Christianity 201

September 16, 2017

God Doesn’t Owe You

Nine years ago, in what was probably one of the shortest posts at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote this:

After walking a couple of dogs for a half-hour each, and cleaning out 14 cat cages, my son draws this conclusion about his first day helping out at the shelter:

“I volunteered for 90 minutes today at the animal shelter.   Somebody owes me.”

Is this a misunderstanding of the concept affecting his generation, or have we failed as parents?   Do we ever feel that way when we do things for God?

I thought about when reading this article by Jonathan Parrish who writes at Walking With Christ Daily, now in its 6th year. To read this at source and then check out their archives, click the title below.

God Reminded Me What He Owes Me

Tonight while doing my devotional God took the time to remind me what He owes me or any other person. God owes me nothing. There is nothing that I can give or do for God that would require God to owe me a favor or something in return. Lets take a look a single moment in the book of Job.

“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
    Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Job 41:11 ESV

That is God speaking directly to Job.  Job has had a pretty rough time, He has lost everything. He lost his children, home, servants, flocks, and even his own health. He is complaining to God wanting to know why. God reminds him who is God. That he owes Job nothing but his grace. I know its hard to see grace in the beginning of Job when all that bad stuff is happening, but God showed Job grace when He told Satan, do what you will but you can’t kill him. He chose to save Job’s life, we see that grace in our own in the cross, when God chose to save our lives from sin, instead of condemning us to a second death. God is reminding him that He is God. That he created everything he had and would have. In Romans and Psalms this thought is mentioned again

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
Romans 11:35 ESV

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

Psalms 24:1-2 ESV

God owns everything. We forget that so often when things don’t go our way. Everything around us, belongs to God. God is allowing us to be stewards of His stuff while we are here on earth. We are stewards of his money, we are stewards of the Gospel, we are stewards of our families and what ever else you can think of.  God has given us everything including our salvation and His mercy.

So the next time you think God owes you something just remember he has already given you everything.


Because we often get first time readers, every few months we like to review our purpose statement:

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

Usage: Items written by Paul Wilkinson contain no links and you are free to use the material provided you link back to C201 and don’t change the wording of quoted sections. For other writers, follow the link in the title and then see if their policies apply to what your planning.

Scriptures: This year we had several trees cut down on our property. Ever broken up a small tree or sticks and been aware of the green color inside? Green shows that there is (or at least was!) life inside. That’s why we highlight scripture here in green. To show that while the words of the various writers whose material we borrow are helpful and instructive, it’s God’s Word that brings life. Individual verses are sourced at BibleHub.com; multiple verse passages are sourced at BibleGateway.com

Writers: We’re always looking for contributions. Check out the ‘submissions’ page.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
 -Galatians 6:9 NIV

September 8, 2017

God is Not a Force

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16: 13-14 ESV

God replied: “I am who am. Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: He Who is has sent me to you.” Exodus 3: 13-15

This may seem like more of a 101 type of topic to many of you, rather than a 201 type of discussion you expect here. But I think it’s important not only to have this matter settled for ourselves, but to have our ears tuned to hear it when spoken by people inside or on the periphery of our Christian community in order that we can offer correction and clarification.

Today we’re returning to the writing of Jeff Loach, who we often referenced in the early days of Thinking Out Loud, and have included here at C201 before. He blogs at Passionately His. Recently we caught up with about a dozen of his most recent topics. Click the title below to read this at source.

Force or Person?

God is not a force.

Many people talk about various forces in the universe, or even about certain forces that may hold divine power.  But let’s not be mistaken:  the God of the Bible – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – is not a force.  God is one, yet three persons.

That gets confusing for some folks, because when we think of a person we think of someone with flesh and bones who walks the earth like we do.  In that sense, we can wrap our heads around the idea that Jesus is, or was, a person, but God the Father?  Not so much.

To make it more confusing, because the Holy Spirit is invisible, many people – even well-meaning followers of Christ – will refer to the Holy Spirit as a force.  But the Holy Spirit is not a force.  The Holy Spirit is a person.

The dictionary generally defines a person in human terms, but the best dictionaries will acknowledge that in Christian theology, a person is defined as one of the three members of the Godhead, i.e., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each is a person.  Not a force, a person.

While this can get into deep philosophy and theology, for the purposes of a brief devotional, let’s understand this:  the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are persons means that God is personal, and we can be in personal relationship with God.

Lots of folks think of God as very far off, unreachable, even unknowable.  But the fact that God is not a force, but is personal, means that God is near, reachable, and knowable.  God showed his great love for us in sending Jesus as the incarnation – God with skin on, literally.  As an old song says, “He’s as close as the mention of his name.”

Forces are impersonal.  God is personal.  Let’s get personal with the God who made us, who loves us with an everlasting love, and who longs to live his life in and through us.

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4.9, NLT).

April 27, 2016

Resurrection: The Big Picture

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 pm
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Clarke Dixon continues his Resurrection Facts series. To read them all, go to April 2016 entries at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, or for this post at source, click here.

•••by Clarke Dixon

When we are being honest, we may be more easily identified as Canadians than Christians. The passion of the typical Christian in Canada just does not seem to be of the same caliber as that of the apostles we meet in the pages of the New Testament. And if the Christians in Corinth in New Testament times were being honest, they would seem to be more easily identified as being Greek than Christian. As we learn in 1st Corinthians 15 their theology was influenced by Greek thinking, especially with regards to the afterlife. Their lacking theology could and would cause a lack in living for Christ:

Do not be deceived:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”
Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

In contrast, there is no doubt about Paul’s allegiance, passion, and priority: “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31a) How is it Paul is so recognizably representing Christ than his birthplace,Tarsus, his religion, Jewish, or his citizenship, Roman, while the Christians at Corinth seem more Greek than anything? How is it Paul is passionate and we are often not? One reason is that he, and others like him, have a bigger and better picture of reality. They have a solid knowledge that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there will be a resurrection to life of anyone who is in Christ. That hope drives Paul to choose the dangerous and difficult path rather than an easier one:

If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

Paul, the other apostles, and many, many Christians down through the centuries have risked their lives, given their lives, lived their lives for Jesus, and shared the Gospel everywhere they went because they had a bigger and better picture of the reality of God’s love and eternal life. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 was encouraging the Christians at Corinth to see this bigger picture and if we feel more Canadian than Christian, perhaps we ought to see it also. Here are a few things to think about:

Our vision of the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of eternal life. Paul’s vision of eternal life put his experiences of life in perspective: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) The notion of glory here is not to be missed. Paul speaks of this glory in what he says immediately before:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Some people think the afterlife of the Christian consists of being a disembodied immortal soul sitting in clouds playing a harp, which of course sounds kind of boring and lacking in glory. That concept is not Biblical. The Bible points us to relationship. We are children of God, and remarkably co-heirs with Christ. We deserve to be neither. All attempts to describe what God has prepared for His children invariably fall short. We simply do not have the language yet to describe glory. Sadly most attempts to describe eternal life are missing God Himself, as if being home for Christmas is more about enjoying the view from the front porch than in enjoying the presence of loved ones.

Our vision of God with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. The picture of disembodied souls flying around captures neither the capability nor desire of God. Indeed such a picture does not even require thinking of God’s presence, many people believing in their souls flying away to some sort of afterlife at death with no idea of God being a part of it. And it does not capture the grand span of Biblical theology. We can make it sound like God is on some sort of plan B, disembodied souls in eternity, because He could not pull off plan A spoken of in the first two chapters of Genesis. He is still on plan A and we look forward to bodily existence in the presence of God following our resurrection.

There is a wonderful thought of being reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. I once heard a pastor powerfully give an illustration of the death of a loved one being like a person taking a journey across a river. We are sad as we say our goodbyes, but upon arriving on the other shore, there is joy as loved ones are reunited. A beautiful illustration but with one problem. God was missing! And at funerals, even Christian ones, God is often is left out of the picture. We need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. To be in His presence will be astounding, more astounding, in fact, than being reunited with loved ones.

Our vision of Jesus with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of who Jesus is. Some who would call themselves Christian would qualify that by saying that Jesus was a great teacher, but just that, and being a Christian means being inspired by his great example and teaching. Jesus therefore has nothing to do with any kind of afterlife we might experience. The New Testament points to a far more divine picture of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. However, skeptics say this results from an evolving picture in the minds of Christians between the events of Easter and the writing of the New Testament documents. People’s memories would have changed they say. Indeed I recently heard a podcast where this was claimed along with appeals to an experiment where people had poor memories of the speeches of American Presidents. I was surprised at the comparison. There is no comparison! Jesus was unforgettable. His teaching astonished. His miracles astounded. His death and resurrection caused people, sinners and skeptics alike, to pick up their crosses and follow. He was unforgettable. The apostles were not changing their stories about Jesus, they were changing their lives for Jesus. They were willing to die, having a bigger and better picture of eternal life, having a bigger and better picture of Jesus and his role in the hope of eternal life.

Our vision of salvation may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God’s grace. Some think there will be no salvation. Some think that salvation can be earned, as if it is an easy thing for us to span the gulf that exists between a sinful creature and Holy Creator. Some think salvation is a right: “You created me, you owe eternal life to me.” Because of our sin, God does not owe us another minute of life either now or in the future. Salvation is God doing something for us we could never do for ourselves, something we do not deserve. There is far more to say about it, but when we truly understand God’s amazing grace, we sing the hymns of the faith with far more passion than than we can muster for our national anthem. When we grasp the depth of His grace, we will want to be known first as Christians, second as Canadians.

If we are lacking passion, it may be because we do not have a clear enough picture of eternal life, God, Jesus, and salvation. Like the Christians of Corinth we may want to trade in a theology shaped by society for the bigger and better picture we get in the Bible.

 

 

July 11, 2015

Reverse Engineering The Promises

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

A few days ago, we re-ran a piece on Thinking Out Loud that has also appeared twice here at C201, though not for three years. Apparently this time around, it really resonated with some people.

The idea was to look at areas in my life where it might seem like “it’s not working” and ask ourselves if maybe we’re doing something wrong.

We need to watch the logic of this however. A Biblical statement of promise such as, “If you do _____, then I [God] will do ______ …” is of the form “If ‘A” then ‘B’.” But we can’t logically automatically assume from that, “If ‘not-B’ then ‘not-A.” Moreover, some of the promises in scripture are guiding principles of how things work. For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it;” is a statement of general principle, but not an iron-clad assurance that every child raised in the love of Christ will not wander from the faith. Clearly, some do. (I realize some will say, ‘I have to believe that eventually they find their way back, or the Bible isn’t true.’ I guess we can debate that some time!)

All that to say, here’s what I wrote as it appeared (without this long introduction) a few days ago…
 
 

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

 

July 5, 2015

Blessed Are…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

Here are two different takes on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. If you are not familiar with the full text, or wish to do some comparison, click here.

Author and theologian Monika Hellwig gives us the following:

  1. The poor in spirit know they are in need and can’t help themselves.
  2. The poor in spirit know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with others.
  3. The poor in spirit rest their security not on things but on people.
  4. The poor in spirit have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
  5. The poor in spirit are less interested in competition and more interested in cooperation.
  6. The poor in spirit instinctively appreciate family, love and relationships over things.
  7. The poor in spirit can wait, because they have learned patience.
  8. The fears of the poor in spirit are more realistic and exaggerate less, because they already know they can survive great suffering and want.
  9. When the poor in spirit have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threatening or scolding.
  10. The poor in spirit can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.

~found in files; original source unknown; one blog notes a citation in The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.

The Beatitude Creed:

I believe that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
I believe there will be comfort for those who mourn.
I believe that being meek is a good thing and that those who give everything will inherit the earth.
I believe that those whose heart is set on seeking righteousness will find it.
I believe the merciful will receive more than they think they deserve.
I believe the pure in heart will be blessed and will see God.
I believe that those who long for peace and do more than others think is safe are children of the living God.
I believe in a place of safety for those who are hurt for trying to do the right thing.

I believe that being poor, and ignored and weak, and sick and tired and broken and messed up and kicked around is not as spiritually dangerous as being self-satisfied and clever and well-clothed and well-fed and degreed and creed-ed and important.

~posted July 17th, 2008 at A Life Reviewed blog – Joe and Heather live in Coventry in the English West Midlands

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

May 9, 2015

Sinning Against Another vs. Sinning Against God

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

One of my favorite quotations is from Jerry Bridges in The Pursuit of Holiness, where he says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.” (I think I’ve got that more or less word-for-word.) In other words, if it is sin at all, it doesn’t matter if is against ourselves (eg. failing to observe Biblical directives re. gluttony), against our neighbor (eg. a violation of any one of the ‘second tablet’ ten commandments), or against God (eg. blasphemy, failing to give God worship He is due); all of it is against God’s holy standards.

(Paul alludes to something similar in I Cor. 6:18: Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Italics added)

But this verse seems to provide us with a different level — hinted at in the third type I listed above — of sin, “sins against the Lord.”

To begin, let’s see how some other translations (NIV is above) deal with this first part of verse 25. Compare at this page.

As it turns out only the (old) Living Bible in any way remotely departs from the wording, and even it is very close:

Ordinary sin receives heavy punishment, but how much more this sin of yours that has been committed against the Lord!

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

Perhaps this discussion leaves you wanting more. I was surprised at how print commentaries and their online counterparts were often silent on this verse.  Feel free to engage this in the comments section.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

Psalm 51:4 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 25, 2012

Seeing God Face To Face

NIV Ex. 33: 18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

God artistic license grantedThe inspirational gospel singer Sandy Patti once had a song out called “We Shall Behold Him.”* Have you ever wondered what that might be like when we first see him, as the song says, “face to face in all of his splendor?”

In his earthly body, Moses returned from Mt. Sinai severely sunburned — so to speak — after being in close contact with God. In the New Testament, when Jesus became “transfigured,” he appeared in dazzling white.

Exodus 33 says that no man — i.e. no human being in their present state — can look at God and live. The image and presence of God is simply too much. However, the Bible in Deuteronomy suggests something else. Even Moses in other encounters spoke face-to-face with God.

Still; lying in bed the other night unable to sleep, I wondered about the whole subject of what will strike us the first time we do in fact behold Him. Usually the verse is quoted that suggests that God made us to look like Him. I have a hard time taking this literally. In fact, in one period of my life, I was convinced this would be better interpreted that “God made us out of his imagination.” I still believe there are fewer similarities than most of us think.

What if C.S. Lewis’ depiction of God as Lion is more accurate than what many of us have in mind: “He’s not safe, but he’s good” — referring to Aslan, the Lion, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

Or what if God is able to shape-shift or transform or morph into a second form, or many different forms? (Well, of course “is able” isn’t the question…)

I just wonder if some day, as we stand there and God makes His first appearance to us if we will just stand there going, “Holy mackerel;” or “Holy smokes;” or… well I know I’ve probably got the “Holy” part right.

I can guarantee it won’t be a Wizard of Oz moment with God simply being a man — who looks like us — behind the curtain. The concept scares the hell out of me. Literally. It’s supposed to.

So what do you think God looks like?


skydome*I always thought “We Shall Behold Him” would be best performed at the Rogers Centre (aka Skydome) in Toronto or any other stadium with a retractable roof. (At night, of course.) As the roof unexpectedly unlocks and begins to divide into two sections, a powerful soprano begins the lyric of the first verse, “The sky shall unfold…” Even more cool if at that exact moment God makes the whole sky light up like it was daytime. He could do that.

(The picture is a daytime shot with the roof partly opening or closing. )

June 2, 2011

Going Deep, Staying Real

Today, a reprint from June of last year…

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

March 7, 2011

Seeing Illness as a Blessing

Yesterday’s and today’s items here don’t have any specific scripture references.  I wrote this three years ago at an obvious low point, and thought it might be applicable to someone reading it today; maybe you are that person.  Readers may want to add a scripture verse in the comments that references one or all of the points here…

  • Illness forces us to slow down, and that forces us to do the things that really matter, and that forces us to decide what really matters
  • Illness forces us to ask God for help on behalf of ourselves, which seems selfish at times, so first we have to apologize for asking
  • Illness causes us to ask other believers to join in prayer for us, which can be rather humbling
  • Illness helps us remember others who are suffering, it helps us to identify and empathize with their situation
  • Illness – while not necessarily caused by sin -brings us to a wonderful season of self examination and determination to aim for greater holiness
  • Illness reminds us of our mortality; our material culture has forced us to cling to everything including life itself, but our lives have an expiry date
  • Illness has a mellowing, sobering effect on us – some things can become potentially more irritating, but some other things no longer matter as much
  • Illness forces us to ask bigger questions; Is God in control? Does He care about the details of my life? Will he intervene in a special way?
  • Illness brings into clarity other times we were ill, and reminds us that God brought us through that time
  • Illness helps us hear Christian songs differently; “I thank God for the mountains, and I thank him for the valleys…” Can I do that right now?

I’m sure there are other things, too. Most of the prayer requests in our churches are for issues people are dealing with in their physical bodies. Pray specifically for one another. If you are the person for whom this was for today, listen for God’s voice in the middle of all you’re going through.

November 10, 2010

Taking the Message to the Streets (and Malls)

I’d seen this video embedded on other peoples’ blogs and didn’t really think about it a whole lot until this picture of the giant Wanamaker pipe organ got me curious enough to listen.   Apparently, it’s the largest pipe organ in the world.

I followed the link to Creative Minority where I learned more:

Just this past weekend, shoppers at the the Macy’s in Philadelphia (the old Wanamaker building) were surprised when over 600 choristers who were there mingling with regular shoppers suddenly burst into Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. It’s pretty awesome.

The Opera Company of Philadelphia was instrumental in bringing it together to perform one of the Knight Foundation’s “1000 Random Acts of Culture” which they’ll be doing over the next three years… The singers burst into song at exactly noon.

But it was thinking about the words they were proclaiming in a public space — okay, technically a privately owned, yet ‘public’ space’ — that really got to me:

Hallelujah!

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever.

King of kings, and Lord of lords

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

That’s actually all there is to it in terms of unique lyrics.  But how powerful!

Musicians can and do try to analyze the piece musically.    But we know different.   The force of the song is in the lyrics, taken from Revelation 11:15

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become [the kingdoms] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (KJV)

Other translations — even the NLT and The Message (gasp!) stay with this overall form, but the New Century Version simplifies it for younger ears:

“The power to rule the world now belongs to our Lord and his Christ,and he will rule forever and ever.”

How do we end this consideration? How about with these words:

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

October 28, 2010

Some People Get Paid for Being Anxious, and Some People Are Anxious For Nothing

The post title is a play on the King James Version’s rendering, “Be anxious for nothing.”   …I know, it’s a bad pun…

…Some of us might get defensive if we were challenged concerning the depth of our faith by any one of a number of criteria; but if you challenged my faith on the basis of worry and anxiety, I would often concede spiritual defeat.   Worry is my Achilles’ heel.  Can you relate?  So I really appreciated Jon Swanson’s paraphrase of a well-known verse from Phil. 4 today at his blog, 300 Words a Day

I understand being anxious.

Not in the “looking forward to” sense or the “can hardly wait” sense but in the “aaaiiieee” sense. And I understand that what I’m about to write is easier to say than to do. But that isn’t a reason to not write it.

Paul makes a very simple statement in Philippians 4. He says, “Don’t be anxious about anything.”

That sounds like scolding, a little bit. “Buck up. Everything will be okay.” Or, “Quit yer whinin’, ya wimp.” Or, “If you really were a Christian, a good Christian, you wouldn’t be anxious.”

I’ve been told things like that. I’ve probably been understood to say them.  But Paul’s not saying those things.

He says,

“You know how it helps sometimes to have someone to talk to? You know how saying things out loud clarifies them? You know how asking the right person often means that something can be done? You know how when you finally quit trying to fix everything and ask for help, you might get help? You know how when you take one little step of trusting, sometimes everything changes?

Take everything you are thinking about and everything you are keeping inside your head and heart and tell God about them. Out loud. However it comes out: incoherently and angrily and passionately and stream of consciously and interspersed with laughter and incredulity that you are talking to God about huge and tiny things all together.”

Okay, technically he says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

But I’m pretty sure that what he means is what I said. Because that’s what it looks like when I actually stop running and troubleshooting long enough to find a soundproof room and do what he says.

~Jon at 300 Words a Day

October 8, 2010

Wanting To Hear From God

Over the past six months I’ve discovered that launching a blog of this nature is much more challenging than when I launched Thinking Out Loud earlier.   People will gravitate to topical articles, humor, cartoons, links to other blogs, and the latest gossip information about famous Christian individuals.   Even theological and doctrinal blogs will get a good following because people love a good debate.

But it’s the people who are serious about their faith that will seek out a devotional blog.   They want something that digs a little deeper, that cuts to the heart, or that processes things at a 201 or 301 level instead of just Christianity 101.   (And I confess that I some days, we don’t always get there.)   What is he speaking to fellow believers on the internet? What is God saying to me today?

I’m currently reading The Power of A Whisper by Bill Hybels (Zondervan) which is an entire book devoted to hearing God’s voice.    Here’s a checklist from page 108 of the book for your consideration if you feel that you’re not hearing God’s voice:

First, fervently and frequently ask God to improve your hearing.  Pray every day for God to give you ears like the prophet Samuel’s.  Ask Him for increased capacity to discern His voice and for heightened attentiveness to his promptings.

Second, reduce the ambient noise in your life.   For me, a sure way to get quiet before God is to head off solo on a boat.   For you, it might be listening for Him while you are driving, exercising or enjoying the quiet of your bedroom at night.  Wherever it is, be sure to carve out moments in your day when you can practice listening for the voice of God.

Third, you simply must fill your head with scripture…  Most of the promptings we receive at critical decision points in life come as the Holy Spirit reminds us of scriptures we already know.   We hear whispers that reinforce Biblical truths and we understand immediately what the Spirit is trying to say to us.  So saturate yourself with God’s word and see if His whispers don’t increase over time.

Finally, the Bible makes it clear that any ongoing pattern of wrongdoing compromises our communication with God — in both directions.   Our prayers don’t get through to God and God’s promptings don’t get through to us.  If you are stuck in a rut of sinfulness and deceit, confess your sin and turn away from it today.   Let the laser light of truth permeate every corner of your life.   Don’t truncate your communications with the Father because you’re unwilling to let go of a sin pattern in your life.

October 1, 2010

Two Headlines, Two Choices

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:36 pm
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Although today’s post is a little longer, I want to introduce you to Cindy, who lives in the Hawaiian Islands and blogs as Cindy By The Sea.   Romantic, huh?   Her blogs posts feature a mix of politics and current events combined with scripture.    This one was posted last month under the title The Dividing Line.

In the early morning hours of September 4, a powerful earthquake shook residents awake in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. At an estimated 7.1, it was the most powerful earthquake to strike the region in many years.  I find it interesting that the epicenter for this earthquake should be a city called Christchurch on the day following two very significant headlines making news on September 2.

On the day prior to the New Zealand quake, two headlines (among others) competed for attention.  One was the Mid-East peace talks taking place in Washington DC and the other was the announcement by world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking that the universe was not created by God, but, was rather a spontaneous event related to the law of gravity.  For these two headlines to share space on the same day can hardly be called coincidence.

The Bible tells us of course, that the heavens declare the glory of God and the reality of his existence. It doesn’t take the mind of a Stephen Hawking, a powerful telescope or a degree in physics to tell us this. All it takes is a look in to the night skies for the simplest of people to understand.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands, Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”   Psalm 19: 1-3

Through the heavens God has made himself known; through Israel, God has made himself knowable.

Chosen for a purpose

In Isaiah 43:10, speaking of Israel, God says:

“You are my witnesses saith the Lord, my servant whom I have chosen that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”

In other words, it is Israel who bears witness to a knowable God.  A God who has made himself known, a God who loves us so much that he sent his only Son, a God who has a plan for our future and knows the beginning from the end. A God who chose Israel to be his instrument of grace (specifically fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah). I believe the headlines of Sept 2 clearly outline the choices we face today, whether people realize it or not.

Do we choose a Stephen Hawking world and the humanistic philosophy which naturally follows or do we stand with the God of the Bible in support of Israel?

Choose this day whom you will serve!

Lines are being drawn now and in the not too distant future, it will become increasingly difficult to have a foot in each camp – in fact, it will become impossible.

I thought it was interesting that the James Lee, Discovery Channel hostage situation occurred the same day as the Hocking announcement.  A clear indication to anyone paying attention of the natural outcome (tragedy and death) of a humanistic, self-centered, ”no-God” society.  Mr. Lee, a deranged individual (or perhaps just a strong proponent of the earth first propaganda that has been force-fed to us by the humanistic environmentalists) who believed with such fervor that humans and the birth of new babies are the scourge of the earth; so much so, that he was willing to take up arms to prove his point.

When the walls crumbled in Christchurch, it may have been a warning for the church of Laodicea, that you can only straddle the fence so long before you will fall.  Like the house built on the sand, without the firm foundation of Christ; collapse is certain.  Sadly, the humanistic philosophy of the culture has infiltrated the teachings of the church which bears his name.  And, among the many heresies which have crept into the body, none is more insidious and sinister than that of doubting the truth and infallibility of his word. Evidenced by a number of things such as – the acceptance of the gay agenda, support of abortion rights, denial of creation as outlined in Genesis, denial of the miracles of the Bible, denial of Jesus as the only way and denial of God’s calling and purpose for Israel, among a whole host of other things.

In these last days, God has brought Israel to the forefront and what happens with Israel is instrumental to the return of Jesus.  In Matthew 25:31-46, we read of the judgment of the sheep and goats -in this passage, the sheep and goats are separated.  And, the basis on which they are separated is this: how the brethern of Christ (Israel – the Jews) have been treated.  Take note Quartet and all others who doubt God’s word and who seek the division and destruction of Jerusalem, this is the dividing line for nations and it is on this basis, by which you shall be judged.

~ cindybythesea

September 18, 2010

We Pray to Him; He Prays for Us

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Here’s a great post from Chin chin at the blog, Inspirational Life Quotes that really speaks for itself… I hope you enjoy this as I did today…

Whenever I ask Janel, my 4-year old daughter, to pray at night before going to bed, she happily says “Lord, i-pray Nyo po si mommy, daddy, Ate Kristel…. (Lord, please pray for mommy, daddy, Ate Kristel…)  I always tell her (maybe more than 10 times already) that we are the ones praying so we should say “Lord, we pray ….”  But, then, she continues to pray using such words.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about it and I believe she is right in some sense to pray using those words.  There are 3 instances in the Scripture which I have found saying that Jesus or the Holy Spirit is praying on our behalf.

The first is in 1 John 2:1-2 which says

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

This passage says that when we sin and we confess our sins, we receive forgiveness because Jesus, the Righteous One, speaks to the Father on our behalf.  Being the one sacrifice who atoned for our sins, Jesus turns aside God’s wrath taking away our sins.

The second is in Hebrews 7:24-25 which says

…but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Cindy Trimm, the author of The Art of War for Spiritual Battle, mentioned  that we should always remember that “Christ died for us and He ever lives to make intercession for us.  We cannot beat the devil, but Christ has already defeated him.”  So,  when we come to God in prayer, He is always able to save us because Jesus, acting as high priest, is always on the job to speak up for us.

The third passage is in Romans 8:26-27 which says

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Have you experienced times when you feel overwhelmed that you don’t know what to pray for? Have there been times when you suddenly, out of the blue, remember someone and you feel that you need to pray for him but you don’t know what to pray for?

This passage says that during these times, the Spirit is able to help us in our prayers, interceding for us with wordless sighs and groans that words cannot express. It’s like a pregnant woman travailing from the onset of contractions to the birth of the child.  Though we may not be sure at all what we are groaning about, the Spirit searches our hearts and mind and intercedes for us the way God wants him to. I have read of many testimonials of people praying this way that led to miracles in the lives of people they love.

It is amazing what a right relationship with Jesus can do in our prayer lives.  We are assured that He is forever interceding for us so that we may always live a victorious life.  The thief [devil] may have come to steal, kill and destroy, but because of Jesus, we experience life to its fullness.

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