Christianity 201

September 22, 2017

Basing Decision-Making on a Carnal Mind’s Senses

The title I used today — the author’s (below) was equally long — was the best way I could wrap my head around the insight from today’s writer. We’re paying a return visit to the blog of Justin Petrick Ministries. Click the title below to read at source.

What Does it Really Mean to Walk by Faith and Not by Sight?

What does it mean to “walk by faith and not by sight,” as instructed in 2 Corinthians 5:7? This is one of the main words of wisdom or instruction you hear one giving to another, when an individual doesn’t know what to do. But is the meaning of this verse really in the context of walking blindly as so commonly believed? No, it is not.

A more accurate translation of this verse is to walk by faith, and not by what is seen, or what appears to be.  It means to not be guided by this natural realm, or what you see and experience on this earth.  Specifically, it means to not make decisions based on a carnal mind, or by using your 5 senses.  There is a big difference in not allowing yourself to be guided by this earthly realm, and to walk blindly.

When we focus on the things of this world, we will desire this world and we will pursue what it has to offer. This relationship is discussed in Romans 7 when it speaks of carnality and the law of the mind.  It is natural for us to be guided by our carnal mind, or by what is seen.  On the other hand, God does not expect us to walk blindly in this world.  We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), we have access to the direction of the Holy Spirit who is intimately connected to us in this earthly realm that He guides our steps (Proverbs 16:9). God is so intimately connected to you that He desires to direct your steps.  To me, that is not walking blindly.  We can feel like were walking blindly when we are distracted from God’s presence, and we don’t hear His still small voice among the loud circumstances of everyday life.

But was does it mean to walk by faith? Just like God instructs us not to make decisions based on what we see, when we walk in faith, it is also speaking of our decision-making process. Let us look at the definition of faith in Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:1 (KJV): Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Most people believe faith is believing in what is not seen.  Although true, it is only half the definition in that they leave out the substance of hope.  Substance means something that you can tangibly see, or measure objectively. In other words, when one has faith, it can be observed. How can faith be observed?  It can be observed through making decisions with the confident expectation of God’s goodness.  This is how faith manifests in everyday life, when you make decisions with a confident expectation that God’s Word will do what it promises you. You will make decisions that are grounded in the peace and love of Christ. It is the opposite of making decisions based on fear, stress, anxiety, and worry, or through not believing God will do what He says in His Word.

Therefore, when we walk by faith and not by sight, it is meaning that we are living life making decisions with a confident expectation that God will do what He has promised in His Word.  We make decisions in life knowing that God is faithful, that we are loved, and that we are saved, healed, delivered prospered, protected, preserved, and made whole.  It means that we won’t make decisions based on fear, but in the security that God has everything under compete control.

So, do you walk by faith and not by sight?  Do you make decisions based on God’s faithfulness, or are decisions made with the motivation of fear and worry?

1 John 4:18 (KJV): There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

 

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).

August 18, 2017

Expecting a Minimal Response from God

I’ve mentioned before that the only devotional I actually subscribe to is Breakfast of Champions, from the ministry Great Big Life. The devotionals are now being credited to both Andy and Gina Elmes. Here’s one from about a week ago:

Are you expecting abundance from God, or just enough?

Do you know today, Champion, that your God is a God of abundance? And all of His plans and intentions toward you are always plans and intentions of abundance, not ‘just enough’.

Here are some verses to think on today; they all reveal to us God’s abundant intentions towards us for different areas of our lives.

1. The measurement of His saving grace (unmerited favour)

Romans 5:17 (NKJV)
For if by the one man’s offence death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Notice that it is abundance, not ‘just enough’. It’s when you understand this truth, and also that you have been made perfectly righteous through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, that you will reign in life as promised!

2. His provision in our lives – again, notice it does not say ‘just enough’!

2 Corinthians 9:8 (NKJV)
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.

  • All grace (not some)
  • All sufficiency (not some)
  • All things (not some)

3. The quality of new life He has for us in Christ.

John 10:10 (NKJV)
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (in abundance).

4. The giving of His Spirit, to transform us into all we are called to be.

Titus 3:5-6 (NKJV)
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Good news: His ability matches His intentions. God is not just wanting to do abundantly for us in these areas of life and so many more, He is able too! He is the God who is able to and wants to do abundantly in your life, so start expecting abundance. Sadly, some of those damaging doctrines of religion made by men have left us all for too long expecting nothing or very little from God. It’s time to bring our thinking into alignment with His word and truth – God wants to do abundantly for you so make room in your life for it!

Ephesians 3:20 (NKJV)
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.

Stop expecting a bit, Champion, and start thanking Him for abundance!


Learn more about the UK ministry Great Big Life. Click this link to have it delivered to your inbox each weekday.

August 15, 2017

The Measure of God’s Goodness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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One of my earliest “online friendships” with another Christian blogger was with Rick Apperson who is a Salvation Army officer in British Columbia, Canada and also the author of Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ, published by Westbow. Although he is not actively writing right now, I found this 2016 article and wanted to share it with you. Click the title below to read at source. See if you can sense which paragraph of the article inspired me to give it the title we used here.

Is God Good?

I have often heard the question asked, “Is God Good?”

When I answer in the affirmative, the follow up tends to be, “well then why does He allow suffering?” Or even, “Then how can He send people to Hell?”

It would seem that everyone wants to experience His grace, mercy and love but no one wants to hear His truth!  We want the good and none of the bad. The Bible clearly says the God is love (1 John 4:8), but it also says that He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).

So if God is good, then how come He punishes those who refuse to repent? I appreciate this quote from Salvation Army officer,  Samuel Brengle (1860-1936): In his book Love Slaves he writes that “Fire will not only bake our food, but it will burn us. Water will not only quench our thirst and refresh us, but if we trifle with it, it will drown us.”

God is good, but He is not to be trifled with. He has given us the freedom to choose eternal life in Heaven or Hell, to follow or reject Him. We can accept His wisdom and submit to His will, and live in true joy and peace, or, we can reject His offer of life in Christ, and pay the eternal consequences. Holding  us accountable for our sins does not negate His goodness.

God is good, loving, compassionate and slow to anger, but He is also holy and righteous. We can’t continue on a path that breaks His laws and not expect to be disciplined anymore than we can continually break man’s laws and not expect punishment. I can choose to obey the law of the land and enjoy the privileges of being a citizen in good standing, or violate those laws and reap the consequences…the choice is mine but being punished in the courts is not the fault of the ones who set the law in place, it is the fault of the lawbreaker.

Is God good? Absolutely.

Is He fair? Undoubtedly.

The question isn’t really is God good but Who will I follow and obey, my own idea of truth or His?

For me, Psalm 84:10 says it best,

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

July 24, 2017

Mystery: God’s Transcendence and God’s Friendship

Last year at this time we quote Gary Henry at WordPoints as part of a longer article. Today we’re back with two recent posts from his site which show two sides of God: That he is wholly other (transcendence) and can also be our friend (immanence).  Click the titles of each to read at source and then take some time to look around the rest of the site.

Awed by God’s Grandeur

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:17).

ON SOME LEVEL, EVERY HUMAN BEING CAN UNDERSTAND THE AMAZEMENT OF JACOB WHEN HE REALIZED WHAT HE WAS SEEING

As he slept that night at Bethel, fleeing from his brother’s wrath and with a stone as his pillow, he dreamed of “a ladder [that] was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). Above the ladder was God Himself, who spoke to Jacob words of promise and hope. And having grasped this portion of God’s greatness, Jacob was a man changed for the better.

Like Jacob, we need to contemplate the majesty of God and the marvel of His communication with His creation. Nothing is more healthy for us spiritually than to be struck by the wonderful lightning of God’s grandeur. It is a truly transforming experience.

It was Immanuel Kant who said, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe — the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The connection between these two sources of wonder is more than coincidental. We can’t give serious consideration to God’s greatness without being appalled by the huge chasm between His perfection and our imperfection. To be awed by God’s grandeur is to be moved to turn away from anything inconsistent with His glory. Thus for fallen creatures like us, there must always be strong elements of humility and repentance in worship. “Repentance is the process by which we see ourselves, day by day, as we really are: sinful, needy, dependent people. It is the process by which we see God as he is: awesome, majestic, and holy” (Charles Colson). For us, godly sorrow should be a quite natural part of our reverence.

God’s grandeur . . . our need . . . unutterable awe. These things are the very heartbeat of religion. If we really live in God, we’ll lose ourselves in wonder before Him.

For worship is a thirsty land crying out for rain,
It is a candle in the act of being kindled,
It is a drop in quest of the ocean, . . .
It is a voice in the night calling for help,
It is a soul standing in awe before the mystery of the universe, . . .
It is time flowing into eternity, . . .
[It is] a man climbing the altar stairs to God.
(Dwight Bradley)

What Good Is God’s Friendship?

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

COULD WE POSSIBLY PUT A PRICE TAG ON GOD’S FRIENDSHIP?

Even among all the good things that are available to us, is there anything that a wise person wouldn’t give up in order to have God? The privilege of knowing God through Christ so far surpasses the value of everything else that Paul said he would gladly “count all things loss” in order to have this one thing.

God’s friendship is good not because it “pays” us to be His friend, but simply because of God Himself. Whatever blessings may flow from God (and there are many indeed), these are only secondary benefits or by-products of our friendship with Him. If such things ever take center stage and become our primary motivation, they cease to be good things and become idols. Nothing must be allowed to take the place of God in our hearts, not even God’s own gifts to us. To have God alone is to have wealth untold, and to be without Him is the very definition of poverty.

But although God’s friendship surpasses the worth of anything else in existence, we not only fail to value it as we should, but there are times when we go so far as to trade it away. Faced with a choice between God’s friendship and that of our worldly peers, we often seek the favor of our peers by doing things that greatly damage our relationship with God. Maybe we suppose that we can have it both ways, or maybe we’re just being thoughtless. But in any case, we’re being quite foolish when we try to maintain equal measures of God’s friendship and the friendship of the world. James put it bluntly: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23,24).

“We regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire” (Gregory of Nyssa).

 

 

July 4, 2017

If God Could Have Your Attention for Just a Moment

We’ve linked to Ed Cyzewski many times at Thinking Out Loud, but this is his first appearance at C201. This is the first part of a longer article; you’re encouraged to click the title below to read the full piece.

What Would God Shout at You from a Cloud?

In the Gospel of Matthew, there are two instances where a cloud appears over Jesus and God shouts two brief, identical messages. I have often wondered what God would shout at me in a similar situation.

Honestly, I tend to think God would shout negative things at me. I imagine God telling me to stop doing something or to do more of something. In either case, the message would focus on the ways I’m falling short and have been inadequate.

I have struggled to imagine a loving and merciful God. It’s much easier to imagine a God who is either disappointed or really, really angry.

Bringing up this disappointed/angry image of God with people tends to strike a nerve.

What would God shout at you?  

-volunteer more!
spend less money!
stop obsessing about your body image!
share the Gospel more!
stop lusting!
help more people in need!
read the Bible more!
pray more!
go to a different church!
spend less time on social media!

We can’t imagine that God the Father is for us and loves us. We can only imagine God showing up in a cloud and telling us to get our acts together, to start doing something different.

God the Father isn’t typically imagined as being on our side. God the Father is somehow joined with Jesus in the Trinity but remains disappointed in us and in need of a blood sacrifice to make us acceptable in his sight, working out a loophole in his infinite holiness and justice.

Before Jesus launched his ministry and before Jesus ventured to Jerusalem where he would be killed and then rise from the dead, God the Father spoke the same message over Jesus:

This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

Matthew 3:16-17

 “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!

Matthew 17:5

On both occasions, God the Father affirmed the Son. On the first occasion Jesus had not even started his ministry.

I have tended to write off the significance of these moments between the Father and the Son. However, I now think that this was a big mistake on my part.

Jesus came to unite us with God, adopting us in God’s family. Paul writes that our identity is hidden away in Christ. In the midst of this union with Christ, we dare not overlook the love of God for us that goes beyond our comprehension:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Through the ministry of Jesus and our union with him, we have a new way of thinking about God. If God is our Father through our union with the Son, then it isn’t far-fetched to say that God’s first thought of us is love and a desire for deeper union with us. God desires to heal, redeem, and restore his children.

Failing to believe that I am a child of God is the most important obstacle for prayer. Once I believe that God loves and accepts me like Jesus is loved and accepted, prayer becomes a moment to rest in God’s love rather than a game of hide and go seek with God or a proving ground for my spirituality…

May 20, 2017

Who is God?

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
~ A.W. Tozer

This week I got to enjoy a fascinating interview on The Phil Vischer Show with John Mark Comer, author of the book, God Has a Name. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of this book and reviewing it on Thinking Out Loud.

He went on to elaborate that your thoughts about God will define your life; shape your destiny. The hosts bantered with him for a few minutes, and then he got to the meat of the interview and the heart of the book; namely that it is commentary on Exodus 34:6-7 which is “the most quoted book in the Bible by the Bible.”

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

He said that it’s interesting that when God describes himself, he doesn’t use the words we would use — omniscient, omnipotent, etc. — but first he tells his name, but then he describes his personality; his character traits; he provides a highly relational description.

Of this passage, Matthew Henry wrote:

The Lord descended by some open token of his presence and manifestation of his glory in a cloud, and thence proclaimed his NAME; that is, the perfections and character which are denoted by the name JEHOVAH.

The Lord God is merciful; ready to forgive the sinner, and to relieve the needy. Gracious; kind, and ready to bestow undeserved benefits. Long-suffering; slow to anger, giving time for repentance, only punishing when it is needful. He is abundant in goodness and truth; even sinners receive the riches of his bounty abundantly, though they abuse them.

All he reveals is infallible truth, all he promises is in faithfulness. Keeping mercy for thousands; he continually shows mercy to sinners, and has treasures, which cannot be exhausted, to the end of time. Forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin; his mercy and goodness reach to the full and free forgiveness of sin. And will by no means clear the guilty; the holiness and justice of God are part of his goodness and love towards all his creatures.

In Christ’s sufferings, the Divine holiness and justice are fully shown, and the evil of sin is made known. God’s forgiving mercy is always attended by his converting, sanctifying grace. None are pardoned but those who repent and forsake the allowed practice of every sin; nor shall any escape, who abuse, neglect, or despise this great salvation. Moses bowed down, and worshipped reverently.

Every perfection in the name of God, the believer may plead with Him for the forgiveness of his sins, the making holy of his heart, and the enlargement of the Redeemer’s kingdom.

bold face emphasis added

John Wesley’s commentary on this passage:

And the Lord passed by before him – Fixed views of God are reserved for the future state; the best we have in this world are transient. And proclaimed the name of the Lord – By which he would make himself known. He had made himself known to Moses in the glory of his self – existence, and self – sufficiency, when he proclaimed that name, I am that I am; now he makes himself known in the glory of his grace and goodness, and all – sufficiency to us. The proclaiming of it notes the universal extent of God’s mercy; he is not only good to Israel, but good to all. The God with whom we have to do is a great God. He is Jehovah, the Lord, that hath his being of himself, and is the fountain of all being; Jehovah – El, the Lord, the strong God, a God of almighty power himself, and the original of all power. This is prefixed before the display of his mercy, to teach us to think and to speak even of God’s goodness with a holy awe, and to encourage us to depend upon these mercies. He is a good God. His greatness and goodness illustrate each other. That his greatness may not make us afraid, we are told how good he is; and that we may not presume upon his goodness, we are told how great he is. Many words are here heaped up to acquaint us with, and convince us of God’s goodness.

1st, He is merciful, This speaks his pity, and tender companion, like that of a father to his children. This is put first, because it is the first wheel in all the instances of God’s good – will to fallen man.

2ndly, He is gracious. This speaks both freeness, and kindness: it speaks him not only to have a compassion to his creatures, but a complacency in them, and in doing good to them; and this of his own good – will, not for the sake of any thing in them.

3dly, He is long suffering. This is a branch of God’s goodness which our wickedness gives occasion for. He is long – suffering, that is, he is slow to anger, and delays the executions of his justice, he waits to be gracious, and lengthens out the offers of his mercy.

4thly, He is abundant in goodness and truth. This speaks plentiful goodness; it abounds above our deserts, above our conception. The springs of mercy are always full, the streams of mercy always flowing; there is mercy enough in God, enough for all, enough for each, enough for ever. It speaks promised goodness, goodness and truth put together, goodness engaged by promise.

5thly, He keeps mercy for thousands.This speaks,

    1. Mercy extended to thousands of persons. When he gives to some,still he keeps for others, and is never exhausted:
    2. Mercy entailed upon thousands of generations, even to those upon whom the ends of the world are come; nay, the line of it is drawn parallel with that of eternity itself. 6thly, He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin – Pardoning mercy is instanced in, because in that divine grace is most magnified, and because that it is that opens the door to all other gifts of grace. He forgives offenses of all sorts, iniquity, transgression and sin, multiplies his pardons, and with him is plenteous redemption. He is a just and holy God. For, 1st, He will by no means clear the guilty. He will not clear the impenitently guilty, those that go on still in their trespasses; he will not clear the guilty without satisfaction to his justice. 2dly, He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children – Especially for the punishment of idolaters. Yet he keeps not his anger for ever, but visits to the third and fourth generation only, while he keeps mercy for thousands – This is God’s name for ever, and this is his memorial unto all generations.

To hear the interview with John Mark Comer, go to this link and fast forward to 21:51. Because of time constraints, I wasn’t able to transcribe more of the interview, though I listened to it as I was posting these more classic commentaries on these verses, but I can’t recommend the interview enough. I hope we’ll get to the book itself in the future. (If anyone wants to do a summary transcription of the interview, we’ll definitely print it here.)

 

 

April 22, 2017

The Essence of Our Lives: To God and To the World

Once again we’re paying a return visit to the daily devotional section of the online Bible resource Blue Letter Bible and also returning to the subsection, Pastor Bob Hoekstra’s Day by Day by Grace.  These are related devotionals which ran a day apart and so we’re including links for both parts.

A Fragrance of Christ to God

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge…For we are to God the fragrance of Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

In addition to the characteristic of triumphant living, God also wants to develop in our lives the fragrance of Christ. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.”

Just as there are physical fragrances that can be noticed by our physical senses, there are also spiritual fragrances that can impact us spiritually. If a woman generously applies perfume to herself, others will certainly notice the fragrance of that perfume. If a person consistently presses on to know the Lord, others will definitely be impacted by the fragrance of His knowledge.” This is described as the fragrance of Christ.” This is that spiritual aroma that emanates from the lives of those who are getting to know the Lord. It is a validating reality that the Lord Jesus Christ is dwelling in their lives and is being evidenced through their lives.

As we are getting to know the Lord more and more, this spiritual aroma of Christ blesses even God Himself. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.” Yes, God is the first one who savors this Christlike fragrance.

Our ministry and testimony is always primarily unto the Lord. We who believe in Jesus Christ are to be finding out what is acceptable to the Lord (Ephesians 5:10). We are not here on earth to please ourselves. “Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). We are here to please our God. “Brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

What ultimately pleases our heavenly Father is His beloved Son. When the Father looked down from heaven at the baptism of His Son, He exclaimed, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). When our Father looks down upon our lives today, He wants to enjoy the fragrance of His Son emanating forth from our lives. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.

Heavenly Father, I long to bless You by the fragrance of Christ through my life. I am sorry that the stench of selfish flesh is what sometimes emanates from me. Lord, help me to get to know You more and more, so that the knowledge of You can produce the aroma of Christ in and through me, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Fragrance of Christ to Every Person

Now thanks be to God who…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

The fragrance of Christ is one of the great characteristics that God wants to build into our lives by His grace. “Now thanks be to God who… through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.” This spiritual aroma, which results from getting to know the Lord, blesses the heart of God. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.” The Father loves to see the life of His Son being expressed in and through our humanity, even though this requires our dying to self. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11).

As we are getting to know the Lord more and more, our God is not the only one who is impacted. This spiritual aroma of Christ impacts every person we meet. “God…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” This includes both the saved and the unsaved. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

This fragrance affects those who know the Lord: “the fragrance of Christ…among those who are being saved.” For those who are enjoying life in Christ, that heavenly scent in our lives is “the aroma of life to life.” Christ’s fragrance in us draws them to seek abundant measures of that life which they have already entered.

This spiritual scent also influences those who do not yet know our Lord: “the fragrance of Christ…among those who are perishing.” To them it is “the aroma of death to death.” They are dead in their sins, and this aroma makes them more aware of their deadness, more aware of their need for Christ.

When this fragrance is emanating from our lives, we are not the cause. God is the active agent, working in and through us to bring forth this heavenly scent. “Now thanks be to God who…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.” This work of God’s grace is available to us every day we live and every place we go: “the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”

Father God, I long to know You more and more. I want to have this fragrance of Christ emanating up to You and out to every one I meet. I praise You that this is a work You do by Your grace. So, I humbly bow, trusting You to work in me this way, through Christ, my Lord, Amen.

 

March 25, 2017

Temptation

As I mentioned yesterday, last March I introduced you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This weekend we’ve returned there, sharing two other authors from the site. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

by Keith Harris

Jesus prayed, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13).  Many would respond that certainly God would never lead us into temptation.  This verse then becomes the more puzzling phrase of this prayer.  Notice a couple of similar texts.  Matthew 26:41 says, Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”   James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:2, 12).  Understanding this request requires a look at the Greek word “pārasmos”.  This word is often translated as trial or test.  This is the same word for temptation.  This word is used in Hebrews 2:18 which says, For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  The same Greek word (pārasmos) is used of Abraham in Hebrews 11:17, By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…  It is used of Jesus in Matthew 4:1, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Certainly, temptation is a reality for us all.  To avoid temptation entirely would be to place ourselves above Jesus.  The implication of this verse in Hebrews is that there was benefit in the temptation.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil.  We make a significant distinction between the words, “temptation,” “test,” and “trial”.  Many questions arise in this study.  Was Jesus really tempted to give in or was he strong in his resolve?  Different people come to different conclusions, and for various reasons.  We make a distinct difference that is not easily discerned in the words alone.  But two things are clear in scripture: 1) God does not tempt anyone to do evil, 2) Satan is out to get us by pulling us into evil.

First, God does not tempt us to do that which is contrary to his will.  James says, Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (James 1:13).  God is not out to get us.  He is not trying to trap us.  He is not sitting on his throne, looking down just waiting for us to mess up so he can zap us.  God desires for us to do his will.  He does not tempt us to do evil.  Second, Satan is out to get us by pulling us into evil.  Peter says, Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan is real.  His desire is for us to turn away from God, to disregard the will of God.  And he works diligently to trap us, to cause us to question the will of God, to see the pleasure of sin.  It is Satan who is out to get us, not God.

The truth is, we all have areas of weakness.  We all have those vulnerable spots in our spiritual journey where Satan seeks to penetrate, driving a wedge between us and God.  The request of this prayer is that God keep will us from that place of vulnerability.  We need to learn where we are vulnerable.  Think about a infants soft spot (anterior fontanel).  It’s that place on the top of their head where the bones in the skull have not fully fused, leaving the infant vulnerable to any impact.  Where is your spiritual soft-spot?  Ask the Lord to help you. And don’t go there.

Jesus asked the Father to protect us from the evil one.  “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  Paul talked about extinguishing the flaming arrows of the evil one in Ephesians 6:16.  Because Satan is alive, active, and often victorious, we fear that we may fall and become his prey.  He sows tares in the wheat field (Matthew 13:28).  He snatches the Word of God out of men’s hearts (Matthew 13:19).  He goes about as a strong lion seeking his prey (1 Peter 5:8).  Paul understood this real and present danger.  Notice what he says in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.”  Some give it as “the evil one” because this word is singular.  Temptation comes from the evil one, and we must constantly be alert.  But thankfully, we are not left to deal with Satan using our own power.  And thankfully, God provides a way out.  Paul teaches us that God provides a way of escape, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Paul illustrates this passage in writing to the Thessalonians.  Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.  For not all have faith.  But the Lord is faithful.  He will establish you and guard you against the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3).  We need the help of others as we seek to do the will of God.  We cannot do it alone.  As iron sharpens iron, we sharpen each other.  God has provided a place where no one stands alone – the Church.  And God stands alongside each one of us as we strive to do his will.

  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  (Matthew 6:9-13)

 

 

March 3, 2017

Devotional for 3/3: The Trinity

Someone pointed out the coincidence (if that applies) that a major motion picture about the Trinity is releasing on 3/3. That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

In November of 2014 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley worth checking out… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion at Thinking Out Loud and noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

For that article… continue reading here.

Finally, in January of this year, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

For more of that article… continue reading here.

February 28, 2017

The Sufficiency of God’s Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We call this Christianity 201. If there’s a Christianity 301 that some of you would want to move on to, you can’t do much better than K.W. Leslie‘s blog. The articles are in-depth, he also does his own translations of passages, but it’s also — as in today’s example — not so deep that it doesn’t connect with practical issues. In today’s case that’s what he sees as the theological deficiencies of some popular worship choruses.

This article is packed with insights, but hey, it’s a short month; we didn’t want to shortchange you.

We always encourage you to read these pieces at source, but today there’s a couple of elements we can’t reproduce here anyway, so now’s a good time to click the title below.

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

 We use “sufficient” to mean God’s salvation or provision. Paul meant neither of those things.

One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.

And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.

Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.

Great is your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart
So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me
—Matt Maher, “Your Grace Is Enough,” 2008

Is this what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient”? Not even close. While the idea we’re entirely saved by God’s grace is entirely true, the basis for this idea isn’t at all the verse where we find the words “grace is sufficient.” It comes from other verses, like “By grace you have been saved,” Ep 2.4, 8 NIV —not good works. There’s more to say about that, but I’ll do that later.

The rest of the time, “grace is sufficient” is used to say God will provide all our needs. ’Cause he’s gracious, generous, watches over us, answers prayers, cures our illnesses, guides our steps: We figure when we have God, we don’t need anything else. A self-sufficient person doesn’t need help, and neither does a God-sufficient person, ’cause God has us covered. Different worship song:

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me
My God shall supply all my needs
According to his riches in glory
He will give his angels charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me
—Don Moen, “Jehovah Jireh,” 1986

Horrible pronunciation of YHWH-yiréh aside, which I remind you isn’t one of God’s names but a name of an altar, Ge 22.14 the problem is this also has nothing to do with what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient.”

But you know how songs are. Once a catchy one gets in your head, it’s hard to shake the song away… much less the inaccurate bible interpretations which come along with it. Just because K-LOVE plays it twice an hour, doesn’t mean it’s theologically sound: It’s a radio network, not a church. They’re not pastors; they’re programmers. They’re here to entertain Christians, not disciple us. They don’t know any better. All the more reason we gotta be careful about Christian music.

But I digress. Time to get to the context.

The thorn in the flesh.

Paul and Timothy wrote 2 Corinthians together, although likely in the capacity of someone dictating, and someone taking dictation (and adding suggestions where helpful). And for a few chapters, Paul spent a bit of time “boasting,” as many translations put it (I prefer to translate kavháomai/“speak loud” as “emphasize”) about his experiences as an apostle, and with God. As he should; testimonies are important.

So the folks of Corinth might emphasize all their personal gain, financial success, and other worldly prosperity they had as a result of becoming Christ. Paul chose instead to emphasize all the suffering and degradation he went through. Because prosperity may be nice, but God-experiences are lasting.

Anyway, one of the things Paul emphasized was his “thorn in the flesh,” as the KJV puts it. He described it thisaway.

2 Corinthians 12.6-10 KWL
6 When I want to emphasize things, I won’t be foolish:
I tell the truth, and I don’t spare details.
Otherwise one might consider me greater than what they see of me, or hear from me,
7 and they or I might exaggerate my revelations.
In order that I’d not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given me:
a satanic messenger, which’d jab me so I’d not exalt myself.
8 I called on the Master thrice about this, so he’d pull it out of me.
9 He told me, “My grace is holding you back. Power is fulfilled by weakness.”
For this reason I gladly emphasize my weakness—so Christ’s power can dwell in me.
10 I’m thrilled with weaknesses!
With smackdowns, deprivations, persecution, getting squeezed for Christ:
When I’m weak, then I’m strong.

The KJV’s word sufficient is, to be blunt, a mistranslation. It’s what the word arkei/“holds back” could mean—if you’re using in the sense of “strong enough to hold back,” or “sufficient to hold back,” as Sophocles and Thucydides sometimes used it. In its passive sense, it means to be satisfied or content, which is how it appears half the time in the New Testament. But ordinarily: Holds back. Supports.

“My grace is sufficient for thee” 2 Co 12.9 KJV tends to get interpreted, “I’ve given you all the grace you’re ever gonna get. You have plenty. Suck it up, princess. You can tough out that ‘thorn in the flesh’ just fine.”

Doesn’t sound at all kind and encouraging of Jesus—which is entirely out of character. Which should tip us off we’re projecting our own lack of sympathy upon our Lord.

But this interpretation doesn’t fit the context of the text. As Paul said, the “thorn in the flesh” was holing him back. Keeping him from exaggerating his accomplishments. Keeping him from concealing some of the embarrassing, or less-impressive, details of his ministry. Keeping him from acting the fool. Human nature is to show off. But Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” wouldn’t let him. It was keeping him from going astray.

People miss this fact because Paul described the “thorn,” whatever it was—a literal thorn, a form of arthritis, an injury which never healed right—as an ánghelos sataná/“satanic messanger,” or “Satan’s angel,” as The Message puts it. They think Satan was literally behind this thorn. As, quite likely, Paul did too, when he first encountered it: “Ow! What the…? What’s this stopping me from preaching? Gotta be the devil.”

But when Paul brought it to Jesus, to his surprise Jesus took credit for it. He was holding Paul back—graciously. And because we humans fixate on the devil too much, many an interpreter skips right over this fact.

Jesus didn’t want his apostle to sin. Or dance on the edge of sin. He knows exactly what can corrupt and ruin us—so he’ll stop us from going there. In Paul’s case, Jesus stopped him by letting this thorn poke him whenever he crossed the line. Three times Paul cried out to Jesus, because three times Paul crossed the line. (Like he said in verse 6, he’s not sparing details!) Jesus’s response was, “I’m not taking it away. It’s keeping you on the straight and narrow. You have to remember exalting yourself doesn’t grow my kingdom any. Humility does.”

Paul definitely learned that lesson. As a result he emphasized weakness—in contrast to the Corinthians boasting of their strength.

“Grace is sufficient”—when we mean salvation, or supplying needs.

Now back to grace for salvation. Told ya I’d do this later.

When Christians talk about how God’s grace is sufficient for salvation, it’s true. It’s entirely true. Grace is all we need to be saved. There’s nothing at all wrong with teaching this idea.

The problem is when newbies try to look up “grace is sufficient” in the bible… and get confused, ’cause the “grace is sufficient” verse is about Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and says nothing about salvation. Or when they ask you, “Where’s it say, ‘God’s grace is sufficient’?” and you correctly respond, “In 2 Corinthians 12”—but you don’t realize why they wanna look up that verse, and they wind up blaming you for misquoting the bible.

So remember: When people ask you to help ’em find a verse, always ask why. And if they’re going for the wrong verse, or they’re planning to use a verse wrong, redirect ’em to the right verse. You wanna prove we’re saved by God’s grace alone? You point ’em to Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2.8-10 KWL
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.
10 We’re his poetry, creations in Christ Jesus,
for doing the good works which God preprepared. We should walk in them!

Likewise when Christians talk about how God supplies all our needs: It’s true. It’s entirely true. Jesus taught us to not worry, focus on his kingdom, and God’ll take care of the balance. Again, nothing wrong with teaching this idea. The problem is when people ask, “Where’s it say, ‘God’s grace is sufficient’?” and we again point to 2 Corinthians 12. You want a proof-text, you go to the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 6.31-34 KWL
31 So stop worrying. Stop saying, ‘What can we eat? Drink? Wear?
32 Every nation seeks them. Your heavenly Father knows these are all your needs.
33 First seek God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness,
and all these things will be handed to you.
34 So stop worrying about tomorrow: Tomorrow has its own worries.
The evils of the day are plenty.”

YHWH-yiréh is our provider—but we don’t take that idea from 2 Corinthians.

To clear up the confusion, perhaps we oughta use different language than “God’s grace is sufficient.” You see, anyone who plugs “grace” and “sufficient” into a search engine is gonna wind up in 2 Corinthians. They might realize you didn’t mean that particular passage; then again they might not. That’s the usual problem with newbies: They don’t know any better.

So you, as the wiser Christian, might do better to say “God’s grace is plenty,” or “God’s grace is all we need,” or “God’s grace abundantly provides.” Something other than the bible-y sounding “God’s grace is sufficient.” Break the habit. Work on that self-control.

January 13, 2017

The Origin of Our Capacity for Fear

Today’s study is the product of Martin and the team at Flagrant Regard. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Do You Struggle With The Concept Of Having To Fear The Lord? We Have A Patch For That!

Our fall Bible study has been centered on the Book of Proverbs and, a few weeks ago, the term ‘fear of the Lord’ came up for discussion. We examined the mystery of ‘fearing God’ as it often elicits thoughts of, or concerns about, a God who supposedly requires that we be frightened of Him. Our pastor, and facilitator of the study, wanted us to delve into what it means to ‘fear the Lord’ as it seems to stand in direct opposition to our being told that God is love. Is there a paradox here for the way we are to live – either ‘in fear mixed with love’ or ‘in love mixed with fear’ and do such dispositions affect how we feel about God?

As part of a New Year’s commitment, I hope to read more of the Bible and spend less time Internet-ing. Just yesterday, I came upon an interesting passage in Jeremiah that got me thinking about the topic at hand. I hope my personal discovery regarding this proves to be valuable to anyone who has struggled with the whole ‘fear of the Lord’ issue or teachings surrounding it.

fear-flagrant-regardBefore I present the Bible passage, I’d like you to consider something rather interesting. Every good attribute of God that we as humans share – love, gentleness, kindness, self-restraint, etc. – is considered the ‘fruit’ of a spiritual life. But where does fear fit into all of this? Fear is not considered to be a fruit of the Spirit, so what is it to the believer and why do we need it? 1

Fear is interesting in that: a) God does not manifest or experience it; and b) it is a reactive response to an outside stimulus, something we share with the animal world, even.

If God doesn’t possess fear as a characteristic, then why does He regard it as a good thing for us (as per the writers of Scripture) and why would it make us more Godly?

Well let’s think about another good thing God doesn’t need. Repentance. God has no need to apologize for anything (although some prominent atheists would disagree). But without repentance (a change of mind especially concerning the will of God) we are clearly told that no human being can access God. And so, if repentance (like fear) isn’t an attribute of God, then what is it?

Fear and repentance both seem to be presented to us in the Bible as a reflexive action, harmonized with our response to God’s promptings or influence.

In the physical world, reflexes and responses can be honed and sharpened. Watch any budding martial artist working hard at their craft and you’ll see that come into play in a matter of time. Is it the same for those of us whose lives are focused on spiritual development? Can responding to everything life throws at us with a reflexive ‘Godly fear’ be of any benefit to His children? Will it have us thinking better of God’s character or disposition toward us in the long run?

And now onto the passage that shows us why fear of the Lord is not only important, but essential for living well.

(36) … this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: (37) I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. (38) They will be my people, and I will be their God. (39) I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. (40) I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. (41) I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
Jeremiah 32: 36-41 (NIV translation)

According to the above Scripture, it is only after God gives us a ‘singleness of heart and action’ that Godly fear can even enter into our lives. Further, the fruit or benefit resulting from this particular fear is, “that all will go well for us and our children”. Fear is, if we interpret this text correctly, a reactive or reflexive response to God that not only gives his people peace of mind but extends this promise to those we treasure dearly!

God then compounds the importance of fear in verse 40 by showing us that after something incredible (i.e., salvation) has been gifted to us, as well as promising to continually do good things for us, He will ‘inspire us’ to fear Him.

Why?

So that we will never turn away from Him.

This healthy Godly fear is like His word: ‘God-inspired’. It is furthermore something you cannot actively develop or appreciate in your own strength. This fear is more like a gift (once again similar to repentance) that is infused into our souls to keep us on the straight-and-narrow where, to put it simply, it is a safer and better place to be. Is it so wrong for Godly fear to hold prominence in our thoughts and actions so that all will go well for us and so that we may continually recognize, as the Psalmist said, “It is good to be near God.”? 2

I think it’s important, at this point, to distinguish between Godly fear and worldly fear.

Worldly fear is primal and can result in one’s being frozen like a deer in the headlights or in the fight-or-flight response. It can prompt chivalry in some and cowardice in others and is rarely viewed as a desirable thing.

But Godly fear is fruit-of-the-Spirit producing. The more of it we have, the better (and more immediate) our response is to the moral quandaries presented to us by the world we live in and the better our ability to see our way through the many challenges we will face in our lifetime. In conjunction with holy fear, we are given oceans of hope that are fed by the springs of God’s many great promises – promises we’d be fools to forget or ignore lest we lose out on all the benefits God has already showered on us, His children.

Preacher George MacDonald once said, “A perfect faith would lift us absolutely above fear.” That’s very true, but our faith is not yet perfect. We are ‘in process’. We live in the ‘now and not yet’ because of our frail humanity. Fear of the Lord then, in its purest form, can do nothing but evoke our deep love and utmost respect for the God who rescues us from darkness every day we find ourselves still breathing.

Truly, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.3

© 2017 Flagrant Regard


1 See Book of Jude, Chap. 1, vrs. 23, Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians Chap. 5, vrs. 11
2 Book of Psalms Chap. 73, vrs. 28
3 Book of Proverbs Chap. 9, vrs. 10

December 7, 2016

“I Am a Jealous God”

Last year at this time we ran an excerpt from one of the hundred entries in 100 Names of God Daily Devotions (Fall, 2015; Rose Publishing) by Christopher D. Hudson; a padded, full-color, hardcover book which features not only many interesting devotional readings, but also an index giving the Greek or Hebrew terms along with their Strong’s Concordance number. We thought we’d revisit that book today.

100 Names of God Daily Devotional - Christopher D HudsonEl Kanna

Jealous God

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God  Exodus 20:5

Who wants to be thought of as jealous?  This unflattering description brings to mind the petty schoolgirl who bitterly resents the spotlight that a peer is enjoying, or the fact that her rival’s boyfriend is cuter than hers.  To be jealous is to be vain, selfish, suspicious.  It is to want what others have, never fully acknowledging or appreciating the good things in one’s own life.

And yet, there is another kind of jealousy – a holy version. It’s this noble form of jealousy that God has for His people, according to the Bible.  But why is this a fitting jealousy?  Why is God right to want us exclusively for Himself?  Because he made us, and in Christ He purchased us (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23)

Divine jealousy isn’t motivated by greed or selfishness.  God’s holy jealousy is rooted in a desire to protect, provide and bless.  He always and only wants what is best for His chosen ones.  And what can be better than His perfect love?

Instead of imagining the negative and hurtful jealousy displayed by a petty schoolgirl, we need to imagine the protecting and providing jealousy of God.  Picture God more as a loving father who discovers his homeless son sleeping in a filthy gutter. Imagine how this father might jealously seek to rescue his son. The father’s goal is to restore his son’s life, not to further punish him.

When God freed the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, He took them to Mount Sinai.  At the foot of the mountain, God told them they would soon be surrounded by neighbours who were devoted to other gods.  He warned them they would be tempted to turn away and be unfaithful.  Lastly, He assured them He would not stand idly by and allow that to happen.  As a jealous God, He would fight fervently for their attention and affection.

When God calls Himself jealous, it is a reminder to us that our worship cannot be divided.  The Great Commandment is to love God with “all” (not part of) our hearts.  He alone is worthy of our devotion.  He alone is deserving of our hearts.  He knows that the ones He loves will find life, ultimate meaning, purpose and joy nowhere else.  He knows that He alone is the one place where our hearts will find their true home.

This is why when Jesus came, He reminded us that we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).  He told us that whoever is not for God is against Him (Luke 11:23).  It is tempting to be “sort of”, “sometimes” or “mostly” devoted to God.  But we either give ourselves to Him or we give ourselves to other lovers.  God is jealous for our love because He is zealous for us to know His.

Related readings: Exodus 34:13,14; Isaiah 42:7,8

October 5, 2016

A Great Book For When Life Is Anything But

Have you ever felt like God just doesn’t care? Or perhaps He cares, but is terribly unfair? The husband of my cousin passed away recently and the funeral service confirmed what I already knew. He was a great man who honoured the Lord with his life. He made the lives of everyone around him better. Lord, why not take those who make the lives of everyone around them bitter instead? There are plenty of candidates judging by the evening news. Why this good man and why now as he was still quite young?

Such questioning is common enough. Another cousin of mine sent me a link to a video interview of Stephen Fry who, though not believing in God, responded to the question “what would you like to say to God?” with something like “how dare you create a world with such suffering!” While many of us would not be so bold, we cannot help but question, based on life experience, if God sometimes does not care, or is unfair. Sometimes we just do not feel like clapping along to “If You Are Happy and You Know It . . .”

If you have ever had such negative spiritual thoughts, you are not the first. In fact we are given in the Bible quite a number of Psalms coming from Psalmists writing from dark places. We are also given an entire book written from a dark place, Lamentations. Five chapters mainly of misery. Possibly written by the prophet Jeremiah, but definitely written following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, along with the destruction of the Temple and the exile of God’s people. It is a poem written during dark times. It is a great book for when life is anything but. Here is but a small sample:

[God] has filled me with bitterness,
he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”
19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me. Lamentations 3:15-20 (NRSV)

Let us consider what we can learn from Lamentations:

A man or woman of God need not hold back on lament and honest prayer. Listening to my Dad pray in public makes me not want to pray in public. There is an eloquence to his speech in prayer that few of us possess. Do the eloquent prayers of the saints keep sinners from praying? Don’t wait until your prayers sound eloquent, polite, and polished before praying. Pray from experience. Pray honestly. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God can spend some time reflecting on suffering. We ought not to get the picture of the author reacting in the moment, getting the laments off his chest and then moving on and clapping along to “If You Are Happy and You Know It” the next day. The poetry may feel like it is from the gut, but in fact it is well thought out, for this is quite polished poetry. It is hard to see in the English, but each of the chapters are structured around the Hebrew alphabet. Yes, you can sit with your questions. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God knows that all suffering is ultimately deserved. All but the central third chapter focus in on the suffering of the nation. Even where the poet uses the first person, he is speaking on behalf of all God’s people. While exclaiming that the suffering is great, he also knows that it is just:

The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word. Lamentations 1:18 (NRSV)

This can help us understand where suffering comes from. We are no longer in the Garden of Eden. If there were no sin in humanity, there would be no suffering. Expect a just God to allow suffering. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God may still feel that suffering is out of proportion, or is unfair. Where chapters one and two, four and five are about the suffering of the nation, chapter three is about the suffering of the writer personally. We know that Jeremiah, the probable writer, suffered terribly as a prophet. Indeed many of those who were the most faithful to God suffered. While the suffering of the nation could be understood, for the leaders and people did not repent in accordance to the call of God through the prophets, why must the prophets themselves suffer also, sometimes even more so? In our day while we can know that suffering is a result of sin generally, why does the suffering of the relatively innocent seem out of proportion to the suffering of the truly evil?

A man or woman of God can still have hope in the face of suffering. There is a turning point in chapter three, one that has found its way into the wonderful hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The funeral of my cousin’s husband began with this hymn. How many people know these words were lifted from a Biblical poet in a dark time and place?

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NRSV)

His mercies are new every morning, because we in our sin do not deserve any more mornings. Yet they come, full of opportunity, full of the possibility of walking with God in Christ. And if we do not deserve one more morning, we certainly do not deserve the new reality we will awaken to on the resurrection morning. One more day of life is a sign of God’s grace. Eternal life is evidence of God’s amazing grace all the more. Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, is evidence of greatness of God’s faithfulness.

There is more that the poet calls to mind:

  • The Lord is our portion  – verse 24
  • The Lord is good to those who wait on him – verse 25
  • The Lord does not reject forever – verse 31
  • The Lord sees injustice – verse 36
  • The Lord is completely just 39
  • There is opportunity to repent -verse 40
  • The Lord keeps covenant promises – verses 40-48
  • The Lord takes notice – verses 49-63
  • The Lord will execute justice and put things right – verses 64-66

To be able to call to mind these truths about God, the man or woman of God will need to know them in the first place. Sometimes people rail against God without the foggiest notion as to Who it is they are railing against. The better we know the Lord, the greater our opportunity to find hope in the midst of suffering. The author of Lamentations was going through a lot but he knew there was a lot more of the story yet to be told. For this is not just his story to tell, this is God’s story to write. Whatever your circumstance, there is a lot more yet to be told in the story of your life. You may not know all the details of how life will unfold, but you can know that great is His faithfulness.

The man or woman of God may not have all the answers to every question. By the end of Lamentations Jeremiah still had questions:

Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken us these many days? Lamentations 5:20 (NRSV)

I have often likened faith to a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces come together nicely and a picture begins to emerge. Other pieces are tricky to place, indeed there are some which you don’t find where they go until you are nearly finished. With faith, some people begin with the really difficult questions and never think of anything else. The puzzle is thrown out as a waste of time and faith never develops. I have found that though there are questions I cannot answer, though there are certain pieces that I cannot place, they do not distract from the amazing picture that has emerged. It is a picture of the faithfulness of God, the grace of God, the love of God, the mercy of God, the justice of God, the holiness of God, the power of God, the plan of God, and so much more. It is a picture of Jesus. The puzzling bits remain puzzling, but the picture of God that emerges keeps me puzzling on. Knowing Jesus has not answered every question for me, but it has enabled me to live with the questions.

The writer of Lamentations knew the Lord well enough that he was able to have hope in the midst of a rotten day. Do you? When it seems like God does not care, or is unfair, call to mind His faithfulness. Call to mind all that we know about God through Jesus Christ. That God does care has been proven in the past, at the cross. That God is fair will be proven when Christ returns.

August 31, 2016

God As the Jealous Husband

My Jealous Godby Clarke Dixon

. . .for you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14

God is jealous. So much so, in fact, that according to the verse above He even has the name “Jealous.” Isn’t that a problem? Isn’t jealousy a bad thing, a sinful thing? While preparing for a sermon on Ezekiel chapter 16 it struck me how this passage helps us understand the jealous love of God. It compresses the history of the people of Jerusalem into a story, an allegory. Let me compress that even further and give you the “Coles notes” version of the story which we can divide into the following chapters:

Chapter One: Rescued (verses 3-6)

In ancient times there was a form of birth control called “exposure.” Basically an unwanted baby, all too often a girl, was left out in an open field to die. This story begins with such a baby being rescued having been found covered in blood and still attached to the placenta given the details. Remembering that this is an allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to understand that they were in a relationship with God, not because there was anything special about them, but because of God’s love. The same can be said of the Christian today. To sum up chapter one: Rescued instead of dead.

Chapter Two: Married (verses 7-9)

Once the child in the story grows, the rescuer marries the child. At first glance we might think this is gross, but when we remember the context of ancient times and how marriage was different then than now, we learn that this was a very loving move on the part of the rescuer. This child, once old enough, could have been forced into slavery instead, or worse. Marriage was a promise of continuing nurture and care. Remembering that this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to remember that being in a covenant relationship with God was a sign of God’s amazing love and grace. The Christian today enjoys the covenant love of God. To sum up chapter two: Married instead of enslaved, sold, or worse.

Chapter Three: Blessed (verses 10-14)

Here we learn about how blessed this woman really is. She is not married and then provided with the mere essentials. She is, in fact, the queen, and treated as such. God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to realize just how blessed they were to be in relationship with God. As Christians do we realize just how blessed we are? To sum up chapter three: A queen, instead of a mere dependant.

Chapter Four: Betrayed (verses 15-34)

Here there is a shift in the story:

But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. Ezekiel 16:15 (emphasis mine)

There is a lengthy and quite graphic description of the betrayal. Though rescued instead of dead, though married instead of enslaved or sold, though a queen instead of a mere dependant, though all of this was because of the love and grace of the rescuer, the groom, the king, she betrays him with her unfaithfulness. She is described as acting like a prostitute, only worse, for a prostitute has enough sense to get paid. Remembering that this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to get the point that they have been unfaithful to the Lord. As Christians are we faithful? To sum up chapter four: Promiscuous and stupid, instead of grateful and faithful.

Chapter Five: Consequences (verses 35-59)

Following the betrayal come the consequences of a living a promiscuous and unfaithful life.

You must bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the Lord. Yes, thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; Ezekiel 16:58-59

There is a lot to read and digest here, but let’s just say it does not go well. Remembering this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to understand that the exile and the coming fall of Jerusalem to Babylon is a consequence of their unfaithfulness. As Christians today we are not automatically saved from the consequences of our decisions. “You reap what you sow” is a Biblical affirmation, taught in both the Old and New Testaments.To sum up chapter five: Suffering the consequences instead of getting away with murder.

Chapter Six: Forgiven (verses 60-63)

Next in this story comes a pleasant surprise.

. . . yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. . . I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 16:60,62,63

God remains faithful to His people! He will forgive! He still does. To sum up chapter six: Forgiven instead of cast away.

Do you get a sense of the jealous love of God from this story? The jealousy we tend to think of arises out of insecurity. It doesn’t just arise from a man thinking his wife is looking at another man, it arises from a man thinking there is a better man. God knows better and knows there is no better. The Lord is not insecure. God is jealous, meaning God is passionate. If God were not jealous for us He would be apathetic. God is jealous, meaning God is caring. If God were not jealous, He would be uncaring. God is jealous, meaning God is faithful. His love does not cease at the first sign of betrayal. He is faithful in His love, in His keeping of covenant promises. He knows what is best for the people He loves, and He is the best for the people He loves!

Spiritually speaking, we may be more like the woman in the story than we care to admit. We do not deserve the rescue, the marriage, the blessing. We betray. We experience the consequences of our decisions. But God remains faithful. Got sin in your life? You can depend upon God to forgive it. He is jealous for you. Storm clouds are brewing? You can depend on God to walk you through the storm. He is jealous for you. Got a sense that you do not deserve heaven? Me too. Though in this age we will still often experience the consequence of our sin, in the age to come we experience the consequence of His goodness and grace in Jesus Christ. Rescued, married, and blessed; not because we are good people, but because God is a jealous God.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Source for this article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

Source for Today’s Graphic Image at Brian Hunt Blog

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