicking the title which follows.

Legalism vs. Grace

Galations 2:16-21 (NLT) Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law.

Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

My daddy is a wonderful Christian man. We know that there was only one perfect Man who walked this earth, and His name was Jesus. Daddy isn’t perfect, but I know that my daddy has been made right through the blood of Jesus Christ. He loves to tell others about Christ. He helped to build the foundation for me to become the believer that I am today, and I want to be a witness like he is to others. He told me once that his goal is to share the plan of salvation with someone at least once every single day. When he told me that, I thought, “Wow, I want to be just like him!”

I remember a situation a couple of years ago in which a pastor caused my daddy to have a bit of a spiritual battle, and it had to do with legalism. I’m not a pastor. I don’t have a theological degree. I’m just a nurse practitioner and a farmer who has a heart for Christ and for sharing His word with others, but it is my opinion from studying God’s word that grace defeats legalism every time!

My daddy was raised in a Landmark Missionary Baptist Church. Actually, the church formed in my grandparents’, his parents’, home. They were charter members. It is still a wonderful church, and we have visited from time to time. They preach the word, no doubt. As young children, we attended a Southern Baptist Church, and in our teen years, we attended another Missionary Baptist Church. We were fed the gospel at both churches. I loved both churches. I grew in my faith at both churches. The church ordinances may have differed, but the fact remains that the gospel was being preached at both churches.

Did difference in ordinances make one church wrong and one church right? I’m not here to determine that. My belief is that if a pastor/preacher is preaching and teaching the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, then that church is doing the right thing. How do we determine that the truth is being preached? Well, we have to study the word of God ourselves.

Back to my story, this man told Daddy that the women at the church Daddy attends wear lipstick, cut their hair, wear pants, and sometimes even wear shorts, and therefore, it is wrong for him to attend that church. Y’all don’t pull out your stones or torches just yet, but I’m going to tell you about me. This girl right here wears lipstick, cuts her hair, wears pants, and yes, on a hot summer day in south Mississippi, this girl even wears shorts! BUT, BIG BUT, not little but, this girl also loves Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior more than anything else in this world. Am I going to die and go to hell because “the rules” of my church are different than “the rules” of another church? I must answer emphatically–NO! I know that my eternal home is in heaven. There is not even a shadow of a doubt in my mind!

I prayed a lot before I wrote this today. I don’t want anyone to think that I am making light of the choice of church in which one chooses to be a member. I merely want to point out that Baptists won’t be the only ones in heaven, y’all. There will be Baptists, Methodists, Non-denominationals, and Pentecostals there too (to name a few)! God isn’t going to just call one church home. He is going to call THE CHURCH. You don’t get to heaven by attending a certain church on Sunday and following the ordinances of that church. You get to heaven by placing faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. It’s a free gift of grace that was given to each of us when His blood poured out on the cross.

Legalism leads with the law rather than the gospel. The gospel stands on it’s own. It doesn’t need any help from us to give it strength. Paul reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:8-9 , “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” We can’t work our way into heaven, but we work for the gospel and Christ because of the gracious gift of salvation.

But if works are taking the lead over the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is legalism. It’s human nature to distort the glorious truths of God, and I think we have all been guilty of trying to misuse that free gift of grace. God has given us all that we need for godliness. We desire to live for Christ, and we have deep convictions that the sins in our life dishonor God. But sometimes, in the midst of our pursuit for godliness, we forget that it is only by the grace of God that we can live for Him. Unfortunately, we sometimes tend to forget that any and all godliness comes from the Father. We become all puffed up and start projecting our standards on others. We soon begin to judge people and pressure them to conform to our “God lifestyle.” We forget about the principles that the word of God reveal to us, and we teach our own preferences and practices of the law.

In Galatians 2, Paul brought up an example of when Peter went to Antioch. When Peter first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who were not circumcised. But later on, when some of the friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles any longer. He was afraid of the criticism that he would receive because the other people insisted on the necessity of circumcision.

Paul later says, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” Those uncircumcised believers were believers too, and they have receive the gracious gift of salvation and eternal life just like their fellow circumcised believers.

We have to learn to balance the reality that our faith is through grace alone and by faith alone. We are called to glorify God, and we are called to follow His word. Grace teaches us to separate ourselves from cultural sin, but it never teaches us to use ourselves as the standard for grace. We must look to Christ as the standard, not ourselves! The important questions to ask yourself are, “Have I received the gift of salvation? Am I a child of God?”

If you know that the answer is yes, then you know. We aren’t perfect. We are perfectly imperfect children of a perfect God, and it is through Him that we are made right. We can’t do this thing called life on our own accord, but with God we can. We were created to glorify God. If what you are doing is sharing the gospel and bringing honor and glory to our Father, then keep on doing that! That is His desire for each of us. I leave you with this a word from 2 Corinthians 12:9 that assures us, ““Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” Alone, we are weak, but the power of the Father works best in our weakness.

His grace is all we need!

 

September 18, 2022

Our Faithfulness vs. God’s Faithfulness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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When I ramble on about how we’ve been producing fresh devotional content here every day since April 1st, 2010, it’s humbling to realize that Elsie Montgomery has us beat by over four years! She started in January, 2006. It’s no surprise then that she is one of the longest-running and most-quoted devotional writers here at C201. Her website is Practical Faith.

Speaking of faithfulness, God is faithful to “forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness;” which is her theme today. Click the title which follows to read this at source.

God’s faithfulness

READ Psalm 51–55

Yesterday I discovered a forgotten file while purging my computer. It lists the contrasting behavior of a person filled with the Holy Spirit and a person filled with himself. Anyone who seriously follows the Lord Jesus Christ realizes this is not an either/or but a both/and description. Christians still sin. We are growing in grace and more able to overcome our bad attitudes and actions, but the learning curve remains — and that list was convicting.

King David knew this. He was called “a man after God’s own heart” yet one day stayed home instead of going to war with his army. He was up on his rooftop and saw a beautiful woman bathing on her rooftop. Most of us know the story. He not only took her, made her pregnant, but had her husband killed to cover what he had done. I could say that most Christians would not go that far, but I’d likely be wrong. Besides, sin is sin, regardless of its extent or who it harms.

David was confronted by a prophet and deeply convicted. He pleaded with God for mercy, forgiveness and cleansing:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart . . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me . . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. (Psalm 51:1–13)

Last Sunday our pastor said that one thing that keeps people from fellowship with other Christians is holding the standards higher than the reality. In other words, don’t expect perfection from others when the Bible clearly says God’s people need to keep confessing our sin. Sinless perfection belongs to Jesus Christ and while we are being transformed into His likeness, none of us will get there this side of heaven. In other words, don’t be disappointed at anyone’s imperfections!

As I read that list, whoever wrote it knew another truth and included this in the ‘good’ list: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (51:17)

The contrast on other side of the page said this, condensed yet plainly the opposite:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (53:1–3)

That is, being a person devoted to God, I must be able to see and confess sin in humility and repentance. The following verse from the psalms is another way of saying the same truth in the next verse from the NT. Both are vital to spiritual growth and well-being, and both honor God and His grace and goodness:

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (55:22)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Sometimes I pop into the selfish side of the list, yet God is faithful. It might take me awhile to ‘get it’ but when that sin is confessed, He is faithful to do His saving work and sustain me as His child. This promise is the wonder of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

August 2, 2022

The Love of Our Guide, Protector and Provider

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back again with Devotions by Chris by Chris Hendrix and two shorter devotionals which he presented in the opposite order to the one which I decided we’re going to read them today. Click each of the title headers below to read these where they first appeared.

A Foundation Of Love

I was at a celebration of my aunt and uncle when a lady walked up to me. She said, “You don’t know me, but I know you. I grew up in your grandfather’s church.” She shared some stories with me about him, and then she said, “He gave that church a foundation of love.” That phrase resonated with me for many reasons. I couldn’t help but think of how you and I are the Church. It’s important that we build our faith and our lives on a foundation of God’s love. If we don’t do that, our lives can become full of meaningless rituals or a cold relationship with God. When that happens we must return to our first love.

In Luke 7:36-47, Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s house. A lady who was a prostitute came in, bowed at Jesus’ feet, cried tears on His feet, then dried them with her hair and poured perfume on them. The Pharisee was stunned that Jesus allowed this to happen. Jesus told him a parable of two men who owed a debt to someone. One owed a little and the other a lot. The creditor forgave them both. Jesus then asked the Pharisee which person loved the creditor more. He replied that the one who was forgiven more. Jesus agreed. He then looked down at the lady and told the Pharisee that her many sins had been forgiven and this was a display of her love.

In Ephesians 3:19 Paul concluded a prayer by saying,

And [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]” (AMP).

You and I can’t just have a head knowledge of God. We must experience His love and forgiveness in our lives. When we do that, we will experience God’s presence and be filled with it. When we have the foundation of His love in our lives, we can make a greater impact on the people around us.

Being Shepherded

One of the things we lose context for in a modern society is the idea of being shepherded. We use the word sheep as a means to put someone down, yet the Bible constantly refers to us as sheep and God as the shepherd. There is great trust between the shepherd and the sheep. He makes sure the sheep are cared for, fed and protected. When one runs off, the shepherd goes after it. There is a unique relationship there that is incredible. It’s the same relationship God longs to have with us. He wants to watch over you, protect you and make sure you’re well fed, but you must submit to His shepherding in order to receive the benefits the Shepherd offers.

Here are some Bible verses on God as your shepherd.

1. There once was a shepherd with a hundred lambs, but one of his lambs wandered away and was lost. So the shepherd left the ninety-nine lambs out in the open field and searched in the wilderness for that one lost lamb. He didn’t stop until he finally found it. With exuberant joy, he raised it up, placed it on his shoulders, and carried it back with cheerful delight!

Luke 15:4-5 TPT

2. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep [the protector and provider].

John 10:2 AMP

3. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,

John 10:14 NLT

4. The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me], I shall not want.

Psalms 23:1 AMP

5. You were like sheep that had lost their way, but now you have been brought back to follow the Shepherd and Keeper of your souls.

1 Peter 2:25 GNT

July 31, 2022

Seeing the Face of God in Others

…and letting them see the face of God in you.

This is our fourth time featuring the writing of Marlene Limgo at Living the Blessed Life (formerly Life Walk with Marlene). Click the header below to read this post where it first appeared.

Seeing God’s Face

There once were two friends travelling in a desert. They got into an argument. In the heat of the moment, one slapped the other. The one who was slapped, wrote on the sand: Today, my best friend slapped me.

When they came to an oasis, they decided to take a bath. The one who was slapped, slipped and fell in the mire, started to drown. Her friend pulled her out and saved her life. The one who nearly drowned wrote on the stone: Today my friend saved my life.

Why?

When someone hurt you, write it on the sand where the wind will blow it away.
When someone helped you, engrave it on the stone where nothing will erase it.
“For to see your face is like seeing the face of God!” Who said this? To who? how? where? when? WHY?

► Who: Jacob
► To who: Esau (Jacob’s twin who wanted to kill him.)
► Where/When: On the way home to return to his father Isaac; after running away/hiding from Esau.
► WHY: Esau wanted to kill Jacob after he stole Esau’s birthright (Gen. 27-28). After so many years of hiding, God told him to go back home (Gen. 31:3).
Jacob feared that Esau might still be mad at him and ready to kill him:
1) He prayed to God about his fear (32:9-12).
2) He planned and strategized what he’s going to do to meet Esau (32:13-21).
3) He changed his plan again when he saw Esau (33:1-3).

Then what? I could imagine how pleasantly shocked Jacob was as I read v. 4
“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”

The brother-turned-enemy became his brother again. Jacob exclaimed: Seeing you is like seeing the face of God! Why? Because now you have received me favourably.

Lessons to learn:

Favor – an attitude of approval or liking; an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual.
Indeed, what a joy it is to have favor with God and man – that is how Jesus was described when he was growing as a boy. The same was described of Samuel: that he grew in favor with God and man.

Am I not happy when people affirm me? Do I not find satisfaction in gaining the approval of friends and family? How comforting is it to receive a kind word, warm hug and a firm pat on the shoulder when I’m feeling down! Whatever blessing I have, is it not a favor – an act of kindness from God beyond what is due me?
How many of my friends and family members or even strangers do i see as like seeing the face of God? Perhaps, many are, in different ways at different times, sometimes taken for granted?

When people see me, will they say that seeing me is like seeing the face of God? Do I extend the same favor that God gives me to others who need it? Do I forgive as God forgives? Am I kind as He is kind? How do I treat those who have wronged me? What is my attitude when I am the one who has done wrong? How do I extend mercy? How do I receive grace?

July 18, 2022

The Imperfect People God Chooses

Today we return to Meanderings of a Minister by Pastor Jack Jacob. This is a difficult passage in scripture, especially given the title which Jack gave the devotional, but hear him out; many of us have been chosen despite our weaknesses. Clicking that title which appears next will not only take you to where this first appeared, but allow you an opportunity to listen to today’s devotional on audio.

God Never Gives Up on His People

I was reading in Exodus about Nadab and Abihu. Now, I realize that most people will have to look up those names, but they are particularly prominent figures in the Old Testament. Let me tell you about them and why they are so important.

First, they were important because they were the sons of Aaron whom God personally chose to become priests to serve before Him in the Tabernacle. Imagine being the first priest called by God to serve. But go further than that and imagine being called by God’s own voice! (Exodus 28:1)

Next, they were important because they were part of the seventy that had worshipped God on the mountain and had come down and had prophesied before the people and helped Moses’ shoulder the load of speaking to the people on God’s behalf. (Exodus 24:1)

Lastly, they were important because they decided, despite the instructions God had given, to offer strange fire on the altar and God killed them on the spot. (Number 3:4)

Okay, so you are thinking…” Thanks! Now I am depressed. If God could do that to them, then what about me?”  I want us to learn from Nadab and Abihu, but I want us to learn from their lives, not their deaths. God personally called them. Since I believe in the omniscience of God (omni=all, science=knowledge…God knows everything), then I must believe that He knew they would fail, but HE CALLED THEM ANYWAY! What does that mean? What does that mean to me?

What this means to me is that, despite my worst failures, God will continue to give me chances. Despite my worst stumbling, He never gives up on reaching out to me. No matter how little I have, God, the author of faith, is always there and always offering His Hands. If I will spend more time looking up for His help and reaching out for His forgiveness, I can spend less time carrying a heavy guilt load and a bunch of shame I was not meant to carry.

Here is the best part. If you are a new creature in Christ, you can do the same. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, He will never turn away. (Romans 5:9-10) He will never put you to shame, and He will in no wise cast you out. (John 6:37) I do not know about you, but that is great news to me. I feel more like Paul all the time in Romans 7,

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”  (NASB)

Isn’t it good to know God will not give up on you? Why not take the time today and thank Him for just that reason? Having thanked Him, let us hang on and get it right so that we do not end up like Nadab and Abihu.

 

July 16, 2022

The Reverberated Section of The Lord’s Prayer

For several days this week on his radio program — they’re an audio thing that existed before podcasts — Bible teacher David Jeremiah spoke about the need to see our forgiving of others operating in tandem with the forgiveness we ask of God. I wasn’t able to catch the full length of each broadcast but a few things remained with me.

First, there is an “echo” of the petition for forgiveness in The Lord’s Prayer occuring just two verses later. Using the Matthew 6 (NIV) version, verse 12 is most familiar to us:

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

but seconds later, in verses 14 and we read,

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I want to come back to that in a moment, but let’s look at another familiar passage, also from the same discourse in Matthew which also contains a “reverberation.”

In 5:10, we’re familiar with the final promise of blessing:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Most of the versions of these beatitudes you see on a wall plaque or a coffee mug cut off at this point, but in verses 11 and 12 Jesus continues,

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

We should probably pay extra attention to these passages which are immediately spoken twice, for added emphasis.

Back to forgiveness.

David Jeremiah compared the person who will not themselves be a “forgiver” to the person Jesus is speaking about in Matthew 18, what the NIV calls “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.” This follows Peter’s question as to possible limits on forgiveness. Since the NIV is very familiar to us, let’s drop in on Eugene Peterson’s rendering of it in The Message:

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.” (18: 23-35)

Can a person die in a state where they have not provided forgiveness to someone else, and cannot therefore expect it from God? That’s a sobering question, and if David Jeremiah addressed it, I wasn’t around for that part of the broadcast. But let’s play with that for a moment: If the idea of ‘keeping short accounts with God’ is all about returning to God to ask forgiveness, is God not also expecting us to keep ‘short accounts’ with one another?

This relationship between how we forgive on a human level, and God’s forgiveness on a divine level is also intertwined in one other passage David Jeremiah referenced on two of the radio programs, and these verses are also from the same discourse in Matthew’s gospel. Following the admonition not to call your brother ‘fool’ (or ‘raca’) Jesus says,

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (5:23-24 NLT)

This wasn’t said on the Turning Point broadcast, but I think there’s a bit of a chicken and egg relationship happening here. Perhaps there’s a better way to state this but let’s try these two statements.

To know God’s forgiveness is to desire to forgive others.
To be a person who knows what forgiveness entails is to fully appreciate God’s forgiveness.

But we’ve also seen that, beyond simple appreciation, perhaps forgiven people experience a greater depth or degree of God’s forgiveness.

Who do you need to forgive today?


If you’re reading this in July, 2022, audio copies of the programs I heard are available at DavidJeremiah.org on this archives page. Check out JL/14 and JL/15 for the two part, “Prayer and Personal Relationships” messages.

Quoting the preview descriptions:

► [Forgiveness is] one of the most challenging parts of being a Christian, but it helps you experience a bit of what God has done for you.

► Nothing feels more liberating than your sin being forgiven by God. But a close second is the feeling of freedom you experience by forgiving others.

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.

 

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