Christianity 201

September 30, 2022

A Message of Love and Acceptance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our ninth time with Mark McIntire who writes at Attempts at Honesty. There were a couple of more recent devotionals, but this one challenged me to consider the things that I “do” or do not “do” in light of the relationship with Christ based on love and grace.

To read this where it first appeared, click the title below.

Missing the point

I have heard it said from a few pulpits (and I’ve said it myself) that the longest measurable distance known to man is the 18 inches between the head and the heart. The point being that what we think and what has been internalized can be vastly different.

This morning as I walked, I thought of an example.

In John 8, we are provided with the beautiful story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus, in response to her sin said, “neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Jesus expressed his love for the woman with the words, “neither do I condemn you.” The whole point of the story is a demonstration of the love of Jesus.

Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)

The love of God is not dependent upon our behavior. It is not dependent on how well we follow His commands. It is not dependent upon espousing good theology. It is not dependent on anything that we do or say.

I have been a believer in Jesus for almost 60 years. But I now realize that for all of those 60 years, I have put Scripture, and what people say through a grid that is neither right, nor helpful.

Jesus expresses his love for sinners in the words, “neither do I condemn you.” But what I internalized growing up in the church is “go and sin no more.” To focus on the latter outside of the former is to develop some weird pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps spirituality that is contrary to the Gospel.

Jesus is not telling the woman, neither is he telling me, that more effort is needed, but that is the way I have responded to Jesus’ statement.

When someone has an unrealistic expectation of me that I am trying to fulfill, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When I read Scripture and it highlights my failure, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When someone unfairly criticizes me, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When someone fairly criticizes me, I hear “go and sin no more.”

The list goes on, but I realize that I have put everything through the grid of “go and sin no more.”

That is not the gospel that I believe. I fully understand that I am only saved by Grace. I fully understand that it is God’s love the prompted him to reveal Himself in Scripture. I fully understand that Jesus freely offers grace to all who believe in him and that grace is not earned or deserved.

But there is a broken piece of me that still seeks the illusion of perfection. There is a piece of me strives to be above criticism.

The biggest problem with this is that it shifts my focus to performance and away from relationship.

The two great commands* are all about relationship, not about doing. But the grid I’ve used to evaluate my life switches this around and makes it all about doing and I lose sight of the relationship.

Perhaps in a future post, I will explore some of the reasons why I got into this ditch, but for now, I share this for the benefit of those who have internalized the same message.

I now chose to view Scripture as a message of love and acceptance rather than an impetus to try harder. In the face of Jesus we see one who loves sinners like me. In the face of Jesus, we see the God who loves us more deeply than we can ever imagine.

Rather than try harder, I need to take a deep breath and bask in the love of God.


NIV.Matt.22.34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

  1. Deut. 6:5
  2. Lev. 19:18

September 19, 2022

Legalism Leads with the Law, Rather Than the Gospel

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

Legalism vs. Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His grace is all we need!

 

August 19, 2022

Turning (Completely) To God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:07 pm
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Today we’re back at the blog By Leaps and Bounds which is an outreach of Arise Ministries, which is based in West Virginia. The author of today’s thoughts is Adrianna Lindsey.

Repentance

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30.

This scripture is often discussed in sermons when pastors describe a relationship with Jesus. How do we forfeit our burdens? We repent of our sins, we stop trying to do it all in our own will power.

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” -II Corinthians 6:14

How is a believer and an unbeliever unequally yoked? An unbeliever is yoked to the world, to idolatry, to sin and unrighteousness. The yoke of sin is heavy. This scripture is referring to a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever but it is also a great way to compare what a life as a believer weighs compared to a life of an unbeliever.

Repentance relieves a heavy yoke. Taking on the yoke of Jesus can only happen if we repent of our old sinful lives. Many times throughout the epistles the disciples describe when people and their households come to believe The Good News they repented of their sins, got water baptized, then received the Holy Spirit. Same with Jesus, minus he was a man with no sin and fulfilled the law, a Yoke that no man could fulfill (Acts 15:10), in its entirety so he did not need to repent of sin. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and responded to this command that he was doing what was required by the father (Matthew 3:15).

We can’t walk in righteousness and holiness with Jesus without repenting. Jesus literally tells people they will suffer a gruesome way to perish like the Galileans whose blood was mingled with their sacrifices (Luke 13:2-3). He specifically says that their sins were not worse than the sins of other Galileans but they still perished an awful death. When we hold on to unforgiveness, anger, malice, bitterness and so many other sinful ways we are choosing to perish. Jesus says not everyone who says to Me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom…”and I will declare to them depart from me I never knew you, you who practice lawlessness!” (Luke 7:21-23)

But there is good news! When we repent and turn from our sin, we take upon the Yoke of the Lord! The Lord’s grace is abundant, yes, but that is not an excuse to continue living in sin. Romans 6 specifically says, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-2). We make that decision to repent and be baptized into Christ Jesus and into His death so we can also be raised from the dead and share that with our King and walk in the newness of life! (Romans 6:1-4). How powerful it is to be united together in the likeness of His death and the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:5)!

Don’t be a slave to your sin. Jesus tells his disciples that whoever commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). He also says a slave does not abide in the house forever but a son abides forever and if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:35-36) This statement is used often with ministers in deliverance ministry because many times we believe lies that keep us bound in our sin causing us to be a slave to our sin or bound to a demonic stronghold. So repent, let go of that stronghold, because the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

August 3, 2022

Grace Isn’t How the World Works

NIV.Matt.20.8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

[If you’re unfamiliar with the section which precedes these verses, click here to start at verse one.]

A year ago we briefly visited the blog, Running to Him for the first time. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

The Grace of the Parable

The parable Jesus used in Matthew 20:1-16 shows God’s outlandish grace towards us. People who follow Christ get the same reward for following Christ, the gift of eternal life with and of knowing Christ. In the parable that Jesus uses, the Kingdom of God is compared to workers in a field. Some worked all day and others were found later in the day, but they all got paid the same wage. Sounds a bit unfair, right?

Well let’s look at it in context, this story isn’t about workers in a field. It’s about the Kingdom of God. The fact is that if you’ve been a Christian your whole life or if you just started following Jesus today, you will be getting the same reward as the person who started following Jesus today.

Does that still sound unfair? If so, let’s take our scarcity mindset and throw it out the window for any conversation related to the presence of Jesus. Why? It’s because Jesus is not like us. Jesus is fully man, fully God. God operates outside of time and space. The presence of the Holy Spirit is INFINITE. Time and the limit of being present in only one place are not limits for Jesus. THERE IS ENOUGH JESUS TO GO AROUND!!

The Kingdom of God is not like the business or company you work for. The Kingdom of God is not bound by restraints of money or time limits. The Kingdom of God is bigger than all of those things. So much bigger that it’s hard for our minds to wrap around the reality of that statement.

With that being established, why would God give more of Himself to some people than to others? Those who believe in Jesus have FULL ACCESS to ALL of who He is. Not just partial access, there are no visiting hours. We can reach out at ANY TIME and ANY PLACE.

How unfair would it be for there to be levels of Christianity? Imagine Jesus saying, “Sorry, you’ve only been a Christian for a day. You can’t enter my Kingdom until you’ve been following me for at least a year.” That’s insane. The Jesus of Scripture, the Jesus I know, would NEVER do that.

The more that I think about it, Matthew 20:1-16 may not make sense when you think of it in regards to how this world works. However, having Kingdom context changes EVERYTHING. Kingdom context puts pride away. Kingdom context makes us realize that we are all on the same playing field before God. None of us are more Spiritual or Holy than the other. We are just blessed to have been called by God.


Our regular Thursday columnist, Clarke Dixon is now more than halfway through a 14-week sabbatical, but just days in he announced the completion of a book. You can read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link. This would be a great book to give to someone who is considering Christianity but hasn’t made a decision. It contains material adapted from Clarke’s “Compelling” series which ran here a few years back.

August 2, 2022

The Love of Our Guide, Protector and Provider

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

A Foundation Of Love

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

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

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

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

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

Being Shepherded

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

Here are some Bible verses on God as your shepherd.

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

Luke 15:4-5 TPT

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

John 10:2 AMP

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

John 10:14 NLT

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

Psalms 23:1 AMP

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

1 Peter 2:25 GNT

July 19, 2022

Our Passport was Issued in Heaven

A year ago we introduced you to Nathan Nass who writes at Upside-Down Savior. Nathan and is a Lutheran Pastor in Oklahoma. We have two devotionals for you from Nathan, both based on the same chapter in Philippians. Clicking the title for each will take you to where they first appeared.

Our Citizenship Is in Heaven

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:18-20)

You’re an alien. Did you know that? It’s true, as long as you’re a Christian. The Bible from beginning to end reminds God’s people over and over again that we are aliens and strangers on earth. This isn’t our permanent home. Our true home—our true citizenship—is in heaven.

We need that reminder often, especially if we’re proud of the earthly country we live in. I thank God for the blessing of being an American. Many other people dream of American citizenship but don’t have that option or opportunity. That makes it tempting to base our identity on the country that we’re from.

Too many people live that way. Too many people live as if this world is all there is. Too many people live as if this life is all there is. Their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” When you forget your heavenly citizenship, you naturally focus your attention on the pleasures and desires of this world. That’s okay, isn’t it? No! “Their destiny is destruction!” If we think this world is our home, we miss the whole message of Christianity, and we’re on the highway to hell.

But you’re an alien, remember? But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When you believe in Jesus, your passport changes. Our citizenship is in heaven! If that’s the case, then it only makes sense that our hope is in heaven too. Our Savior isn’t a certain president or political party. It’s our Lord Jesus Christ! Don’t look to Washington for solutions to life’s troubles. Look up. To the cross of Jesus. To heaven. That’s your home.

So don’t let your stomach become your god. Don’t set your mind on earthly things, and watch out for those who do. Don’t set your heart on building an earthly country. Our citizenship is in heaven.

Dear Lord God, by your grace, you call me a citizen of heaven. How could I ever deserve that? Thank you for sending Jesus to open up eternal life to me. Help me to live each day as a citizen of heaven. Amen.

The Goal

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:10-12)

What’s your goal in life? What’s the burning desire that you want to be fulfilled more than anything else? It is success on the athletic field? A job title? A certain dollar amount? ____ kids? Whether you know it or not, that goal is reflected in your priorities and in how you spend your time and money.

Here was Paul’s goal: “I want to know Christ.” That sounds pretty simplistic, doesn’t it? Don’t you want to say to Paul: “All you want is to know Christ? Is that it? Don’t you know Jesus already?”

And Paul would say, “I want to know Christ so, so, so much more. To know how much he suffered for me to save me from my sins. To know the power of his resurrection and the eternal life it brings. To know the purpose God laid out for me even before the beginning of the world. To know the glory of heaven that awaits all who trust in Jesus. I want to know Christ and his resurrection so, so, so much more!”

Can I be honest? I don’t think that’s our goal. Just look at the way that you and your family spend your time. Is your schedule filled with “knowing Christ?” How about your thoughts? Think about all the ideas and daydreams that pass through your mind each day. How many of those thoughts are focused on Christ? I’m afraid we sinfully put “knowing Christ” way down at the bottom of our lists of goals.

But not Jesus. He didn’t put you at the bottom of his list. You are his goal! Jesus suffered and died and rose to win you back to God. Through his Word, Jesus has taken hold of you and made you the child of God. Right now, Jesus is in heaven preparing a room for you and me. What goal could possibly be better than this: To know Christ and his resurrection? To know Christ, even as we are fully known by him.

Dear Jesus, you know me and everything about me. Yet, even with all my sins, you came and died and rose to save me. Thanks for your love! Make it my desire to know you and your amazing grace. Amen.

July 16, 2022

The Reverberated Section of The Lord’s Prayer

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

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

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

but seconds later, in verses 14 and we read,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you need to forgive today?


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

Quoting the preview descriptions:

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

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

July 11, 2022

Temptation is Rooted Within Ourselves, Not God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional study was submitted by a writer we’d featured once previously. Luke Wagner who serves as Next Steps Pastor at The Anchor Church in Lawrence, Kansas. You are invited to check out his blog, An Eternal Viewpoint. Clicking the title below will take you to where this devotional first appeared.

In the Midst of Temptation

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

The world we live in is filled with opportunities to surrender our integrity. No matter what age, demographic, culture you come from, or upbringing, the reality of temptation is something every person faces. And with every instance of temptation knocking at our door comes the challenge to wrestle with it mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul was no stranger to temptation. Neither were the people he ministered to, who were part of the churches he wrote his letters to. That’s why he reminds us that we are not in this struggle alone. More than that, there is no temptation you or I could face that someone hasn’t faced before. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in that. What I face doesn’t catch God by surprise, and I’m not the only one who has wrestled with it either.

Paul makes an interesting statement next that I think requires us to explore more. There is often times the thought, whether it be conscious or not, that God orchestrates temptation in our life. That when we face temptation it’s because God brought it into our life. The problem is that this thinking contradicts Scripture and God’s very nature. As a Holy God, He cannot commit or cause sin. To do so would be contradictory to who He is. James emphasized this point in his letter when he wrote the following.

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. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

James 1:13-14

Temptation is rooted within ourselves, not God. It is the effect of our own desires, rooted in our flesh. God does not tempt, but rather tests us.

That’s an important distinction to understand. Paul is however indicating that God allows us to be tempted. Allowing something to happen is very different from being the cause, and this is the distinction Paul makes. But even with God allowing temptation to take place, Paul makes it clear that He will never allow it to be stronger than my ability to not give in.

Now, this is an interesting point. It’s common for us as people to find excuses for giving into temptation. And the excuse is always rooted in a lack of escape. Paul however makes it very clear that God always provides a way out. The ability to turn away from the temptation is always there, and thus failure to do so is not because we couldn’t.

We fail to turn from temptation because we choose to give in.

When I give into the temptations I face it’s simply because I decided to give in. The reality and truth is that God never allows me to face a challenge I can’t overcome, He always provides a means of escape and endurance. When I fail in my integrity and allow my character to be jeopardized by giving into temptation, I have no one but myself to blame.

But this reality brings to light another truth. My independence will always lead to giving into the temptations I face! If I continue to try and survive on my own, apart from God, I will fail every time. Paul wasn’t saying I have the strength to escape temptation. The fact that God provides the way means the ability to do so rests in Him alone.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to look at that site.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to steal that item.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to tell that lie.

God’s strength is the means in which I can keep my integrity and character intact.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Maybe that’s why Paul said these words too. He understood that it was literally in the moments he didn’t have the strength to maintain his integrity that God’s grace and power shined through most. Paul recognized his weakness, and understood where his true strength came from.

Not himself, but God.

What’s your response to temptation when you face it? Do you have a tendency to blame God, especially when you give in? Paul’s words present a challenge to how we view temptation, and calls us to not only see it differently but to act accordingly.

What will you do?

 

July 5, 2022

Two Verses Containing a World of Truth

Ever so slightly cheating on our six-month rule, we’re back again highlighting the writing of Gary Henry at WordPoints for the eleventh time. Click the title below to link to where this first appeared, listen to it on audio, learn about Gary’s books, and then check out other devotionals.

To Him Be Glory and Dominion

“. . . from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5,6).

Here, in just two verses, is a world of truth about Jesus Christ.

In his greeting to the seven churches of Asia at the beginning of Revelation, the apostle John ascribed glorious praise and honor to “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” We could spend a rich lifetime pondering these two verses, learning more deeply to appreciate the King of kings and Lord of lords who has given us salvation and eternal hope.

The faithful witness. One of the claims of Jesus was that, having come from the Father, He brought us information about heavenly things that we could not know about otherwise. Speaking of Jesus, John the Baptist said, “He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony” (John 3:31,32). And Jesus Himself said, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father” (John 8:38). So when Jesus is described as “the faithful witness,” the point is that His testimony is true — whatever Jesus said about God can be believed and trusted.

The firstborn of the dead. When He was raised from the dead, Jesus became the “firstfruits” (or “guarantee”) of our own resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20,23). He has broken the power of death, the worst weapon of Satan (John 11:25,26; Hebrews 2:14,15).

The ruler of kings on earth. Jesus has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Earthly rulers are all answerable to Him; none is independent of His power. The kingdoms of men rise and fall only with His permission, and at any instant He can depose any ruler whose power stands against His eternal purposes (Psalm 2:1–12; Daniel 2:44; 7:13,14; Revelation 11:15).

Here, then, is One whom we may love and worship. “To him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Eternal with God the Father, He is the Alpha and the Omega. The world was created through Him, and He is moving history toward its final destination. For us, salvation means this: being found “in Christ” when He returns.

“Christ himself is living at the heart of the world; and his total mystery — that of creation, incarnation, redemption, and resurrection — embodies and animates all of life and all of history” (Michael Quoist).


Today’s devotional was shorter, but keep this in mind: Gary posted four devotionals the same day! Click the header below to read one more.

Made to be Filled

Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.
(Psalm 107:8,9)

One of life’s most important insights is the understanding that we were created to be the recipients of God’s glory and grace.

We are vessels. We are instruments. We are personal beings to whom and through whom God intends to communicate the benevolence of His own character. When we learn to see ourselves in this way — as existing for the purpose of receiving God’s goodness — we are then able to glorify Him in a higher way than we ever could have done in the past.

There is, as the old saying goes, a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill. Philip James Bailey said it this way: “Naught but God can satisfy the soul.” Most of us recognize that God is perfectly able to fulfill our needs, just because He is our Creator. What we perhaps don’t recognize as well is that God is the only adequate fulfillment of our needs. Having been made for this very purpose, if our hearts are not filled with Him, we can only die. Between life and death, there is no middle way.

It marks a huge step in the growth of any person when he or she learns the truth of Jesus’ statement, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It is also important, however, for us to see that what we’re to give is that which we’re intended to receive from God: His goodness. We were created not merely to be receptacles of God’s grace, but channels through which that grace would be conveyed to our fellow human beings.

Paul’s prayer for his Christian friends in Rome was typical of his wish for Christians everywhere else: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). There is simply no higher request we can make, at least insofar as our human needs are concerned. When we see that this is the meaning of life — to be filled with God ourselves, and then to communicate Him to others — we can begin to fulfill the potential for which we were made.

“It is the goodness of God, and a desire to communicate this good, that inspired creation. We are designed to receive God’s goodness” (William Law).

June 5, 2022

The Blessing and the Gift: Sabbath and Communion

In many of our churches today was Communion Sunday. In the church where I grew up, it was the 2nd Sunday of the month, but increasingly it’s the first Sunday. And if your church observes The Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, all the better!

There is so much to commend Susan Barnes’ blog, who we feature here for the fifth time. It’s a mix of shorter devotionals, longer ones, and, even though she is a writer herself, a review of books by other authors.

Without trying to be analytical, another thing that struck me today was that many devotional writers end each piece with a short prayer, but here the prayer she leads us in is much longer compared to the balance of the article. Maybe it’s because I read and edit such things daily, but it gave me pause for thought. Could my thoughts be better expressed if, instead of teaching them to my readers, I simply guided us in a more extended time of thoughts offered to God instead? Or, if someone comes to me for help, instead of spending words on trying to fix the situation, I simply spent the time pouring out my heart to God on their behalf? [Okay, end of analytical section!]

Clicking the header below will take you to where this one first appeared.

Communion : A gift of rest

One day the elders of Israel came to see Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord. Amongst other things, the Lord gave this message to his people. “I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord, made them holy” (Ezekiel 20:12).

In the Old Testament God gave his people the Sabbath as a gift. It was meant to be a blessing—a whole day to do whatever was restful. God gave his people the Sabbath so they would know it wasn’t their work that made them holy, rather it was the Lord. Every week, on the Sabbath, God was reminding them salvation wasn’t achieved by their works. In the New Testament, the Pharisees complicated the Sabbath with a whole bunch of rules, and it became a burden, but this was never God’s intention. It was always meant to be a gift of rest.

Likewise, every time we gather for communion, we remember salvation isn’t by our work. Maybe that’s why God told us to share communion regularly because it reminds us salvation is a gift. It’s a gift of rest because we don’t work for our salvation. We partake often because we so quickly forget. We fall into the trap of the Pharisees and turn the gift of salvation into a burden or a way of catching up because we have been too busy.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

This “once for all” sacrifice means that Jesus’ one-time sacrifice of his life on the cross was sufficient to deal with all sin, past, present and future. It is an all-sufficient sacrifice. Once was enough because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice.

We are made holy because of the work Jesus did on the cross … not by our efforts.

Let’s pray …

Thank you Lord that you give us the gift of rest. Thank you that we don’t work for our salvation but rather we rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Thank you for the bread, a reminder of your body broken for us, the sacrifice for our sin. No matter how hard we work, we cannot repay the debt of our sin so you took it all upon yourself and gave us the gift of rest. May we truly enter into your rest and know we have peace with God.

Thank you for the cup, a reminder of your spilt blood, shed for us so we could live a life of rest, without having to strive to please you, since you are pleased when we accept your gift of rest.

Thank you, Lord.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen


Bonus link:

Wondering what Susan might have written about a verse or short passage for which you know the reference? Click on this link, then scroll down and click the applicable passage.

June 3, 2022

What We Were Made For

(For the grammar purists cringing over today’s title, yes, you’re right, one doesn’t end a sentence with a preposition!)

Today we return to a devotional that I personally receive by email each day, “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions. (Oh, no! There’s that hanging preposition again!) This is two devotionals which were meant to go together.

Created By, Created For

by Gina Elmes

 Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

These verses are fundamental and foundational to understanding real Christianity. They speak of who we are and how we came into existence as new creations, and also what we were created for, our purpose. Within these verses we see two important components; when kept together they produce effective Christian living but if divided can produce spiritual laziness and ineffective living in the life of the believer.

The first and most important thing we discover is that we are the produce of His grace (verse 9-10); we did not bring ourselves into salvation, justification and righteousness, rather it was all God outside of our help or assistance. When we were dead in our sins He saved us (made us alive) by His grace, and we enter into all He has given us and achieved for us by faith alone.

In this we can compare ourselves to Adam, the first man God created. There are many great practical and spiritual parallels to us and him, especially that his first day was God’s last day. When we read the beginnings of Genesis we see God make everything and do everything that was needed for life and existence, then finally He creates man and positions him in His finished, completed work. It’s the same with us in our new-creation standing: God completed everything He needed to do to save us and restore us and then through Christ brought us into being and positioned us in His finished work.

As Adam was so are we; we are God’s workmanship, not finding our origins in our ability but rather in His grace, that which He did of His own potential outside of our assistance. An understanding of grace must leave you looking at God alone without any boasting of things added or achieved by you. We are indeed His workmanship, created naturally by Him (we did not come from monkeys or explosions, rather we all find our ancestry in that first man and woman, Adam and Eve), but also spiritually we have been recreated by Him in Christ.

If this is all Ephesians offered us it would be more than enough – we are left created by God and restored and re-positioned by the perfect work of His Son as a gift of His goodness and mercy. But the truth is it does not end there. The apostle Paul takes a breath and continues with the same storyline as He announces in verse 10 that, “We are God’s workmanship, created for good works, and these having been prepared for us in advance”. Wow! Created by God for a purpose – that’s true destiny. This means that there is a proper response to grace and this response is not laziness or sitting on our ‘blessed assurance’ rather Good works.

He Has Always Been A God of Grace

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” Genesis 6:8 NKJV

God has always been a God of grace. Grace is God doing for us what we could never do for ourselves and giving us blessings that we don’t deserve. This is not a new thing that we see only in the New Testament. God says that His character never changes so the grace-filled God we have come to know through Christ has always been grace-filled. The sacrifice of Jesus did not change God into a ‘nice guy.’ He has always been the gracious God of His people who has been helping them and looking out for them.

The first place in the Bible where the word grace is mentioned is way back in the book of Genesis where Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord in a time when the culture around him was so evil that God was going to destroy them. Noah was by no means a perfect man and still did wrong at times but he was considered righteous by God because he had faith in Him and God saved him and his family.

You can even see God’s grace directly written into the law!! In Deuteronomy 15 all financial debt was to be cancelled in Israel every 7 years. In the same chapter we read that all slaves were to be released every 7 years. Also, farmers were told not to glean all the way to the edges of a field during a harvest but some was to be left for the poor to collect so they would have food for themselves and their families. Foreigners living among the Israelites were commanded by God to be treated with kindness. It’s quite easy to see the kindness, compassion, and grace God had on the vulnerable; those who were struggling and those held in bondage and could not be freed by their own strength or ability.

We all have weaknesses in our lives in some area. Maybe you struggle with health issues, lack of finances, loneliness, addictions, etc, God wants you to trust Him and remember His gracious nature and know He desires to extend grace toward you. He knows you cannot face your problems on your own with success and that you need Him. When we put our trust in Him we don’t consider our weakness but rather His strength that will enable us to succeed.

November 7, 2021

Praying for What We’ve Already Been Given

The decade from 2007 to 2016 was a golden age for Christian blogs. One of ones we visited three times year, and linked to many times at Thinking Out Loud was Parking Space 23. Today we went back for a visit and found that they were still active until this spring when this piece by Jason Vaughn appeared. Click the link below to read directly.

Pray for What We Own Already

Paul’s first prayer in Ephesians really intrigues me. Compare what he prays for with commonly heard prayer requests. When I say, how can I pray for you, what do we often respond with? We mention issues, situations, or desired outcomes. This isn’t wrong. To clarify please do not feel guilty for asking for specific issues you want others to pray for. Instead, I propose some additional content to be added to our prayers on behalf of your church family, family, coworkers, and ourselves. Paul’s prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, allows us a glimpse into the apostle’s concern.

As Paul writes to the church, he thanks the Lord for this congregation and records how he prays. He says,

ESV.Eph.1.15 “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

The testimony of the church leads him to give thanks. This is a church exhibiting faith in Christ and love for one another. These two attributes only exist through the work of the Holy Spirit, so thanking our Lord proves appropriate and gives Him the honor He is due. But then he reveals how he constantly prays, “that [our Lord] would give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him . . . the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (1:17-18). Emphatically Paul asks God for the church to understand the revelation our Lord gives to us. He wants believers to know God. He wants God to grant us understanding of Him.

It is not enough for Paul that we be empowered to just live rightfully, but that we think rightfully too. (Paul doesn’t pit these against each other, ever. Instead he sees them as a married couple holding hands walking together). But what is it we should know? He lists three facts he wants us to understand: 1. To know the hope of His calling 2. the riches of the glory of His inheritance and 3. His surpassing greatness of His power brought about in Christ! (His resurrection, ascension and sovereignty, and headship over the church).

The familiar reader of Ephesians will note Paul addressed the first two points in 1:3-14. Herein lies a key observation. Paul wants the church to know and understand what we already have in Christ. The opening paragraph explains what we have in Christ, “every spiritual blessing.” (1:3) He does not hope we gain these truths nor do these truths only exist if we know or understand them. Instead, whether we understand them or not, if you are a believer, these truth do exist! It’s like buying a used car and you made this choice because of make, model, engine, and reliability, then as you drive the car you start to discover all the cool features, secret cup holders, bluetooth, and other neat features. You already owned them, but you did not know you owned them. This is exactly what Paul prays for. He wants us to understand what is true about us in Christ! It is lamentable to think about how many people have passed away on earth to only discover in the presence of God what he or she really had in Christ. Paul wants us to know this today!

When he says, “You will know the hope of his calling” he really means, He wants us to know and understand what we have in Christ. “The hope of his calling” was already explained in 1:3-14 and should draw us back to remember that amazing introductory paragraph. What is the hope our calling we have in Christ? It can be summarized simply — that we are “in Christ!” But Paul mentions six blessings regarding what it means to be in Christ. These are “the hope of our calling” and the “spiritual blessings” every believer has — not earned!

  1. “That we would be holy and blameless before Him” (1:4) For every believer this is a relief! We know we are sinful, not holy, and cannot save myself. I know that God’s requirement for his children is that I would be holy as He is holy. But unfortunately I cannot do anything to earn or obtain that holiness. But enter God who chose us, His children, to be holy and blameless before the world was even founded!
  2. “Adopted as sons in Jesus Christ” (1:5) Not only have I been made holy, but God adopts me into His family. Believers are children of God, enjoying every promise from God, especially those found in the New Covenant: forgiveness, indwelling Holy Spirit, justified, to know God personally, the hope of the resurrection, and a seat at the banquet table with our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. “In Him we have redemption” (1:7) God redeemed us, not based on our work, but based on Christ and His work on the cross where God is both just and the justifier. No longer are my sins remembered against me, instead God forgives us. Why? Again, not because we have something that God needs, but rather, “according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us!” (1:7-8). This is humbling, and rightfully so! Hopefully it causes us to give thanks to Him for his mercy and grace!
  4. “He made known to us the mystery of His will” (1:9). This is the right time for our Lord. We know the mystery the prophets looked into, but didn’t know what time Christ would be revealed. Well now, Christ has been revealed and we know the mystery of His will. We live in a great season where Christ has come in the flesh, died, buried, resurrected, and ascended to glory. We no longer have to ask, “When is the Messiah coming.” Instead we already know, He’s come (and will come back again). We walk with a confidence existing only because Christ has conquered death on the cross.
  5. “We were made an inheritance” (1:11). Looking at two sides of the coin. On one side, we are adopted as children. On the other side God made us His inheritance. The covenant keeping Lord made us New Covenant children. We are His chosen ones. We are precious to Him as any good father would be to His children. It’s this truth that allows us to confidently say, “God loves me!”
  6. “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). Every believer, each of his children, His inheritance has indwelling him or her, the Holy Spirit. This is a New Covenant promise true for everyone who believes (1:13). The true God, Holy Spirit, indwells us guaranteeing our place in God’s presence around the banquet table!

Every one of these truths is fully true whether we understand them or not. But Paul, with a pastor’s heart wants the church to understand each of these truths. Why? Because there is hope in them! Life can be difficult. Our trials can lead to despondency, despair, and all sorts of difficult emotions. But to live every day understanding these truths are not only true when we have good days, but bad days too, helps us praise and thank our Lord, joining Paul who opens Ephesians with “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Nothing in this world compares to what I have in Christ. Remembering this spurs us on to honor, thank, and love others regardless of the context, trials, and hardships we deal with daily.

This hope should serve at the core of our thinking and therefore living. As we seek to love our church family, spouse, kids, and everyone God puts around us, we desire each person to know this same hope. Join Paul’s prayer and make sure you add this content to your prayers on behalf of yourself and others. God wants us to know His gifts given to us through Christ.

.

October 28, 2021

Praying for Those Who Hurt Us

Thinking Through Jeremiah 29:1-7

by Clarke Dixon

You’ve been hurt. Perhaps repeatedly, by the same person or people. You don’t think they deserve a relationship with you anymore. Perhaps they don’t. You don’t think they deserve God’s kindness in any way. Perhaps they don’t. You are done, finished, moving on. If there is a further move in the relationship, it will be you getting back at them. It will be them getting what they deserve.

Would it be really bad if God were to tap you on your shoulder and say “you know those who are experienced as a curse in your life? You need to bless them”?

We are going to be challenged by that time God tapped his people on the shoulder through the prophet Jeremiah. It happened at the beginning of what is called the Babylonian exile. God had promised to stick close to and protect his people who were dwelling in the promised land, if they stuck with him. They didn’t and the Babylonians came crashing in, looking to cash in.

It happened in stages beginning with some of Jerusalem’s people being deported to Babylon and Jerusalem itself being subjugated to Babylon. There were kerfuffles along the way and about fifteen years after the first deportation there was one final deportation and Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple. There is a Psalm that captures well the mood of the people at that time:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalms 137 (NIV)

We may be surprised by the desire for infants to be killed, but that was what the Babylonians did. From Psalm 137 we can feel the passionate desire to settle the score, to see Babylon get what it gave. It does not capture the right thing to do, but it does capture the mood, the way the people were feeling. Perhaps it captures your mood. O Lord, repay them for what they have done to me. Let them get what they gave.

While Psalm 137 captured the mood of the people, a letter sent from Jeremiah captured God’s direction:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

Jeremiah 29:4-6 (NIV)

In other words, make yourselves at home among your worst enemy. Settle in for the long haul. Be willing to sit with those you can’t stand. But further:

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Jeremiah 29:7 (NIV)

God’s exiled people were to pray for the enemy. That might be easy enough if they could pray for their demise. Psalm 137 indicates that such is what they would feel like praying. But they are to pray for the “peace and prosperity” of Babylon.

“Peace and prosperity” is used here to translate the Hebrew word shalom, a word which means much more than simply “peace” as in “the absence of war.” It has the idea of things going well and being harmonious. My motorcycle is at peace when it sits quietly in the garage. It is in a state of shalom when it is on the road with all its parts working together in harmony so that it can fulfil its purpose.

Now imagine how hard that would have been to pray for shalom for those who attacked, besieged, and destroyed your home and homeland, killing many of your people.

This was not the first, and won’t be the last time we hear God’s call to bless an enemy. We hear it again on the lips of Jesus:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Matthew 5:43-45 (NLT)

Is there someone in your life over whom you feel like praying “repay them for what they’ve done to me, let’s get ’em back”? Maybe they don’t deserve a relationship with you, Maybe they don’t deserve God’s favour. Nevertheless, we are called to pray for their peace, their shalom.

Let us thank God for setting the example, when he did not treat us as our sins deserved, but endured the cross. Let us thank God that when he taps us on the shoulder and tells us to love our enemies, he set the example, by loving us despite our enmity towards him:

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:10-11 (NIV)

If we were raised in a Christian home, we might have trouble thinking of a time that we would have been comfortable with the title “enemy of God”. Even if we were once atheists, we might have trouble thinking of a time that would be an appropriate title. Perhaps we had apathy toward any notion of God’s existence, but not hatred. Here is another way to think of it; God came to us in Jesus, God the Son:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John 1:14 (NLT)

John could indeed say that “we have seen his glory” for John, along with the other disciples experienced Jesus’ teaching, miracles, and good works. John could have added another fact: “The Word became human and made his home among us, and despite seeing his glory, we killed him.”

The point is, God would have done the right thing, the just thing, if he had said “I’m finished with humanity, I’m done with you. Look what you did to me. You are finished!” But instead on the cross he said “it is finished,” that is, “what is necessary for our reconciliation has been done for you.” Through Jesus the One who could have destroyed humanity, the One who perhaps should have destroyed humanity based on what humanity did to him, worked instead for our shalom. God set the example of love for the enemy.

Jeremiah’s letter was a tap on the shoulder of God’s people in exile, and it is a tap on ours. Settle in, make yourself at home among enemies, taking a seat with people you might not be able to stand. Pray for the shalom of your enemies. Pray for the peace of the people who disrupt yours.


Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s writing is based, click this YouTube link.

September 9, 2021

New Beginnings! Thinking Through Adam and Eve’s Experience, and Ours

by Clarke Dixon

[read and comment at source: Click here]

When we think of new beginnings, we may think of things like a wedding, the birth of a child, or winning a lottery. For most of us a new beginning may come with much less celebration. A new beginning might be a divorce, a broken relationship, the loss of a job, a fire, a bereavement, a health crisis, a mental health crisis, or some unwelcome, really bad news. COVID was a new beginning for all of us, so too are the faltering steps we are taking towards a post-COVID world, if that is indeed what we are doing.

For many people, their new beginning might be described as Adam and Eve may have wanted to describe their new beginning, as cursed. Perhaps you were thinking Adam and Eve’s new beginning was in their creation and placement in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 1 and 2? Nope, that was their beginning, their new beginning was the experience of being kicked out of the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 3 and 4. Not exactly the kind of new beginning we would like either. Let us think through their new beginning and discover what can help us with ours.

There are four things Adam and Eve could say if they took a step back and looked at the big picture of their new beginning.

First, we are still here!

God had said “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:17 (NRSV). Some translations interpret “the day you eat of it” as emphasis on the fact that death would happen. Hebrew language and thinking does not quite work the same way as ours, so we should not get too caught up in the fact that Adam and Eve did not die that very day. The reality of death certainly did, however. Still, God did not say “when you eat it, you will live outside the garden, then die.” To be still alive would have come as a welcome surprise. They could say “we are still here!”

Second, God is still with us!

While we do not hear too much more about Adam and Eve, as Genesis 4 gets going, God is as available to Cain outside of the Garden of Eden as He was to Adam and Eve inside the Garden. There is conversation, there is presence, there is guidance. Though humans were now stuck outside the Garden of Eden, God was not stuck in it.

Third, there are signs of grace!

Adam and Ever were not just still alive, they were also experiencing further signs of God’s grace. Consider the births of Cain and Abel. There was the promise of death as the consequence of taking of the forbidden fruit, yet before we see death, we see the gift of life. In fact even the curse given in Genesis 3:16; “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children,” (NRSV) is a sign of grace. There will be life, there will be future generations.

Fourth, there are opportunities!

For starters, Adam and Eve would have the opportunity to fulfill God’s call to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:28). God’s call on humanity still stood. God still had, and still has, a plan for us!

Though we are not told much about Adam and Eve and their relationship with God and each other, we can suppose they also had increased opportunities for supporting each other in ways they did not have opportunity to do so before. They would also have had the opportunity to lean on God more than they ever had to before. Things were great back in the Garden. Not so anymore, so leaning on God and others, and being available for others to lean on, became opportunities to help and be helped.

When we face a new beginning.

When we are facing momentous change, a new beginning, whether one anticipated with great excitement and celebration, or one that is thrust upon us, we can look at the big picture.

But before we go there, there are two very practical matters we learn from life. First, change brings stress. New beginnings are stressful whether they are anticipated with joy, or experienced with dread. Let us watch for stress and the need for strategies to cope, things like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercise, breathing exercises, mindful moments, prayer, and the enjoyment of hobbies. Second, change brings loss. New beginnings require grief. We have all faced loss one way or another in this COVID era. Let us watch for signs of grief, like anger and denial, and consider a strategy to deal with grief.

Now back to the practical matters that we learn from Adam and Eve. When we face momentous change, a new beginning, especially one that might be perceived as a curse, there are four things we can say.

First, we are still here!

You are still breathing, so breathe a sigh of relief. God is not done with you yet. And in fact, God never will be done with you. So even when you wake up someday and you are not here, that will be an even greater blessing! Paul knew this when he said,

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

Second, God is still with us!

In the very last words of the Gospel of Matthew we read the promise of Jesus: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 8:20 NLT)

We need not face our new beginnings alone. God’s presence is available through all the change we experience in life. In fact God’s presence is available to us even if we brought about the disastrous change we may be experiencing. God is not stuck in the Garden of Eden. In perfect love, God offers help to the imperfect.

Third, there are signs of grace!

We may have trouble seeing them, but they are there. We can pray for eyes to see them. They are the assurance of God’s presence, not just His presence, but His presence and love. There is no greater sign of God’s grace than Jesus, his being with us, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, and his presence now through the Holy Spirit. The bread and the cup we receive through the Lord’s Table are constant reminders, signs of God’ grace.

Fourth, there are opportunities.

Here again, we may have trouble seeing them, but they are there, and will be there as some come later. Again, we pray for eyes to see the opportunities, but also for the the courage to take them.

Our new beginning may feel like a curse, but it may turn around to be a blessing somehow to us, but potentially, for others.

Let me give a personal example of a new beginning we have faced and of the opportunities that have come though it. When one of our sons came out as openly gay, that was a new beginning for our son, and for all of us. With that new beginning comes opportunities. There is the opportunity of being in a relationship based on honesty, rather than our son feeling he has something to hide from us. There is the opportunity for my wife and I to be on a journey of understanding, challenging the usual story of fear, exclusion and broken relationships when there is a “coming out.” My wife and I have been on a journey of walking with our son as we continue to walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. Going forward, I have no doubt that I will have the opportunity to grow as a person and as a pastor, to be a better pastor than I have been, to those who are, or those who have connections with the LGBTQ+ community. For some people, a child coming out as gay might seem like the end of the world. We are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, and there are opportunities.

New beginnings in our church.

Every church family has faced momentous change, a new beginning in these days of pandemic. As society falteringly moves from a COVID era to a post-COVID era (hopefully?!), we can say we are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, there are opportunities.

What about you?

Are you facing momentous change, whether an anticipated blessing, or something you would rather describe as a curse?

Are you taking care of yourself, watching for stress and creating strategies for coping, naming and grieving your losses?

Are you aware of the bigger picture? You are still here! God is still present! There are signs of grace! There are opportunities!

(Thanks for reading. You can watch me preach this sermon here.)

July 28, 2020

Recover Your Life; Take a Real Rest

Today we’re back for a third time at Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina.  Again, please click header below and read this at source. Today’s devotional is also available on video at this link.

Weary and in Need of Rest? (Mt 11:28-30)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The invitation is clear: Come to me. It’s addressed to all of us as we make our way through these difficult times: You that are weary, and are carrying heavy burdens. The end result is one our bodies, minds and spirits long for: And I will give you rest.

If you’ve been in a church for any length of time, I’m certain you’ve heard this gracious invitation. You may have taken Jesus up on the offer, or you may have resisted the invitation, doubting its effectiveness.

But, trust me, what Jesus offers us this morning is very real. It’s an oasis for the soul; a balm for our wounded hearts; a respite for our bodies that have been in constant “fight or flight” mode for almost four months. But what exactly is Jesus offering us? How are we to understand this new yoke he wants to place on us?

Well, the first thing I think we need to do is shake up the imagery a bit. After all, there are very few of us who have driven an ox, donkey, or horse, behind a plow. And if you have, congratulations! You may have more insight into this saying than me!

But for those of us who are not farmers, I offer you The Message’s magnificent paraphrase of this familiar invitation: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out by religion? Come to me. Get away with me and I’ll show you how to recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it; learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Wow! I could read this many times over and still not absorb it all. To recover my life. To take a real rest. To learn the unforced rhythms of grace. (I’m not exactly sure what that is, but it sounds delightful!) To learn to live freely and lightly, without anything heavy or ill-fitting pressing down on our shoulders, is exactly what the doctor ordered.

As we ponder the meaning of this gracious invitation, several things come to mind. The first is that the kind of rest Jesus offers us is not a month-long vacation on a tropical island, although that would be wonderful. Instead, it goes much deeper than this. It involves learning a new way of being in the world around us. It is remembering that we are citizens of the kingdom of God, first and foremost. All other citizenships, political ideologies, social groupings, and religious affiliations are secondary.

Notice, I made a distinction between being a citizen of the kingdom and our religious affiliation. There is a difference. I know a number of non-Christians who act more like citizens of the kingdom of God, than some Christians do.

Citizens of the kingdom of God, share certain values that are reflected in the life and wisdom of Jesus. These values go way beyond learning the “unforced rhythms of grace,” although this is a part of it. They include having “compassion” for the harassed and helpless, Loving not only God and our neighbor, but our enemies as well. It’s possessing the mindset that the greatest among us is one who serves. It’s claiming our role as benevolent caretakers of creation.

These values are not shared by everyone, nor are they unique to Christianity. Nonetheless, they are kingdom of God values. They challenge those who make individual liberty a priority instead of doing things for the greater good. They confront those who hoard wealth and resources instead of seeing them as a gift to be shared with the poor and oppressed. They remind us that we are, indeed, strangers and aliens, in a nation I hardly recognize anymore.

Some people may call me a socialist, or a bleeding heart liberal, or a snowflake for holding these values. I simply don’t care! They are the values Jesus taught us. They are the principles by which he lived his life.

We also know that they are the reason why he was seen as a threat, by the religious and political leaders of his day. His kingdom of God values is what led to his crucifixion. So, if we’re gong to claim to be citizens of the kingdom of God, we can expect that not everyone will be happy with us. In fact, they may be downright hostile to us.

The second thing I see  in Jesus’ invitation in our gospel lesson, is that we need to reevaluate the yokes we are currently bearing. There are simply some yokes we were never meant to bear. There are other yokes we’ve carried for far too long, and it’s time to let them go.

Jesus says that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light.” In the words of The Message’s translation, he tell us, “Walk with me and work with me. watch how I do it; learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Is this an accurate description of how you’re feeling these days? Are you learning the “unforced rhythms of grace,” or are you “worn out” and “burned out”? I know people who carry heavy burdens of guilt, shame, grief and sadness. It’s okay for us to carry these emotional weights for short periods of time. But we were never meant to carry them permanently.

I will freely admit that I’ve carried a few of these during my lifetime for way too long. We get used to them being there. Unfortunately, because of this, we hardly notice how heavy they actually are. Jesus, is constantly offering to lighten our load, But we’re stubborn as mules. We’re bound and determined to keep on carrying them, even if they’re sucking the life out of us.

The good news is that when we’re ready to let them go, Jesus is standing there, ready and willing to bear them for us. Every time I’ve been able to let go of an ill-fitted yoke, I’ve always heard the voice of Jesus saying to me, “I’ve been waiting for SO LONG for you to let this go. But I could not take it from you. You had to be willing to give it to me.”

So, my friends, if you are weary and carrying heavy burdens, perhaps it’s time for you to give some of those burdens over to Jesus. This is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes it takes a counselor or a conversation with your pastor…

I speak from personal experience that letting go of these heavy burdens is one of the most life-giving and soul-freeing things we can do. I know without a doubt that Jesus is more than willing to bear these heavy burden for us. In their place, he offers us forgiveness, new beginnings and new life. as we learn the “unforced rhythms of grace.” What a wonderful invitation Jesus offers us in our gospel lesson. Let’s be brave enough to take him up on his offer. Amen

Copyright ©2020 by David Eck; used by permission

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