Christianity 201

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 Spanish-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.

February 16, 2021

When Forgiveness is True Forgiveness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Three times in the past week I’ve found myself closing in on our 5:30 PM EST deadline and today also turned out to be a busy day. So we’re going to do something different.

You may remember many weeks back I shared a question that a cousin of mine had asked, and then my response. That’s the format today as well, and you can decide if I answered this well.

Paul, I have a question for you.  In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us “if you forgive people for stepping out of line, your heavenly Father will forgive you too.  But if you don’t forgive other people, your Father also won’t forgive you for stepping out of line.

Is it acceptable to the Lord just to forgive, (sincerely, mind you) or are we obliged to actually inform the offending person that they are forgiven?    

What’s your take on this?

My answer:

I always appreciate your questions. They are always challenging.

You are sort of asking two questions in one here because at the end you raise the possibility that the person who has committed a transgression against you may not even be aware that they have done something. I think you would need to inform them that’s something they have done has hurt you greatly but that you are prepared to forgive. But there could be a number of factors working against that. It could be a person from your past that you currently have no way of getting in touch with. Or they could even be deceased.

Returning to the text, Jesus does appear to be saying that the forgiveness we receive in some way corresponds to the forgiveness we are prepared to offer. A few verses earlier he stated this again in his model prayer where we are to ask him to forgive us our trespasses even as we forgive those who trespass against us.

To use a phrase I like using because it makes me sound more educated than I am, the obverse also attains. It’s a fancy way of saying that the opposite seems to be true as well. If we don’t have a forgiving nature we cannot expect to receive God’s forgiveness.

Or can we? The biblical model of forgiveness is to forgive 70 times seven. So how much is God prepared to forgive us? I would say a whole lot more. And isn’t the concept of grace that it comes without any strings attached?

So then why does he appear to be saying but God won’t forgive us if we are unforgiving sort of person?

I think there are several possible reasons and below is a link to a website that offers two of them of which the second one is most interesting, especially when you consider the parable of the man who was forgiven a great debt but did not repeat that forgiveness to a person who owed him a much smaller amount. The original forgiveness he received was rescinded. [Readers: See Matthew 18:21-35] Is this a teaching moment for Jesus to cause his hearers to think about grace and forgiveness, or is it a principle of the Kingdom where all forgiveness is subject to terms and conditions?

I think there are also some things in the context we have to keep in mind and that is that a lot of The Sermon on the Mount is stated in the extreme. Jesus was quite fond of using hyperbole to wake up his audience!

Anyway, here is the link which should provide you with more of the type of answer I think you were originally looking for. If you want to find more things like this type “Matthew 6:15” commentary into a search engine.

https://www.gotquestions.org/forgive-forgiven.html

Here are three paragraphs from that website I want to highlight:

Matthew 6 does not teach that our eternal destiny is based on our forgiving other people; however, it does teach that our relationship with God will be damaged if we refuse to pardon those who have offended us. The Bible is clear that God pardons sin by His grace based on Christ’s work on the cross alone, not on man’s actions. Our right standing before Him is established on one thing only—the finished work of Christ (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). The penalty for the sin that is rightly ours is paid by Christ, and we obtain it by grace through faith, not by any righteous deeds of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). No one will be able to stand before God demanding that his sins be forgotten simply because he has forgiven others. Only when we are born again and given a new life through God’s Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ are our sins forgiven…

…To be sure, an unforgiving spirit is a serious sin and should be confessed to God. If we have unforgiveness in our hearts against someone else, then we are acting in a way that is not pleasing to God, making our prayers and a proper living relationship with Him difficult. God will not hear our prayers unless we also show ourselves ready to grant forgiveness…

…A second biblically plausible interpretation of Matthew 6:14-15 is that it is saying anyone who refuses to forgive others is demonstrating that he has not truly received Christ’s forgiveness himself. Any sin committed against us, no matter how terrible, is trivial in comparison to our sins against God. If God has forgiven us of so much, how could we refuse to forgive others of so “little”? Matthew 6:14-15, according to this view, proclaims that anyone who harbors unforgiveness against others has not truly experienced God’s forgiveness. Both interpretations strongly deny that salvation is dependent on our forgiving others…

Ruth Wilkinson, who occasionally contributes to this page, also wanted to respond to my cousin’s inquiry in light of my response. She got back to the original intention of the question when she said,

The forgiveness process isn’t complete until the person has been informed.

Readers, do you agree? I said,

I would add there may be circumstances where doing so could make matters worse, so you need to discern this for yourself.


So how do you think I fared with this?

Do you have someone you can go to for discussions or questions like this? Do you have people who use you as a sounding board?

November 2, 2020

The ‘Other’ John 3:16

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
 – 1 John 3:16 NLT

This week’s look at the ‘other’ John 3:16 was prompted by something Ruth wrote for Sunday’s service, placing the thoughts of the passage into verse. But first, we’ll see what others have said about this verse. Because we can’t sing as much presently, Ruth has been teaching the congregation American Sign Language. The phrase this week and our theme today is,

I’ve been forgiven because of Jesus’ cross.

At KnowingJesus.com:

Many believers like to focus on the love of Jesus because they think that this will cause unbelievers to get saved but they prefer to allow Christ’s death, burial and resurrection to be side-lined in a blurry background, in case it offends or puts the unbeliever off the Christian faith!

But the shed blood of the incarnate Son of God Who was born into His own creation, and the immutable love of the eternal Father are inseparably interwoven and irrevocably united together.

It was love that caused the almighty God to send His only begotten Son into the world to become the sin-sacrifice for the entire race of humanity and it was love that caused the Lord Jesus Christ to lay down His life for us. It was love that caused the Lord Jesus to be crucified on a cruel cross — willingly, so that all who believe on Him might not perish but have everlasting life…  [click the link above for more commentary]

David Bartlett at WorkingPreacher.org

…Here we glimpse the depth of the gift and the gravity of the demand. Christ gives unconditional love for us, even to the point of death. And he demands our unconditional love for each other, even to the point of death.

Yet, as preachers so often do, the preacher who writes this epistle tries to show what love to the point of death might mean, not just at the extreme moments of sacrifice, but in the daily give and take of the loving life.

Concretely, such love means charity. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help?” (1 John 3:17) … [click the link heading this section for more on verses 16-24]

At BibleRef.com:

In contrast to the person who hates or murders (1 John 3:15), the ultimate sign of love is to lay down one’s life for others. Jesus gave the supreme example of this kind of love by giving His own life on behalf of the sins of the world (John 3:16; Hebrews 12:2). Jesus is the ultimate example of how we ought to live our lives (John 13:15–17).

But what does it look like to lay down our life for the brothers? John certainly had in mind more than physical death, though this could certainly apply. Verses 17 and 18 add additional details about how to help others in need, and to show that God’s love abides in us (1 John 3:17). This includes helping those in need through actions and truth (1 John 3:18). God desires believers to both know the word and live it out (James 1:22), not merely to “feel” love and not act to benefit other people (Matthew 15:4–9).

PreceptAustin.org quotes Steven Cole:

…If you’re running short on love, stop and meditate on what Jesus did for you. If the servant who had been forgiven the huge debt had stopped to think about it, he would have forgiven his fellow servant the lesser debt (Mt. 18:23-35)…If you lack love for someone, first make sure that you are born of God. Then, ask Him for it…

Cross-references from BibleHub.com

John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Philippians 2:17
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.

1 Thessalonians 2:8
We cared so deeply that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our own lives as well. That is how beloved you have become to us.

1 John 2:9
If anyone claims to be in the light but hates his brother, he is still in the darkness.

The Cross: Forgiveness – by Ruth Wilkinson

He took my sin in His body,
His breaking makes me whole;
His wounds have been my healing,
The Shepherd of my soul.

My broken self is gone now
No longer am I slave;
Sin cannot command me,
It lies within His grave.

Jesus, my beginning,
My life now and my end;
I thank you Father, Holy Ghost
And Son, my Lord and friend

This is how I learned love:
He gave His life for me.
This is how I must show love:
Like Him, in truth and deed.

 

October 6, 2020

When God Ran

I’ve always felt a great deal of affinity with Jim Thornber, probably because we both have a blog called Thinking Out Loud, and both started in 2008, although his journey and mine are quite different. Since I last caught up with him, he’s faced the loss of his father and the passing of his wife on September 12th from complications arising due to Covid-19. Both are the subject of two previous pieces on his blog, which were then preceded by this one, which appears below under its original title. Our own title today is the title of a song by Benny Hester which came to mind as I was reading and appears at the end. Click the header below to read this at Jim’s site.

The God Who Runs

“And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” –Luke 15:20

I’d like to share with you a snippet of a recent conversation I had with God.

It started when I wanted to write the way Jesus portrayed God in Luke 15. After the wayward son spent his inheritance on wild living, he decides to return home. Verse 20 says the Father ran to the son, embraced him before he could deliver his well-rehearsed speech, and called for a party on his behalf. But I was missing something in the story and didn’t know how to start. I had blogger’s block. Finally (why is it always “finally’?), I settled myself down and prayed.

Me: Lord, as I think about Luke 15, how would You like me to represent You?

God: Tell people My forgiveness predates their repentance.

Me: Okay. What is the best way to do that?

God: Tell them why I ran.

I’ve been studying Luke 15 since the 1980’s when I first read Lloyd John Oglivie’s book on the parables called The Autobiography of God. The first parable Oglivie writes about is this one, which he calls, “The Prodigal God.” About the Father he says, “Rivet your attention on him. Don’t take your eyes off him,” because the spotlight is never off Him, even when He is off stage. He is the prodigal God.

That strikes most people as absurd, mostly because they think prodigal means “going away and returning.” In fact, the word “prodigal” means extravagant, lavish, unrestrained and copious. True, this describes the son in the way he lived in the far country, but it better describes the father. His love knew no limits, his joy no restraint, his forgiveness no boundaries. His forgiveness isn’t even bound by time.  The son was unrestrained with his money, but the father is unrestrained with His love.

Back to the parable. The son is now walking through town on his way to the Father’s house and Jesus says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”

Let’s pause at that word “run.” Most of us skip over it and move ahead to the embrace and the call for a new wardrobe. But if we don’t stop and consider the Father running, we miss a very important part of the story.

In his exegesis of Luke 15, Kenneth Bailey tells us as the son approaches the village, a crowd will gather. The village, well aware the son wanted the father to die so he could have his money now, will taunt the son, abusing him verbally and possibly physically. Therefore, the only way for the father to protect his son from a distance was to draw the attention of the crowd away from the son and onto himself. Therefore, the father ran.

Bailey writes, “An Oriental nobleman with flowing robes never runs anywhere. To do so is humiliating.” Aristotle wrote, “Great men never run in public.” But the father ran anyway. Why? Because he had “compassion” for his son. The only way to keep the crowd from harming his son was to distract them, so the father runs this gauntlet, drawing the attention of the away from the son in order to observe the father’s shameful behavior. Bailey writes, “The boy, having steeled his nerves for this gauntlet, now, to his utter amazement, see his father run it for him. Rather than experiencing the ruthless hostility he deserves and anticipates, the son witnesses and unexpected, visible demonstration of love in humiliation.”

This is the character of God. Not concerned for His own dignity, He does the unexpected so those who would never expect it see a side of God they least expected: love in humiliation. This is Christ the Messiah who, more concerned with our salvation than His dignity, voluntarily hangs naked from a Cross. Why? “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Heb. 12:2).

While we were disabled due to sin, Jesus disrobed, shedding both His eternity and His clothes, to enable us to live again. Like the father running in the parable, he took the shame upon Himself and drew Satan’s attention away from us, knowing His death would set us free. By the time the Accuser figured out the resurrection, Christ’s victory over sin and death had already been won.

Our Savior exchanged his majesty for mortality, His sovereignty for shame, His glory for a grave. At the best possible moment in the history of humanity upon this earth, Christ came to us. Even as a baby, Satan’s attention was riveted upon Him. Christ ran.

We’ve been created by a Father who runs toward us. In His compassionate love, He forgives us before we ask, before we can convince Him we need His presence with our well-rehearsed speech. All the Father knew was His child who once was lost is now returning home, so He ran to embrace him.

Our Father, Holy is His name, likes to run. Have you experienced His embrace?


September 23, 2020

It’s About Grace, Not Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you who we discovered through a WordPress feed. Mathew Simon lives in North Carolina with his wife and three children and has written several articles on the subject of works (trying to achieve standing with God based on what we do for him.) Back in July he wrote:

If we are judging others based on our good deeds, length of prayers, the donations we give, or the number of times we go to Church, then we are boasting in our own self-righteousness. But Jesus said that the sinner who comes to Him with sincere repentance and faith is the one who is justified (made righteous).

Today we’re highlighting his writing with two shorter, more recent articles. Click the titles below of each of these to read at his page.

Making Jesus Lord by works? The false gospel of Lordship salvation

There are some Churches that say that unless you “surrender” your life and make Jesus your Lord and do the works, then you cannot be saved.

They say that a “saving” faith needs good works to prove that Jesus is your Lord and not just Savior.

They use these scriptures:

Matthew 7 “21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “

James 2 ’17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.”

Ok, let me ask you this, how many works do you need to prove that Jesus is your “LORD” ?

According to Jesus’ own words, He said this:

Luke 14 “26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…..33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up EVERYTHING you have cannot be my disciples.

So Jesus said to FORSAKE EVERYTHING and SELL EVERYTHING to the poor to be His disciples!

Luke 12 “31 But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. 32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. 33 Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys.

OK how many Christians are disciples of Christ according to those verses? ZERO.

That shows that no Christians are doing the “works” of the Law commanded by Jesus to Israel.So then how do we really make Jesus the LORD.

It is not by anything we DO.

Jesus is ALREADY LORD.

He is the CREATOR of all things.

He does not need your works to become LORD of your life.

He created you and is GOD already.

This is how we ACCEPT Jesus as LORD – that you BELIEVE that He is LORD and GOD who died for your sins and rose from the dead!

Romans 10 ” 9 that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart, one believes resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made resulting in salvation.”

John 20 “28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

This is the WORK that you need to do to be SAVED – SIMPLY BELIEVE in Jesus for your own salvation. So simple.

John 6 “28 They said therefore to him, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

The work of faith is when we stop doing the actual works to attain salvation and simply TRUST in what Jesus has done for us.

Romans 4 “5 But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…..who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.”

Jesus carried the cross for believers so we don’t have to!

Before the cross, when Israel was still under the Law, our Lord Jesus Christ told the 12 apostles to carry the cross.

Matthew 16 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”

So then Peter and all the apostles promised to be with Christ even unto death.

Luke 22 33He said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” 34He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will by no means crow today until you deny that you know me three times.”

Mark 14 29But Peter said to him, “Although all will be offended, yet I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Most certainly I tell you, that you today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he spoke all the more, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” They all said the same thing.

The disciples promised great things for the LORD but they could not even stay awake with Him while He prayed!!

Matthew 26 40He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?

But as we know, all the disciples ran away and Peter denied Christ three times.

Matthew 26 ” 56But all this has happened that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”Then all the disciples left him and fled.

The truth is that none of us can carry the cross or follow Jesus – because in our flesh we are not righteous at all – But we need Jesus to die for our sins!

At the cross, we see that there was a thief on the cross who did nothing good at all. He did not promise to follow Jesus or do any big works! He was a sinner condemned but then He believed in Christ to be saved by GRACE through faith without any works!

Luke 23 “42He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”43Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Everyone who believes in Christ without trusting in their works is forgiven ALL sin and given the free gift of His righteousness to go to heaven forever! AMEN.

September 16, 2020

We Fail; He Helps us Back Up… Each and Every Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One writer in our frequent-flyer club here at C201 is Elsie Montgomery who has appeared here more than 20 times.  This very personal reflection appeared yesterday at her blog, Practical Faith. Click the header below to read and find more great devotionals like this one.

One Prayer God Quickly Answers…

2 Samuel 11; Psalms 62–63; Ezekiel 18; 2 Corinthians 4

Reading the familiar story of David and Bathsheba reminds me again of one hard truth: strong desires blind my eyes to reality and truth. David wanted this woman and went against all that he knew was right. He seduced her, used his power to manipulate the death of her husband and tried to cover up his sinfulness with lies.

His actions beg the question: How can a person overcome strong desires? These include lust, desire for power, popularity and fame, even the desire to eat too much or drink too much alcohol. The list is long. David loved the Lord but his desire for a woman ruined his desire for doing the will of God. I don’t want that.

The Apostle Paul was also a man who loved the Lord. He lived with a strong determination to turn away from sin and live a godly life. What made the difference? These verses explain:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1–6)

Paul knew that blindness caused by sin is also blindness from the evil one whose goal is to keep people from seeing the glory of God in Jesus Christ. It is in knowing who Jesus is that changes everything. Paul was given that vision while on his way to persecute and destroy Christians. When he saw the risen Christ, he called that amazing experience “light shining out of darkness” and from that moment on, his life changed.

I understand Paul’s experience. Mine was similar. I read the Bible for nearly two decades but it was darkness to me; I didn’t understand any of it. Then one fall day, while reading another book that had a Scripture verse in it, Jesus shone into my life. I instantly knew that He was God in human flesh and that He came to save me from my sin. He shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The biggest difference is that my life didn’t change as rapidly as Paul’s life! He was zealous for God before that great event, but I was zealous for me, with many strong desires for what I wanted. God keeps shining light into my life and is amazingly patient with me yet I am slow and forgetful, stubborn and selfish.

However, the Lord does give me an understanding of how Satan works. I know that I can be in the dark with those I-wants and that all of them must be yielded to Him. The more I give up the more I gain. That is, when I refuse to act in disgraceful or underhanded ways, or to be cunning or try to mess with what the Bible says or run my own life, then seeing the glory of God is easier and desirable. This battle against sin is won by losing.

APPLY: Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

Later: This application is proven once again. Today God gave me a test . . . which I flunked! It happened a very short time after writing the above words. Again, if you pray those verses and mean it, He will answer quickly.

September 11, 2020

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in the United States, which means today marks 19 years.

The Lectionary readings for this Sunday include Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

and with that, Jesus launches into a story I trust is familiar to all of us. (If not, click this link.)

Occasionally I run into blogs that consist of pastors’ sermon notes involving churches that use the Lectionary as a guide to preaching. Instead of the pastor selecting a text on his or her own, there are three or four prescribed readings for each Sunday, usually consisting an Old Testament reading, a Psalm , a selection from the gospels, and an excerpt from an Epistle.  One of the texts is required to form the basis of the weekend sermon.

We’re returning today to the blog ForeWords written by Rich Brown.  Although he is not currently writing, I went back to 2017 to see what he’d written when this text appeared for a Sunday that year which also followed a 9/11 anniversary. Click the title below to read this at source.

Forgive Each Other

His disciples asked Jesus just how often they should/must forgive a brother or sister. In response Jesus gave them a number: either 77 or seven times 70, depending on the Bible translation you’re reading. In either case, it means pretty much the same thing: Never stop forgiving!

Jesus goes on to share a parable. Unlike many of his others, this parable is clear, understandable, and obvious. Maybe Jesus thought this topic was so important, so critical to the functioning of his kingdom that he didn’t want even the most dim-witted of his inner circle to misunderstand. In its own way it’s a commentary on the lines from the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

As part of a philosophical discussion this instruction is so evident in its meaning and purpose that it almost requires no further thought. Yet when we move from the realm of the theoretical to the actual, well, there’s the rub.

Of all the Sundays when the Lectionary focuses on forgiveness, what an interesting coincidence that this year it falls on the Sunday after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington, and the plane that crashed in western Pennsylvania.

Whoa, most of us probably immediately think: How is it even conceivable to contemplate this topic near September 11th? One way out, of course, is to zoom in on the idea that Jesus told his disciples they were to forgive members of their own faith community (brothers/sisters, church, or however else that Greek word is translated), so this situation doesn’t apply. That feels like a cop-out to me.

Although it’s been more than a decade and a half (and consider what those years have brought, with war and economic catastrophe just for starters–plus record-shattering natural disasters with floods, earthquakes, and wildfires), those of us who lived through that day and the ones immediately following it have little trouble being transported back. The media replays those towers burning and crashing, people screaming and running and, soon, scouring the streets of New York City with posters of their missing loved ones.

The United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq (and wherever else the so-called “War on Terror” took it), which led to tens of thousands of other deaths, and easily dramatic changes in life and lifestyle to millions more. There’s Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and, eventually, Navy Seal Team 6 taking out Osama bin Laden on the direct orders of the President. We’ve changed presidencies from Bush 2 to Obama to Trump, yet the terrorists atacks and wars in the middle east go on. [Editor’s note: Since this was written we could add political polarization, racial tension and COVID-19.]

With all that not just in the background but in our faces, how can we possibly talk about forgiveness? Isn’t it too soon, too powerful, too sensitive, too whatever?

Someone once said that evil can imagine only itself. Righteousness, however, can imagine both good and evil. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision–and a process at that.

And so the formula becomes Remember, Forgive, Repeat.

I recall reading the comments of someone whose loved one had died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. She wrote that every September as this anniversary rolls around it’s as if she has to live through her loved-one’s memorial service all over again. The pain and grief come rushing back. But she hopes, somehow, that each ensuing anniversary will bring some kind of closure to that, and that from that point on she can start replacing the pain of the past with hope for the future. I pray she can–and that so many others personally touched by 9/11 can do the same.


August 27, 2020

Forgiving Our Debtors Doesn’t Come Naturally

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Matthew 6:12

Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. (Phillips)

Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we ourselves
    release forgiveness to those who have wronged us. (Passion Translation)

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NRSV). It is added to “forgive us our debts” as if it is a matter of fact thing, something we have already done like it was no big deal. Forgiving someone, however, can seem like a big deal, or even an ordeal. Here are three things we may think about forgiveness which may add to the struggle.

We may think, “I am just not good at forgiving people.”

Forgiveness is not a skill. Rather, forgiveness flows out of character. Consider sailing. Without wind, all the skills and techniques of an accomplished sailor come to nothing. The sailor will struggle to sail. Without character we struggle to forgive.

Forgiveness flows out of a character marked by grace. It is not so much that we learn how to forgive, but rather we become people of grace. We experience God’s grace in Christ. Having experienced great forgiveness from God we become people who want to forgive.

We become people enabled to forgive. The Holy Spirit works in us, growing the fruit of the Spirit within us. Are we growing in our character such that forgiveness is just something we do?

If we are really struggling to forgive someone, maybe we can take a breather from trying so hard. Maybe we can focus on the offense less and God’s love for the offender more. Maybe we can focus on our relationship with the offending person less, and on our relationship with God more. Then we can go back to that person from a different place, as a more Christlike person growing in grace.

We may think “I tried to forgive and forget, but there is no way I can ever forget what they did to me.”

We have some good news; forgiveness is not tied to a superpower called forgetfulness. My Mum, who now lives in a nursing home, has that superpower. You know who is not at all worried about the pandemic? My Mum. You can tell her there is a pandemic and in five minutes she will have forgotten all about it. While I am happy my Mum is quite happy, none of us want that superpower of forgetfulness and all that goes with it.

We do not normally get to choose our memories, but we do get to choose what we do with them. When we forgive someone we may not forget the offense, but we can channel every memory of an offense into a gracious and wise response.

In some cases, it is unwise to forget the offense, good memories are necessary for health and protection.

Think of the example of a husband who abuses his wife. A wife with an unforgiving spirit might say “Though you have apologized I hope you go to hell for the hell you put me through.” A spouse with a forgiving spirit, but a “forgiveness = forgetfulness” kind of thinking might say, “since you apologized again, let us start over again as if nothing has happened.” A spouse growing in grace, but having a wise memory might say “I hope you get help, repent, and become a better man. I hope you live and die in the arms of Jesus. But if you raise a fist against me again, you will not live and die in my arms. You have apologized and I forgive you, but the past offenses are in my memory and my memories lead me to put boundaries in place for my safety.”

Forgiveness is not to be confused with forgetfulness. They are two very different things. If we struggle with trying to “forgive and forget,” perhaps we should stop trying to forget. Instead let us focus on responding with grace and wisdom when we face offense and when we remember.

We may think, I alone have difficulty forgiving others.

Notice that Jesus teaches us to pray in the plural. It is not “as I have forgiven my debtors,” but “as we have forgiven our debtors.” We are in this together.

There are many of us learning to forgive. There are many of us growing in grace. There are none of us who have arrived. You are not alone on the journey. This is why the experience of Christian community is important. We support one another on the journey. If we are struggling to forgive, let us take a deeper dive into meaningful relationships with people who are walking with Jesus and growing in the Spirit.

We thank God for forgiveness we experience in Christ. We thank God that he grows our capacity to forgive through His Spirit. Let us be so growing in our relationship with God in Christ that we pray “as we have forgiven our debtors,” and not “as we struggle to forgive others.”

(Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The message portion alone can be seen here.)


We have two articles in this series from Clarke this week. Watch for the second one tomorrow.

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