Christianity 201

January 11, 2023

God is Always on the Side of the Marginalized

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NRSVUE.Luke.18.1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my accuser.’ For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

We’re grateful for permission to occasionally share some of the excellent material crafted by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, at the website Jesus Unboxed.

This passage of scripture is always interesting to study, and I like the way David breaks down various layers of meaning. As always, click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8)

Today’s gospel lesson is known as the Parable of the Unjust Judge. If it seems a little weird to you, go with that feeling. If it seems a bit schizophrenic in what it’s trying to teach us, go with that, too! This is one of those parables that needs a bit of deconstruction in order to discover what it’s trying to teach us. One of the easiest ways to do this, that works with any parable, is to treat it like an onion. Not in terms of scent, but in terms of layers!

Every parable has three layers. The outer layer is what I call the EVANGELIST LAYER. It asks the question “How did the evangelist understand the parable? What information did he put before it and after it that might give us clues regarding how he understands its meaning?”

The second layer is the JESUS LAYER. It asks the question “Who did Jesus intend to hear this parable? What situation or question was he trying to address?”

Finally, the third layer is the ROOT PARABLE. This is the pure story stripped of all layers of interpretation or context. We try to listen to it without prejudice or preconceived notions regarding its meaning.

The reason why today’s parable seems a bit weird or schizophrenic is because each of these layers is trying to teach us something slightly different. They are connected in some way, but they are sending a bit of a mixed message.

If I were doing a Bible study on this parable, we would look at all three layers in detail. But we don’t have that kind of time in the context of a sermon. So my plan is to jump to the root parable, and explore it thoroughly. Once we’ve done that, I’m going to go out a bit because there’s something in the Jesus layer that enhances this parable’s central meaning.

So, let’s begin with the story. Luke says once upon a time “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”

Just to make sure we heard this less than flattering description, Luke repeats it a second time, using the voice of the judge, who begins his sentence with “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone…”

Wow, needless to say Jesus is Not trying to say that God is like this judge. In fact, the opposite is true. This judge has horrible moral character. The only person he is interested in is himself.

To reinforce this description of the judge, Jesus introduces the character of a widow, who appears before the judge and asks for justice against those who are oppressing her. The assumption made here, is that her cause is just. She is, indeed, being oppressed.

Since Judaic law makes provisions for helping those most vulnerable in society, such as widows, orphans and resident aliens, it should be a no brainier for this judge to grant her the justice she seeks. However, as the story continues she comes before to this judge multiple times and he refuses to grant her the justice she seeks.

There is no doubt many of us can relate to this widow’s sense of powerlessness and desperation. Even if we haven’t experienced this personally, we’ve read story after story of people around the globe who are being marginalized and oppressed by those in power. I’m not going to list them all, because we would be here for a very long time.

Perhaps this parable is here to remind us, that this issue is nothing new. People in power are always tempted to abuse that power. Marginalization and oppression of the weak and vulnerable have always been with us as a species, and they always will be.

If we read the Bible from cover to cover, we will find countless stories of oppressed people who long for justice. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. If we have ever been in this situation in life, These stories speak strongly to us. Their main point is to give us hope.

Believe it or not, there is some hope in this parable. The unjust judge finally gives the widow justice. But it’s not because he has a change of heart and becomes a good guy. He grants her justice because, to put it bluntly, she’s a pain in his backside. She is relentless in her appeals for justice. She refuses to give up hope that one day her pleas will be heard.

The unjust judge is very clear on this matter, as he says to himself, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” That’s hardly a transformative victory. The unjust judge is still a scoundrel, but he gives in because this oppressed widow does not give up. Did you hear what I said? He gives in because this oppressed widow does not give up.

Unfortunately, the English translation of this parable misses a humorous image in the story that helps us to appreciate it even more. In the original Greek, the unjust judge says “Because this widow causes trouble for me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not, in the end, give me a black eye by her coming.”

What Luke cleverly does is place this parable in the context of a boxing metaphor. His audience would picture this scrappy little widow coming at the judge with her dukes up, refusing to yield or be defeated. This humorous image is meant to inspire the audience. If we hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people, it’s the message that we should never give up when we are fighting for a cause that is just and true. We should fight oppressive powers with every fiber of our being and refuse to give up in the face of injustice.

If that’s the meaning of this parable, then I do believe that will preach! It is the good news of Scripture that is reflected in the lives  of countless justice seekers throughout the world, including Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk, Susan B. Anthony and Nelson Mandela.

If we look to Jesus to set the example for us, we see many stories in the gospels of rejected and marginalized people whom Jesus welcomes with open arms. Yet, we also know that his sense of kingdom justice made the unjust judges of his world very nervous and angry. It ultimately cost him his life.

That is the price that some of us have paid, and will pay, when fighting for what is just and right in our world. This is the sobering truth. But the overall message of the root parable is to encourage us to put on our boxing gloves and keep coming at the oppressive powers of our world until they do what it right. We may not change their minds, but we can wear them down. Amen?

But now it’s time to expand the parable at bit and look at some of the Jesus layer. In the Jesus layer, he says something about the nature and character of God that those who fight for justice need to hear. If we go back to Matthew 17:22, we learn that Jesus is telling this parable to his disciples. Therefore, it’s meant for us. It’s an insider story. It’s meant to encourage and uplift.

What he says that we need to hear is “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to the chosen ones who cry to God day and night? Will God delay long in helping them? I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them.”

The reason why this is important for us to hear is that it’s telling us God is always, ALWAYS on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. God hears our cries, God feels our pain, and is working behind the scenes to tip the scales toward justice each and every day.

We need to hear this because our default button when something goes wrong in our lives, is to wonder what we did to deserve this? “Why is God punishing me?” is a question I’ve heard more times than I care to recount. It’s a view of God as a punitive deity, who is ready to strike us down for the smallest of mistakes. It’s a view of God that tells us we’re oppressed because we’re lazy and we’re not fighting hard enough for what is rightfully ours. It equates God with the behavior of the unjust judge, and I’M NOT HAVING ANY OF THIS! And you should NOT HAVE ANY OF THIS!

To put it another way, God is more for us than we are for or against ourselves. God ALWAYS fights for justice. God ALWAYS stands in solitarily with the marginalized and oppressed. This, THIS should give us the inspiration we need to do the same. THIS should give us the moxie we need to keep putting on our boxing gloves, and going toe-to-toe with the unjust judges of our world.

Pick a battle, any battle, my dear friends! There are lots of causes to fight for these days. May we have the conviction to stand up to oppressive powers wherever they may be and demand that justice be served. AMEN!

Copyright ©2022 by David Eck – Used by Permission

December 21, 2022

We’re God’s Unique Creation

Although it’s no longer as active, this week I worked on updating the blogroll at Thinking Out Loud. Blogrolls — links to other online writers — were once quite common, whereas today everyone seems to wish to keep their readers to themselves! In doing so, I came across Practical Theology Today writer Curt Hinkle, and although we linked to him back in March, I thought these thoughts bore repeating here at C201.

Clicking the link in the title below will also take you to his site, where more articles await you.

Woodworking and God’s Poiema

A surprising advantage of woodworking using hand tools – one can quietly prep boards and layout dovetails during a church service. A dozen or so years ago I got to do just that. My friend Sonja preached a sermon focused on Ephesians 2, specifically, For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Eph. 2:10, CSB). She asked me if I would relocate my workbench and some tools to the church sanctuary stage and then do some woodworking stuff as she gave her message.

As I prepared boards to cut dovetails that Sunday morning, I contemplated the significance that I, Curt Hinkle, am God’s workmanship. What does it mean to be God’s workmanship? And what does it mean that I am his workmanship with purpose? And what are those good works for which God has prepared for me? Some thoughts…

I notice that the Apostle Paul said we are God’s workmanship, not you (or Curt Hinkle, for that matter). In our western, American individualistic approach to faith, it’s an easy miss. I don’t doubt that this is a truism applicable to the individual, but we need to remember that Paul is addressing the Church in Ephesus. It seems that he is saying that Christ-followers as a whole unit are his workmanship, created for good works – individually and corporately.

So, let’s look at what Paul might be saying both individually and corporately. The root Greek word for workmanship is poiema (ποίημα). It describes God’s creative activity. It’s the word from which poem and poetry are derived. It has also been translated as accomplishment, masterpiece, handiwork, or a product of his hand. The Jerusalem Bible’s translation of Ephesians 2:10:

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.

God’s work of art! In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes us as “Divine work(s) of art, something that God is making…” Or, as Timothy Keller has been oft quoted…

Do you know what it means that you are God’s workmanship? What is art? Art is beautiful, art is valuable, and art is an expression of the inner being of the maker, of the artist. Imagine what that means. You’re beautiful … you’re valuable … and you’re an expression of the very inner being of the Artist, the divine Artist, God Himself.

As a woodworker, I know the reality that every project I work on is a unique creation. Every year I try to make gifts for each of our four kids (i.e. charcuterie boards). On the surface, they all appear to be the same but they are not. They each have nuances related to things like wood types, grain orientation, blemishes, and, of course, operator error. What they do have in common that cannot be taken away from them: They are each a unique creation of mine, an expression of my creative activity.

The Apostle Paul used poiema only one other time in his writings that are included in the New Testament canon. In Romans 1:20 he states…

For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and all the things that make him God [his divine nature] – have been clearly seen [perceived], understood through what God has made (poiema). (EXB)

To be God’s poiema is a big deal! It’s right up there with all of creation (which we discussed in The Theology of Woodworking). We are visible expressions of the invisible God. As a higher schooler once said to me, “We get to be walking billboards.” It’s the “good works” we were created for. What a privilege!

With woodworking, there is a point where I, the artist, say “good enough.” It’s not a statement of shoddiness. It’s more of a comment about return on investment. At some point, I deem a project complete enough for its intended purpose. Satisfied with my poiema, I move on to the next project.

I am aware that not all of us consider it a privilege to be “walking billboards” due to real or perceived warts. But Paul didn’t say “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works someday.” There is a present tense implication. God’s creative activity is ongoing in the form of transformation into the likeness of his Son (For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his SonRomans 8:29). He doesn’t say “good enough.” As we continue to follow him, the warts (real and perceived) begin to fade.

Transformation. We’ve talked about that in previous blog posts (cf. Metamorfoo). We must remember that it’s not our job to transform ourselves. Our job is to follow Jesus, positioning ourselves so God can accomplish the transformation – For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants (Philippians 2:13, TLB). This is the entirety of C.S. Lewis’ quote from The Problem of Pain

“We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”

December 17, 2022

The Trinity Both Is and Isn’t in the Bible

Just hours ago I had a conversation with someone who is trying to avoid Bible commentary written from a trinitarian perspective. It’s not the first time I’ve had that discussion, but the trinity is something that is so central to historical Christianity that it forms the centerpiece of the major creeds.

In some ways, I get it. The word isn’t in the Bible. Which means it’s not in your concordance, either.

But personally, I would argue the doctrine is there, somewhat unambiguously, even if the concept is difficult for us to wrap our heads around.

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.

In January of 2017, 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.

Finally, here’s a link to a video teaching from Ruth Wilkinson. Shes looking at one of the most overtly trinitarian hymns we have, Holy, Holy, Holy, and an analogy you may not hear as often. Click the link for Part Two – Trinity

November 29, 2022

He Wants Us to Know Him

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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For the first time since May 2020, we return for a 5th visit to the writing of Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. He lives in Rochester, New York.

That We Will Know that He is the Lord

Exodus 7:5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”

Exodus 25:45-46 I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

Ezekiel 20:42-44 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you [back] into the land of Israel [after the exile in Babylon]…. And there you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled…Then you shall know that I am the LORD….

Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

These scriptures that talk about knowing that the God of Israel is the Lord of the whole earth are only the tip of the iceberg. But they show God’s insistence on making a point of who He is at key moments: at the Exodus, the settling of the Promised Land, the return after the Babylonian Exile, and of course, at the Second Coming of Christ.

Other reference scriptures include Exodus 6:7, 16:12, and 29:46; Leviticus 23:43; Joshua 3:10; I Kings 20:28; Job 31:6; Psalm 46:10; Isaiah 43:10 and 45:3; Jeremiah 24:7, Ezekiel 20:20, 28:26, 34:30, 39:22, 39:28; and Joel 2:27, for starters. From these we can learn the manifold actions that the Lord would take that would end in a revelation of who He was.

Those actions form a Bible study all their own. But they all end with the same demonstration: He is the Lord. He wanted Israel to know it when they began their life as a nation, when He showed them how much He was their personal Protector and Sustainer, and when He brought them back to the land after exile. But He also wanted the Egyptians to know this—a foreshadowing of His being the Lord of all the earth, so often alluded to in the Psalms, and of the outreach to the Gentiles in Acts.

In fact, He wants all the world to know that He is the Lord. For us as believers, this may seem about evangelism. It is, partly. But there is a bigger truth here. If “that you would know that I am the Lord” is behind so many varying actions in the Old Testament, we can begin to see that this is the reason and goal behind so many of His actions in our own lives.

We often believe we’ve “learned the lesson” after a work of God in our hearts and lives, meaning we picked up something about ourselves, God, the Word or even “life.” Yet it appears that the lesson behind virtually all that God does in the earth and in our lives is ultimately, that we may know that He is the Lord. It’s been His purpose throughout history; it’s been His purpose in Your life.

Prayer: Father, help me to see right through everything I go through until I see in my spirit that what I have learned again, more deeply this time, is that You are the Lord. Don’t let me stop short with a lesser understanding. I see this in Your word, and in spite of my limited understanding, I embrace it by faith.


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November 23, 2022

Two Sides of God’s Kindness and Goodness: Grace and Mercy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today is another day where we’re highlighting the writing of a new author, and this time around, the blog’s title caught my eye: Maddening Theology. The writer, Tim Madden is the pastor of Cornerstone Bible Church in Browndale, Pennsylvania. As usual, click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

The Difference Between Grace and Mercy

Grace and mercy are major themes throughout Scripture. They are both such a blessing to us, but have very different meanings. Often people confuse the two terms because of their similarities. Let’s simplify them here. We are going to oversimplify the terms here, so note that this is not an in-depth study.

GRACE: RECEIVING A BLESSING WE DON’T DESERVE

Grace is receiving a blessing that we do not deserve or have not earned. It can be thought of as God’s unearned kindness. Anything He gives us that we have not or can not earn is grace.

Some great verses concerning God’s grace:

Acts 15:11 “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Romans 3:23-24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

II Corinthians 12:9a “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

MERCY: NOT RECEIVING PUNISHMENT FOR WHAT WE DESERVE

Mercy is also a gift of God’s goodness, but instead of being given something good, it is withholding the bad. Mercy is when we have earned punishment, payment for evil, yet instead of God giving us that, He withholds that punishment from us.

Some great verses about God’s mercy:

Deuteronomy 4:32 “The LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not abandon you, destroy you, or forget the promise to your ancestors that he swore he would keep.” 

Lamentations 3:22 “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.”

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.” 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

How has God’s grace and mercy been given to you in your life? Why do we need both of these? How have God’s grace and mercy blessed your life recently?


Because today’s article was shorter, we’re going to share another devotional from Tim, derived from the first five verses of Galatians. We’ll share those first, and then you can continue through the article here, or at the link in its title.


NLT.Gal.1.1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.

All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia.

May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

The Apostle Paul’s 5 Gospel Declarations

In the book of Galatians the apostle Paul spends most of the book talking about grace. He tells us how we receive it, the fact that we cannot earn it, and how we should live in light of the fact that salvation is by grace.

However, in the first chapter of Galatians, he makes five declarations about the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. They are found in the first five verses of the book.

  1. Grace and Peace: This is the good news of grace and peace. God’s grace is huge! This grace brings peace between us and God. They are a package deal.
  1. Only Through Jesus: This is a gospel that comes only through Jesus. It doesn’t come through Mohammed, good works, or belonging to a certain denomination or religion. It comes through grace and mercy by faith in Jesus Christ.
  1. Delivered from Sin: This gospel delivers us from the consequence of sin. John 3:16-18 says our sin condemns us, but Jesus is the one who delivers us. He takes us from darkness to light.
  1. According to God’s Will: This gospel was given by the will of God. It was His plan that Jesus would die on the cross to pay for our sin. There was no plan B.
  1. This gospel brings God Glory: To glorify God is to make Him known and make Him famous. It is to see everything good in our lives and point to Him. This salvation, this gospel, glorifies God.

Have you received the gospel of grace through Jesus Christ? Have you been delivered from sin through His plan of sacrificing His Son Jesus Christ? Do you have peace with God brought through the work of Jesus Christ?

November 22, 2022

Your Idle Conversation Might Actually Be Prayer

112413We live in a world where everything we say has the potential to be recorded and analyzed by others. Since September 11th, 2001, technology is being employed which tracks both your online and verbal communication. Phone calls which use certain key words trigger further attention. We love the benefits of that technology offers, but we often forget the loss of freedom the constant monitoring creates.

For the Christ-follower, this isn’t a big deal for two reasons. First, hopefully the content of our speech is good, honest, pure and praiseworthy. Second, since we’ve always believed in a God who is omniscient and omnipresent, as we have equally believed in a future judgment where every idle word will be brought into account, we’re aware of the possibility that Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!” (Luke 12:3 NLT)

Still, it was arresting over the weekend to hear someone on Christian radio speak of “God listening in to our conversations.” The host of the talk show I was tuned into was equally surprised. The phrase is taken from Jeremiah 8:6 (NLT). Here is the full context:

4 “Jeremiah, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord says:

“‘When people fall down, don’t they get up again?
When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?
5 Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path?
Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back?
They cling tightly to their lies
and will not turn around.
6 I listen to their conversations
and don’t hear a word of truth.
Is anyone sorry for doing wrong?
Does anyone say, “What a terrible thing I have done”?
No! All are running down the path of sin
as swiftly as a horse galloping into battle!
7 Even the stork that flies across the sky
knows the time of her migration,
as do the turtledove, the swallow, and the crane.
They all return at the proper time each year.
But not my people!
They do not know the Lord’s laws.

8 “‘How can you say, “We are wise because we have the word of the Lord,”
when your teachers have twisted it by writing lies?
9 These wise teachers will fall
into the trap of their own foolishness,
for they have rejected the word of the Lord.
Are they so wise after all?

The idea of God listening, in and of itself, is not a concern. When we pray, we want to think that God not only hears our prayers, but is positively disposed and favorable inclined to respond. But God listening in on our conversations? Why does that seem inappropriate, as though the person in the restaurant booth next to us is locked in on everything we’re saying?

The broader context here is Israel turning its back on God; a recurring theme among the prophets both major and minor. (We have to be careful that no one reading this tries to turn this passage — or thinks I am turning it — into something derived from a secondary or tertiary emphasis.)

The NLT is alone in using the word conversations in this verse, however. But try to remove the sense of God ‘eavesdropping’ or ‘listening in,’ on all we say, and you diminish both God’s all-knowingness (his omniscience) and his desire to commune with us and have us desire to commune with him.

The radio show guest went on to say that since God hears every word we speak, there is a sense in which every word of concern for a particular individual or situation, is in itself a form of prayer. I’ve heard this before; in fact, a long time ago, after a long time in which I was discussing a concern with a friend, he suggested that it would be good if we were to take some time to pray about it. Without thinking, I said, “I think we just did.” In the sense that God was with us and hearing our focused thoughts toward whatever it was we were discussing all those years ago, we were indeed bringing it before the throne of grace. (I think we ended with a brief, “God you’ve heard our thoughts on this and you know the need; please accept our prayer.”)

The problem is that in our security-conscious world, we look at ‘listening in’ as invasive, or even creepy, or an affront to perceived rights of privacy. But if the high-tech monitoring of our online or verbal thoughts is for our good, we have to believe that a God who is taking the time to monitor those same communications is doing so for our good as well.

That God is listening should temper the words we speak and act as a governor on our broader behavior as well. Equally however, it means we don’t necessarily have to stop to pray, bow our heads, fold our hands, and start out, “Heavenly, Father.” Those intentional prayer postures are good, but God has been listening to everything you’ve said up to that point.

After a discussion with friends on some more contentious subject, an interesting wrap up might be to say, “Well, God; you’ve been here all the time and listened to all of this; show us what your will is on this tough issue. Amen!”

November 9, 2022

When Prayer Moves the Heart of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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It’s nearly a year, but we’re very grateful to HarperCollins Christian Products for their special permission to carry book excerpts from Thomas Nelson and Zondervan authors.

Matthew 6:11

  • Give us today our bread for the day (Weymouth)
  • Give us today the food we need (NLT)
  • Give us this day our bread sufficient for sustenance (Smith’s Literal)
  • Give us this day the bread for our support (Anderson New Testament)

Today’s author has appeared here once previously. Tyler Staton was a pastor in New York City for many years before moving one coast to another where he became the lead pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, which was founded by John Mark Comer. He is the National Director of 24-7 Prayer Movement which makes it even better that his new book is Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools: An Invitation to the Wonder and Mystery of Prayer (Zondervan). (See links below.)

Daily Bread (chapter excerpt)

In Exodus 32, we get a glimpse into Moses’s prayer life. To set the stage, God is very unhappy with the Israelites, and his anger is well-founded. After freeing them from slavery, parting the Red Sea, feeding them with bread from the sky, and quenching their thirst with water from a rock, they’ve begun to worship another god. God voices his anger, and in response, Moses prays, essentially calling God back to his own character:

Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.” (Exodus 32:12-13)

Moses is holding God to his word. He’s reminding God who God is: “by your own self.” He’s not just pleading with God to give him what he wants. It’s more like he’s reminding God what God really wants.

And check out God’s response: “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” Wait, what? Moses confronted God . . . and won? Yeah. Something like that.

The word relented is the translation of the Hebrew word naham, which can also be translated as “changed his mind” or even “repented.” God nahamed. God changed his mind. God repented. Really? That’s really what it says.

This doesn’t mean God was caught in sin and went to confession. Naham doesn’t mean God was in the wrong. It means God was moved emotionally. Moses’s prayer moved the Creator of the universe on an emotional level. That’s what the Bible teaches.

Aristotle famously called God the “unmoved mover.” The God Moses prayed to is more like the “moved mover.” He’s moving heaven and earth, but he’s also movable. He hears us. He actually listens and actually cares. He responds. This idea of God may seem pretty radical, but that’s only because many of us have a concept of God formed more by Aristotle than by Moses.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of mystery here. There are so many unanswered questions. Sure, that’s how it happened with Moses, but what about Malachi? He heard God say, “I the LORD do not change.” But then there’s Hosea, to whom God said, “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” How can both of these revelations of God be equally true? Because God is a relational being to know, not a formula to master.

When it comes to any relational being, we’re gonna have to get comfortable with mystery. We will never know anyone so thoroughly that there’s no mystery left. I will know and love my wife for the rest of my life, and I’ll never reach the end of her. I’ll never eliminate the mystery in my most intimate relationship.<

Of course, it would be dangerous to form an entire theology out of this one Moses prayer, but there is a definite biblical pattern supported by this passage: God responds to his own character. That’s his nature. John Mark Comer concludes, “God is more of a friend than a formula.”


Excerpted with permission from pp125-6 in Praying Like Monks Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton ©2022 Tyler Staton. (link is to book’s page at zondervan.com)

Previously by Tyler Staton here at C201: Searching for Enough excerpt

Teaching at Bridgetown Church based on the book.

For an overall look at the book, Click here for my review.

Bible translations used in our introduction were from BibleHub.com (click ‘additional translations’ after search results)

October 13, 2022

Thank God for the Generosity of God!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Thank God for the generosity of God! Where would we be without it? Where would we be without the generosity of God as expressed in the creation of the universe, the creation of a life permitting world, the gift of life, the gift of water and weather systems to supply the water, the gift of food and eco-systems to supply the food, the gift of bodies that know what to do with water and food, the gift of family, friends, and relationships, the gift of communication, language, intellect, and so much more. We are only scratching the surface of all that we can be grateful for, and yet we are only one chapter into the Bible. Thank God for the generosity of God as expressed in creation.

Let us go further into the Bible as we consider the generosity of God:

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:8-9 (NRSV)

In what way was Jesus rich when carpenters would hardly amass great wealth in that day? Jesus was rich, not by trade or earthly inheritance, but by identity as God. We can think of what Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

The generous act of Jesus, in becoming poor though rich, was really the expression of the generosity of God. This is not just one generous act of God among many, this reveals the generous character of God. Generosity is a character trait of God. Generosity is expressed in everything God does. Thank God for the generosity of God!

Being followers of Jesus, we want to become more like Jesus. This means developing in generosity, not just as something we do from time to time in generous acts, but as a character trait, something that is expressed in everything we do.

This brings us in our current series to our next “cultural statement” from Open Table Communities, statements that are good not only for a sister faith community like OTC, but also for an old fashioned kind of church like we are at Calvary Baptist:

A Culture of Generosity
We nurture a practice of giving and blessing others and sharing the resources we have with those who do not have. We view generosity as an act of resistance against greed and systems of exploitation. We learn to hold a generous posture with our ears for listening, our questions for understanding and our words for sharing our stories, perspectives and lived experience.

Open Table Communities

When we speak about generosity in church circles, we tend to focus on generosity in treasures, talents, and time. Why do we pastor/preacher-types normally focus on those? I think it is because these things impact the life of the congregation as an organization. When people here at Calvary, for example, give financially, get involved according to their gifts and abilities, and give of their time to the work being done at Calvary, they are helping us do collectively what we believe we are called to do, namely helping people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. This kind of generosity helps the church grow and remain healthy. This is good, but generosity is not just about impact people can have on a church as an organization.

As we see in the cultural statement above, generosity modelled on Jesus is focused on the impact we can have on people and the world as we address lack and systems that create lack, namely the greed and exploitation that leads some people to poverty while leading others to wealth. It is also about impact on us as we are changed in our character when we take a posture like Jesus.

I recently finished listening to a podcast series called the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The lead pastor of the church known as Mars Hill is one year older than me and he became a pastor, in co-founding Mars Hill, one year before I became a pastor. Over the years I have gone from pastoring two very small churches, to pastoring one mall church, to pastoring one smallish church, to pastoring another smallish church. Meanwhile the pastor of Mars Hill led it to grow into a mega church with multiple locations and thousands involved. I imagine there was great leadership in getting people to be generous in giving of their treasures, talents, and time along the way, enabling this church to grow exponentially. However, as related in the podcast, there was at the core, systems of greed and exploitation. And now the church is no more. Many people were wounded along the way. Some fervent Christians walked away, not just from the church, but from Christianity. How things might have been different if Mars Hill had adopted this cultural statement on generosity, if it had developed a true culture of generosity, especially among the leadership.

When generosity is a character trait, we will be generous, not just in our treasures, talents, and time, but in anything and everything.

As expressed in the cultural statement, we will be generous in our listening. To be so means giving others the gift of time, quietness, attention, and understanding.

We will be generous in questions for understanding. We will seek to be understanding of others. We will seek to minimize misunderstandings. This means being generous in our desire to honor others and to hear clearly.

We will be generous in our words for sharing our stories, perspectives and lived experience. This requires a kind of self-confidence, that our stories, perspectives, and lived experiences are worth sharing. Generosity flows from abundance, and in this area we may convince ourselves that we are lacking, that our stories and our perspectives are not worth hearing, that our lives are not worth sharing. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.

But we can keep going, with generosity in anything and everything; generous in assuming the dignity of others, generous in giving people the benefit of the doubt, generous in offering forgiveness, generous in willingness to go deeper in relationship.

We began with thank God for the generosity of God. The generosity of God has had a huge impact on the world. We would not be here without it. We would not be anywhere. We would have no future without the generosity of God.

Thank God for the generosity of God, a character trait found expressed in creation, in Jesus, and in so much else. Are the people in our lives saying thank God for the generosity of God as expressed in us?


Clarke Dixon is, in case you missed it, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. His sermon summaries appear here most Thursdays. Read more at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

October 3, 2022

Living For Christ’s Sake

A year ago we introduced you to Judy, who writes at Judy in the Sky, tag line, “Let’s read the Bible!” She very recently completed six articles on the six chapters of Ephesians, and after looking at the series, I chose this one, based on Ephesians 4. Click the header below to read this where we found it, or click her blog title and scroll back to the third week in September, 2022 to read all six.

Ephesians 4

Read Ephesians 4

“For Christ’s sake!”

I was raised with that expression; it wasn’t said in reverence to the LORD, much like people say o.m.g. today without thinking about the Lord they are offending. But hear the words as the truth that they are…

For Christ’s sake live worthy of your calling. For Christ’s sake always be humble and gentle. For Christ’s sake live in unity with the church, your eternal brothers and sisters, by the power of the Holy Spirit in you. (:1-3)

And let’s talk about church. Many people have strayed from church or go merely as spectators. Verses :11-16 address the importance and purpose of church.

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church body.” :11-12

The leadership is to equip us and our responsibility is to build up the church body. No spectators and no immature believers… you are not called to make things up as you go. You are called to:

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” :15

It’s time to live for Christ’s sake… in the past you may have lied, been ruled by anger, stolen, used harsh/foul language and brought sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit in any number of ways. Jesus is calling you to turn from that to a life of honesty, generosity, helpful and encouraging talk, forgiveness, kindness and tenderheartedness. Can you feel your soul relax as you read the last sentence? The things the Lord expects you to give up are garbage and everything he calls you to is beautiful.

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32


… I realized later that this was a rather short reading for us today, so I decided to check out Judy’s more recent writing on the Book of Zephaniah. On September 29th, she looked at the first chapter, but then on October 3 (today, for subscribers) she returned for a general overview. What follows is from both devotionals.

Zephaniah

Read Zephaniah 1 and any introduction your bible includes – Zephaniah gets right to the point. He says (he prophesies, or speaks God’s own words for the people), “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth.” :2 Then he goes on to broaden the listeners’ understanding of what God sees and is about to do.

I found verse :6 oddly beautiful and comforting. It shows God’s heart and expectation: “And I will destroy those who used to worship me but now no longer do. They no longer ask for the LORD’s guidance or seek my blessings.”

Beloved, drifting breaks God’s heart. The LORD actually wants his children to seek his guidance and blessings. It is for our good and his glory that we remain close. The people Zephaniah is addressing have wandered into the dangerous territory of abandoning God. When love letters, then warnings do not get heard, punishment is necessary. Good parents always discipline their children to bring them back to right behavior.

Next we read, “Stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign Lord….” :7a, and my own heart longed for silence. It takes effort in our busy world to get silent time before the LORD, to turn off the distractions of life, to quiet our mouth and mind enough to bask in his presence, but again, this is a protection for us. As Pastor John Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

Beloved, as you read, think about how you are hearing the words. We know that God is good all the time and all the time God is good… are you able to hold on to that here in this passage? No one likes punishment, but at times it is all that can save us. Will you take this passage as a cue to inventory your heart and make every correction the Holy Spirit leads you to?

Zephaniah

Read Zephaniah – read and reflect on the three chapters as a whole. This is different from what we’ve done with other books because Zephaniah hit me differently than other books and I am not ready to move on…. and if I’m feeling this way, maybe you are too.

I had to confess to the LORD that chapters 1-3:8 made me fear him. But it wasn’t the reverent fear I normally experience, it was more like the cowering fear an abused child might feel. Confrontation and wrath scare me.

He gently took my confession and reminded me I am not condemned. I am his. The wrath to come is against those who live opposed to Him. The wrath is God’s protection and rescue over believers – evil must be dealt with – I do not need to be afraid of it. And I no longer was.

Then I prayed for a holy comprehension of him singing over me from 3:17*. It’s a big switch from God of the universe to God who delights in me personally. The president of the United States may declare war and imprison bad guys to protect me, but he is certainly not going to drop by my house and sing over me…. Yet God is that personal! The LORD God Almighty has the whole world in his hands, and time to delight in little old me, and little old you.

Zephaniah showed me that I need a bigger concept of the LORD.

And the LORD, in full mercy and grace, gave me a picture of myself getting on the floor with my dogs. I am their master, but when I get on the floor, it’s play time! I delight in them and they know they are precious to me.

I shared last month that my biggest take-away from the retreat in Montana was to cease striving (September 14th post titled Remember). Jesus just plain loves me and his love is not fickle or temperamental. I have loved and been loved imperfectly, yet God’s love is perfect. Today is a beautiful day to cease striving and simply try to wrap my head around that – playfully. He delights to spend time with me and his time is infinite!

Beloved, sit with Zephaniah just a little bit longer and see what the LORD reveals to you. Confess, play, get on the floor and wrestle if you must, but don’t leave this book without all that God has for you.

*3:17:  The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

September 18, 2022

Our Faithfulness vs. God’s Faithfulness

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

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

God’s faithfulness

READ Psalm 51–55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

August 20, 2022

Teach Me

If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.” – Moses in Exodus 33:13 NLT

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance…”– Solomon’s Prayer in 1 Kings 8:35-36 NIV

Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. – A prayer of David in Psalm 86:11 NLT

Make me know Your ways, LORD; Teach me Your paths. – David in Psalm 25:4 NASB

From the website, Theology of Work:

The original Hebrew of Psalm 86:11 reads “Teach me, O Lord, your ways, that I might walk in your truth.” To walk means, in this context, to live each day. The psalmist is not asking for God to impact only his religious life. Rather, he wants to be guided each and every day by divine truth.

The second sentence of Psalm 86:11 could be translated, “Unite my heart so that I might fear your name.” It assumes that our hearts are confused and in need of unifying. Don’t you know this reality in your life? Fearing God’s name means, as the NLT suggests, honoring God. It entails living for God’s glory each and every moment.

Psalm 86:11 assumes that we need God to teach us and to bring our inner selves into wholeness. Then we will be able to live according to God’s truth each day, glorifying him in all we do.

Teach Me: A Worship Liturgy

by Ruth Wilkinson

Jesus said,
“A time is coming and is already here,
when the true worshipers will worship the Father
in spirit and in Truth.
The Father wants such worshipers.”

Paul reminded us,
“Brothers and sisters,
I urge you by the mercy of God
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God.
This is your spiritual worship.”

Father, I want to worship you in spirit and in truth.

Teach me to live my life in acts of worship —

Teach me, like David, to sing freely, to dance without shame,
to call out boldly, “Sing to the Lord all the Earth!”

Teach me, like Solomon, to give generously out of my abundance and my security
to point people toward your Name.

Teach me, like Paul and Silas, to faithfully speak about you,
even when running away is the obvious thing to do.

Teach me, like Elijah to take a stand in the face of my enemies, calm and courageous,
saying, “Today let it be known that You are God and I am Your servant.”

Like Isaiah, teach me to lament my inadequacy, my sinfulness, my fear,
and to be ready to be forgiven.

Like our sister the prostitute, teach me to humbly pour out gratitude,
because my many sins have been forgiven and I have reason to love much.

Teach me, like Ruth, to move forward, walking away from what’s comfortable,
saying, “Wherever you go, I will go. Your God will be my God.”

Like our sister the widow, teach me to give what I can’t afford to give,
when it’s just the right thing to do.

Like Mary, teach me to obey when I don’t understand,
to trust you for the consequences, to say “May your will be done.”

Teach me, Father, to surrender my physical life as my spiritual act of worship,
holy and pleasing to You.

 

January 10, 2022

God Sees us as Beautiful | God is on Our Side

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a double-header for you!

A year ago we introduced you to Rolain Peterson in Zimbabwe and his blog, which he’s been writing, as of this month for ten years, called Kingspeech. He is the author of the 31-day digital devotional, Rise Above Fear. You’re invited to encourage Rolain by reading this at his site by clicking the headers which follow on the two devotionals featured today.

The Beautiful Story of Our Lives

As I look at myself and all the imperfections I have, all the mistakes and sins I continually make I am humbled by the Lord’s grace and mercy He has extended to me.

That’s not just my story but it’s OUR story.

God in his mercy and grace doesn’t leave us in our mess.

He cleans us up and changes us.

He forgives us and gives us a second chance.

And that is what I call the beautiful story of our lives because His love is beautiful.

I think of the woman in Luke 7:37 who the bible tells us was a sinner. We don’t know exactly what she did but it is clear she was not popular in her community.

“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “if this man were a prophet, he would have known who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” – Luke 7:39

But even though the Pharisee had written her off as a lost cause, Jesus saw her differently.

He loved her and forgave her despite knowing all her sins. He didn’t reject her and cast her away.

So don’t listen to the lies that say you cannot be forgiven.

Don’t allow people to tell you that you are a lost cause. That’s not true.

Jesus loves you and extends grace, mercy and forgiveness to you no matter how badly you have messed up.

You can go to Him for help anytime.

God loves To Come Through For Us

“But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”   – 1 Kings 17: 12

The widow at Zarephath was in a crisis. The little food she had left was about to run out.

She had gone to gather a few sticks she could use to cook the last meal for her and her son then die.

Like I said, crisis.

But God came through for her. He sent Elijah and when she obeyed him by making him a meal first, the Lord provided for her in an amazing way.

“So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.” – 1 Kings 17:15, 16

I share this scripture because it teaches us a truth about our God – He loves to come through for us.

  • No matter how bad things get God has got your back.
  • No matter how deep you are in trouble, God will help you out.
  • When there seems to be no way out of the trouble you face, He will ALWAYS come through for you.

Throughout scripture we see this truth play out over and over and over.

  • With Daniel when he was thrown in the lions den
  • With David, when King Saul was hunting him down
  • When Hannah was being ridiculed for being barren
  • When the Israelites were trapped by the Red Sea as the Egyptians chased them

I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.

God loves to come through for you.

So in whatever trouble you find yourself no matter how bad it is, remember that God is for you. He wants to help you.

Ask for His help always!

Bless you, friends.

November 3, 2021

Can God’s Love Be Described as Reckless?

Luke 15:11b [Jesus teaching] “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them…”

Often here we begin with a devotional study and then end with a worship video. Today, I want to begin with the song, Reckless Love. This is actually the second time this has appeared. In the four years since I first looked at this, discussion about the song has continued to be heated, while on the other hand, the song itself has continued to be a popular worship song choice in many churches.

The following is a shorter (5½ minute) version of the song originally by Bethel Worship.

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so, so
Good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

When I was your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so
Good to me
When I felt no worth
You paid it all for me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
No lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God…

My wife and I have had many discussions about this song since its introduction. The idea of a God who will “lavish his love” on us is found in the parable we call The Prodigal Son. We often think that prodigal means runaway, or someone who leaves and returns, but the word’s origins have to do with his spendthrift nature; how he burns through his cash reserves — with abandon.

But in the book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller points out that it is the father in the story who is free-spending. We actually see this twice.

First, he quickly gives away the inheritance to the son. Notice how quickly this is established in the key verse above. Some have said about this story that he knows he needs to lose his son in order to gain him back. There’s an interesting parallel here to 1 Corinthians 5:5 that we don’t have time to explore fully; [H]and this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Second, he is equally free-spending when the son returns, throwing a huge party.

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15)

Reviewing Keller’s book many years ago, I noted,

  • “Prodigal” means “spendthrift”, which also means “reckless”
  • The father in the story is reckless in his willingness to forgive and reinstate the son
  • The father in the story represents God
  • God is “reckless” in that he chooses not to “reckon” our sin; instead offering forgiveness.

Others have noted the character of the Father in his willingness to run to meet his son while he is still in the distance. In a sermon titled, The God Who Runs Martin Ellgar writes,

He sees him coming in the distance and with joy runs out to greet him. In this way he brings honour again to his son. In the eyes of his neighbours, such behaviour of a man towards his disgraced son is disgraceful and unwarranted in itself. He has humiliated himself before others. The loving father has not only gone out eagerly to meet his returning son, but has willingly sacrificed himself to share in and to relieve the humiliation of the returning son.

To me this parable is central to lyrics of the song above.

However, we can’t leave the song there because much has been made of the lyric leaves the ninety-nine. It’s unfortunate that even among Christians, as we face declining Biblical literacy, we need to stop and explain this. Earlier generations — and hopefully readers here — would pick up on the reference immediately.

Interestingly enough, as I prepared this, I realized that the story is actually part of the trio of parables in Luke 15 of which The Prodigal Son is the third. (Maybe that was partly what drew me to the third story as an illustration of God’s lavish love.)

4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

God desires to lavish his love on you. Are you ready to receive it?


Further Reading: The Father’s Love Letter (presented in your choice of text, audio, or video and available in over 100 languages.)


I mentioned that my wife and I had been discussing this song.  Sometimes I will workshop an idea for a devotional with friends online, and my friend Martin of Live To Tell agreed with her somewhat:

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

1. utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless (usually followed by of):  to be reckless of danger.
2. characterized by or proceeding from such carelessness: reckless extravagance.

I can’t get my head around the concept that God’s love is ‘careless’ or ‘unconcerned with the consequences of some action’. Just a bad choice of descriptors in my mind.

I guess it depends how you react to that one word.

Words do matter. What do you think?

September 26, 2021

“There is No Shadow of Turning with Thee”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

There are Biblical phrases which have a beauty to them in older Bible versions that some might feel gets lost in modern translations, although, if the translators are doing their jobs correctly, the meaning should stay the same.

Some may know the phrase, “There is no shadow of turning with thee;” from the scriptures (though that’s not a direct quotation) but I’m betting that more readers here — including some younger readers — know it from the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

The hymn’s title phrase is from the book of Lamentations,

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:21-23 NIV);

but the next line is from the book of James. In the KJV, which was probably the version before the hymn writer, 1:17 reads

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The blog, An Open Orthodoxy takes the time to show us other renderings,

NLT: “He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”
ESV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
NASB: “…with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
RSV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
RSVn: “with whom there is no variation due to a shadow of turning.”

In the Biblical Hermeneutics section of Stack Exchange, there is the same analogy that my wife suggested when we discussed this earlier today:

The ‘shadow of turning’ I can only assume to refer to a sundial, whose shadow turns as the sun moves. Or, in extension, to any object which might be used as a dial to monitor the sun’s movement ; even a tree in a field can have sticks poked around it in the ground which will, as long as clouds interfere not, tell the workers when to have a break and when to go home. ‘When the shadow reaches the eighth stick, you can go.’

But God is Light, 1 John 1:5, or, more strictly, ‘God light is’ – an equivalence in apposition.

Thus if all is bathed in light, rather than a single point-source giving illumination, there will be no shadow.

That was the first of three comments on the forum, and the third dared to get into a discussion of sunspots, but you can use the link and check that for yourself!

There was only one answer at the forum eBible,

In my opinion, James in this verse is contrasting God the Father with the movement of heavenly bodies (including the sun and moon) that exhibit differing levels of illumination, or changes in the shadows that they cast, as they “turn” (that is, as their position or appearance in relation to the earth changes).

The Father does not possess this variability. He is the “Father of lights”, and is the same from eternity past to eternity future. As such, He is a continuing source of gifts, even to the unjust … but especially to those who seek Him and His will through Christ, and to whom He is faithful in keeping His promises.

At the site, Reflections in the Word, there is a short devotional application to all this:

How can there be all that light and the earth still gets dark? It’s because the earth turns. The earth gets dark because the earth is spinning on its’ axis. Therefore, the side that faces the sun gets light and the side that is facing away does not.

If there is darkness in your life, it’s not because God, the Father of Lights is turning; it’s because you are turning. He is the Father of Lights and in Him there is no shadow. There is no darkness in Him.

Because God is faithful, He’s consistent. Just like the sun, He is always shining and in His light there is no shifting or moving shadow. We just have to make sure we are turned toward Him to experience the fullness of His Light.

At the blog, A Pilgrim’s Theology, there is a mention of 1 John 1:5: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and Malachi 3:16 “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed; followed by,

…The literalistic but memorable turn of phrase “no … shadow of turning” used in the KJV, even if not an exact representation of the semantic equivalent of the metaphor that James uses, captures the notion of God’s faithfulness and steadiness. Given the instability of the world in which the nascent community of believers lived, the solidity and reliability of the wisdom of God was important, and the steadiness of the believers as lights is an important corollary in demonstrating that divine wisdom to the world.”

While we won’t quote it, for all the mathematics nerds reading, the blog Edge Induced Cohesion examines the verse in the light of calculus. (That one was above my pay grade!)

Going back to An Open Orthodoxy (linked above), the author offers a different perspective,

…I’d like to suggest that the point of the illustration is to make it clear that God is unlike objects which cast a shadow when held to the light of the sun because God cannot conceivably be thought to stand in the light of any reality or truth other than himself. Objects cast shadows because they are passive in relation to a source of light outside themselves which they reflect and according to which they cast a shadow, revealing their form. The only thing that can cast a shadow is that object whose substance reflects light cast upon it from a source outside itself, and its shadow is the outline of its reflected form. Its shadow shifts and changes as the object moves relative to the light. Everything on earth reflects the sun’s light in this way.

To say God “casts no shifting shadow” or that God is he “in whom there is no variation of shifting shadow” is to say (among other things) that God does not stand in the light of some measurement, that God’s reality casts no shadow because there is no reality outside God whose light or presence or truth God can be said to reflect and in reflecting reveal his form or substance, that God’s gifts do not reflect a goodness other than God.

For those who wish a new theological term for today, all of this is reflective of God’s divine impassibility.

 

 

 

 

September 25, 2021

The Safety and Protection David Knew

For a weekend reading, we’re introducing another new source to you. Salty Saints are a husband/wife team that’s been serving our Lord Jesus Christ together for 14 years. Their tag line for the blog is, “Sprinkling some salt and shining our light all over this world for Jesus!” Angela, who does most of the writing, is currently in a series on the Psalms. Click the header which follows to read this there, and then explore more well-written, thoughtful devotionals.

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

11 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
12 Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence.
13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

This Psalm really resonated with me this morning. With all that is going on in this evil world right now and the fear-driven agenda that’s all around us, the best thing we can do is remind ourselves of God’s character and goodness and the safety and protection we find in Him, just as David did. The dark and the unknown are things that scare us, but we need to remember that the Lord is our Light and our Salvation, our Fortress and Protector. No matter what may come, we can remain confident that He will take care of us always.

Even if we get to a point where we are surrounded by enemies, attacked, and suffer violence for our faith, we can rest assured that God will guide, guard, and keep us. We can be bold in the face of whatever lies ahead.

Three things that I notice that David did: He

  • reminded himself Who God is (built himself up in his faith),
  • he desired more than anything else to worship in the Lord’s presence, and
  • he prayed and waited on God.

These are all the very same things we can and should do when we are facing trying times. These are the things we should do at all times, actually!

As followers and disciples of Christ, we need not fear what tomorrow holds for we know Who holds all tomorrows! So let’s work on building up our faith in these days by seeking the Lord consistently through His Word and becoming a living sacrifice, worshiping and honoring and giving Him praise in all things, and communicating with Him in prayer about everything. There is nothing we can’t go to Him with and He already knows our heart and all of our thoughts, so let’s talk through those things with Him and receive His peace, joy, and direction.

As David had assurance that God would always be with him and never leave or abandon him, we can be sure of this too. No matter who else may leave our side, He won’t. No matter how hard things may seem and how alone we may feel at times, He sees us and feels great mercy and compassion toward us and He offers us comfort and even joy that passes all understanding. He IS a good, good Father and verse 10 says, “He will hold me close.” That’s awesome to think of, isn’t it? I imagine Him just holding me in His arms close to His chest as the kindest, loving Father in such a warm embrace and just never letting me go.

This also says that He teaches us the way we should go. We have to be constantly seeking Him in order to be guided along life’s journey by Him. He will show us which path to take and it will always be the narrow one. Remember that broad is the way that leads to destruction and MOST are on it. So we must stay on the narrow path that leads to life, even if it’s a lonely path because everyone else seems to be on the other one.

David was confident that he would “see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living” but he knew that he had to be brave, courageous, and patient. This holds true for us as well.

We are sure that we will see His goodness, in life and in death, and we must face both in this same way. We do not need to give in to fear, for that is Satan’s number one tactic. We must be brave and courageous…these are characteristics that God has always instilled in and demanded of His soldiers. Cowards have no place in the Kingdom of God and Heaven. And much patience and endurance (to the end) is going to be needed for all that lies ahead until we meet Jesus face to face and are ushered in and hear that long-awaited, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

These are just some thoughts I had as I read this beautiful and encouraging Psalm this morning and thought I would share with all of you. I hope you have a blessed day in the Lord! Remember, let’s be about the Father’s business!


Read more: Here’s another shorter devotional from Salty Saints based on Psalm 29: Click here. (Actually, all of the recent articles we looked at are really good!)

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