Christianity 201

December 7, 2017

Praying for God to Come Down. Or Not.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1

This may not be everyone’s favourite prayer. Some would find the presence of God to be a frightening experience and some would prefer God not exist at all so they need not worry about it. Some have deeply thought through positions of agnosticism or atheism. Many, however, land there having heard or seen slogans like “God probably does not exist, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”, and are quite happy to not give it much further thought. So please don’t talk religion, thank you. Why? Because people assume that if God exists, then they should worry. If God is alive and well, then while we are alive and well for now, all will not be well when we are no longer alive. There is a feeling that we would never be good enough, or could never be good enough to meet our Maker. So please don’t tear open the heavens and come down Lord!

However, there is a tone of confidence in Isaiah’s prayer which runs from Isaiah 63:15-64:12. Isaiah is confident that if God were more fully present, it would go well for His people. Is this confidence based on the goodness or righteousness of the people, or even his own? Far from it, in fact the prayer is full of honest confession:

6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you; Isaiah 64:6-7

Given the fact that God’s people have strayed far, praying for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” is sounding like a risky prayer to make indeed. Isaiah alludes to times in the past when God had “come down”:

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. Isaiah 64:3

The prayer for God to come down could be answered like the time God “came down” at the Exodus. While that went well for God’s people, it did not go well for the Egyptians with plagues and a sea that closed in on the Pharaoh’s army. Given the sinfulness of God’s people as confessed by Isaiah, perhaps this time the plagues will land on them?

So where does Isaiah’s confidence in God come from if not in the righteousness of the people? Why does he pray with anticipation of good things, and not plagues? This prayer for help is not made with an appeal to the justice of God, to rescue the righteous. That option is not open for God knows too much! Rather it is made with an appeal to the character of God and the relationship God chose to have with His people. Consider the following references in this prayer:

For you are our father,
though Abraham does not know us
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our father;
our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16

Turn back for the sake of your servants,
for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. Isaiah 63:17b

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. Isaiah 64:8-9 (emphases mine)

Isaiah prays with confidence because he knows the relationship God has with His people is like that of a father to a child. While God as a perfectly just judge can expect, in fact must expect, perfection, a father can have compassion and mercy toward an imperfect child. So how can God be both perfectly just and yet act “fatherly”? How can God be both judge and “Dad”? The answer is given in God’s response to Isaiah’s prayer.

There is an answer to this prayer, but instead of the prayer being answered with plagues and punishment, it is answered with the arrival of a baby and the beginning of a new kind of Exodus. While the plagues on Egypt resulted in the firstborn of the Egyptians experiencing death, in this Exodus it is God himself that goes through it, both as the grieving Father, and as the dying son. Only a holy and perfect offering could stand in the place of sinful person, taking the consequence of sin. Only God Himself could do that, and in Jesus He has done that. In Jesus God is the perfect judge, taking care of sin at the cross, while also being the good father, being compassionate and merciful toward His children.

For those who feel that they have wandered so far from God that they could never turn or return to Him, it has nothing to do with how far we have travelled away, and everything to do with how far God has travelled toward us. He answered Isaiah’s prayer and has come all the way from heaven to a cross on earth in Jesus, so that we could be reconciled to Him. Turning to God has nothing to do with impressing the judge with our own efforts, and everything to do with the love of a compassionate heavenly Father.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as God’s child. An opportunity is before you:

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

Our relationship with God does not begin with our goodness. It begins with His.

However, even if you recognize that you are a child of God, you may think of yourself as the wayward child, the messed-up child, the stressed-out child, the foolish child, the undeserving child, or even the stupid child. On the one hand these might be accurate descriptions and we have room to grow like everyone else. On the other hand, The Lord’s Table while being a reminder of many things, is also a reminder that there are other adjectives that can be used to describe you. You are the redeemed child, the reconciled child, the forgiven child, the embraced child, the loved child.

Although the presence of God can, and should, be scary to someone who has rejected the Lord’s invitation to a father/child relationship, a child of God can pray with confidence as Isaiah did: “tear open the heavens and come down”. Being in Christ we can pray with confidence the last recorded prayer of the Bible:

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21 (emphasis mine)


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

July 20, 2017

Finding Hope in the Judgement of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:09 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. (Ezekiel 25:7 NRSV)

Thus says the Lord with regards to the people of Ammon in Ezekiel chapter 25. Messages of judgement like this carry on for seven chapters to various nations. I suspect these chapters are rarely preached upon, nor mined for a fitting verse to quote in a “Thinking of You” card. Perhaps we tend to skip over these doom and gloom judgement kinds of chapters because we fail to find any hope in them. However, they are full of hope! How so? Somewhere close to the middle we find these verses:

Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall settle on their own soil that I gave to my servant Jacob.  They shall live in safety in it, and shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall live in safety, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God. Ezekiel 28:25-26 (NRSV)

Do you notice what is so important that it is repeated? “They shall live in safety.” We have difficulty reading the Old Testament without visualizing what we know, such as our peaceable neighbours in our day. The peoples of the Old Testament, however, could be brutal and barbaric. The rise of the so-called Islamic State has given us a glimpse of what the Old Testament peoples were capable of. God’s messages of judgement to the nations in Ezekiel chapters 25-32 were the flip side of the message of safety for the people of God. God’s people could only be safe if the nasty neighbours were subdued. Thus the judgement of God is part and parcel of the love of God. Consider a father who removes an untrainable and vicious dog from a home for the sake of the safety of his infant child. The judgement and removal of the dog is an expression of love for the child.

These messages of judgement against the nations conclude with the interesting passage of Ezekiel 32:17-32. I encourage you to read it in full. In this passage Egypt and Pharaoh are to go down to the place of the dead. Notice what it is that gets repeated again and again, the thing that all the peoples who are there have in common (see verses 23,24,25,26,27,30,& 32); they “spread terror in the land of the living.”

We can all think of people who in our day spread terror in the land of the living. For example, a recent news article suggested that the leader of Boko Haram, previously thought killed, is still alive and is vowing to kill Christians and bomb every church in Nigeria. Does such anti-Christian sentiment remind you of anyone?

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (NRSV)

This man who was bent on destroying the Christian movement was Saul, better known to us the apostle Paul who confessed he was “least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1st Corinthians 15:8 NRSV). From Paul’s experience we learn a valuable lesson about those who would spread terror in the land of the living. They have the opportunity to repent. Upon learning of the atrocities of Boko Haram we might cry out for the destruction of the key leaders. However, consider the greater impact if they turned from their sin to Christ. Dead leaders are easily replaced by people equally fanatical about spreading terror in the land of the living. On the other hand, transformed leaders can be the start of a transformed society. Those who remain unrepentant may think they are getting away with it, but they will not. They will stand before the judgement seat of Christ whose justice is perfect, and whose judgements are well informed.

Let us choose three specific areas to bring this into focus:

Women: Around the world women are not given equal opportunities for education. Female babies are more likely to be aborted than male babies. Too many widows have shared with me how they stood by their men while their men stood by the bottle. We could say much more, but suffice it to say here that women and girls are suffering around the world because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who are unrepentant and continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

The LGBTQ+ community: When our hearts broke for Christians who were suffering the violence of the Islamic State, did our hearts also break for gay men who were thrown to their deaths from towers? No one has the right to tell God what marriage is supposed to look like, but all peaceable people should have the right to live free from harassment and threat of violence. While debate rages in churches as to whether or not homosexuality is sinful, there ought to be no debate or doubt that homosexuals are suffering around the word because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

Refugees: We have tended to focus our prayers on our Western response to the refugee crisis and the refugees themselves. Do we pray for the people refugees are fleeing from? Leaders who would rather use violence to take or keep power, than seek peace? We have a refugee crisis because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

One question remains: Are we sometimes the ones who spread terror in the land of the living? If so, opportunity knocks.

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.  To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:20-21 (NRSV)


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

November 6, 2016

The Judgment of the Redeemed

by Russell Young    

Sin or disobedience has never been “winked at” by God. Those who treat his holiness and his righteous requirements with disdain will reap the results of their folly.  God is holy and without holiness no one will see him. (Heb 12:14) That is, they will be separated from him. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “He will punish those who do not know [understand] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8─10)

Much of modern teaching has dismissed the need for a righteous walk and holiness with the affirmation of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.  No doubt these proclamations are intended to bring God glory, however, they diminish him and his government.  After all, what would any nation become if law enforcers were to take the position that they love the offenders and dismissed any consequence of law breaking?  What happens in the family home if no rules are enforced? Even our limited understanding would inform us that anarchy would result, and God is much more knowledgeable of the human condition than we are. It is the evil imaginations of men that pain is heart. (Gen 6:6)

It is true that sins committed under the Old Covenant have been forgiven. (Heb 9:15) Such provision was made through the sacrifice of Christ so that a people might be delivered from the death sentence that awaited them and be given a second chance to live under the lordship of Christ who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)  It is through obedience to him that the practice of sin can, and is to be, overcome.  Paul has referred to this aspect of God’s government as “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) and it is according to the law of the Spirit that the redeemed will be judged. James has called this the “law of the Lord” (NIV) or the “law of liberty” (KJV) (Jas 2:12).  Paul wrote, “And so [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV)

Peter has written, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”(1 Pet 4:17 NIV) Those who dismiss sinful practices with the understanding that they have been disposed of will be very disappointed when they face the judgment of Christ.  Peter wrote that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) A person’s defense cannot rest in the proclamation that they are merely human and lacking the ability to live a godly life.  The Spirit has enabled the believer’s needs to be met through his indwelling presence.

Christ was not only incarnated as a human being in order that he might be an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of people, he was incarnated so that he might understand the temptations of the flesh. (Heb 2:17─18) Having a body like our own, he was able to overcome the temptation to sin and he suffered in the pursuit of victory. (Heb 2:18) It is to the Lord with his understanding of temptation and the provision made that the redeemed sinner must address his defence.

Daniel wrote that when Christ returns, “[m]ultitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2 NIV) Shame and contempt will not be rested on those committed to the lake of burning sulphur, but on those who had failed to practice obedience to their Lord. Jesus himself testified: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city [the New Jerusalem]. (Rev 22:14 KJV) and Matthew has record the Lord’s admonition: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV)

The judgment seat of Christ is reserved for those who have pledged or have proclaimed that he is their lord and they will be judged according to the manner of their obedience.  It is those who walk in the light, those who obey him (the Spirit, 2 Cor 3 17, 18) who will find eternal rest for their souls. “…[H]e became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9 NIV)

The Lord spoke of a great deal of deception that would take place in the last days and it is certainly evident.  “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV) Judgment and eternal life or destruction will be levelled according to a person’s “sowing” or the things he or she does while in the body, whether he or she prac5tices righteous living or not. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Rom 2:5 NIV)

Careful thought must be given to Paul’s teaching that following justification by the blood of Christ we should be saved from God’s wrath through his life. (Rom 5:10) His life is that which he is prepared to live out as the Spirit that indwells each confessor.  However, to avoid judgment and God’s wrath those who have professed his lordship must be prepared to obediently allow him to live his sinless life through them.

Judgment is not only given concerning one’s state of holiness, it is also given according to his or her service or lack thereof in the building of the kingdom. (1 Cor 3:11─15)

Judgment awaits each, and the outcome will depend on the value and honour with which they allow Christ to minister for them in service to the kingdom, by his sacrificial offering, in and through them by his indwelling Spirit, and by engaging his ministry as high priest.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is in stores and available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


March 13, 2016

Another Look at Grace and Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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•••by Russell Young

Another Look at Grace and Works

The doctrines of “grace” and “works” need another look. One’s comprehension of these doctrines significantly influences his interpretation of the scriptures and their understandings should not be left up to one’s imagination. Some believers sum up “grace” and “works” with the idea that God has done it all; that is, God has gifted them with eternal salvation and they need not participate (understood as “work”) since it is a gift. God’s Word clearly presents the need for “obedience” in order for one to gain eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:9, Matthew 7:21; Revelation 22:14 (KJV); 2 Thessalonians 1:8) There are other verses that require the believer be to be “led,” (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:14; John 10:27) and others that required him to “please the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8) or to live in some appropriate manner. The Lord said that his angels “will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41, NIV) These will be weeded out on the basis of their ‘doing.’

Accepting the common teaching of “grace” as meaning “God’s unmerited favor” being expressed in one’s life, does not necessarily mean that God will unilaterally bring about the “believer’s” eternal salvation. Neither does the phrase, “You are saved by grace,” necessarily infer the “gifting” of eternal salvation as some understand. The gift that God has given to the redeemed is the Holy Spirit who can bring about one’s eternal salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13, Titus 3:5-6) and that through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9)

To put the matter of “works” into meaningful context, the “works” being referred to is the “works of the law.” (Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16, 3:2, 5, 10 KJV, YLT) Some translators have not included “of the law” in their rendition, confusing the issue.

The law cannot be accomplished by anyone using his own resources. The righteous requirements of the law must be accomplished but require the Holy Spirit’s ministry for that purpose. When the Word of God speaks of salvation as not being accomplished through “works,” it is referring to the “works of the law.” It does not mean that the believer need not be obedient or that he is not required to walk righteously or in the light of Christ. It means that the covenant of the law, “of works”, the Old Covenant cannot bring about one’s eternal salvation. The covenant of the law “kills.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) The work of the law (that which the law produces) cannot satisfy God’s righteous requirements because of man’s sinful nature. (Romans 8:3) That which can bring about one’s eternal salvation is the appropriation of the ministry of the Spirit in order to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law and the Prophets (Romans 8:4), but the Spirit must be obeyed.

The sacrifice of Christ which was an act of grace allowed the believer escape from the consequences of the sinful acts he had committed while under the jurisdiction of the law’s requirements for righteousness. The provision of the New Covenant was an act of grace by God. The provision of the Holy Spirit was a gift of grace by the Father making the believer “competent” to satisfy the New Covenant. (2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Peter 1:3) The ministry of Christ as High Priest is an act of grace. Complete provision was made by Christ for the one who would honour Him through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Eternal salvation is NOT a gift of grace but must be worked out through the provision God has made in Christ.

The gift of grace is Christ’s presence in the believer. (Colossians 1:27) He has come to fulfil the law in the believer and for the believer. (Romans 8:4) He does not over-rule the will of man but will allow it to be exercised. Obedience is faith in practice and the faithful will obey their lord/Lord.

It is worth noting that God is going to destroy the world when the time comes because man will have “twisted his instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5 NLT) The NIV reads, “disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.” The accomplishment of instructions, laws, and the covenant is NOT a gift of grace as is often taught; their accomplishment is through the gift of grace (the Holy Spirit) and the believer’s commitment to obedience. There are many who have been led astray, and many who lead believers away from truth, by their misrepresentation of the doctrines of “works” and “grace.” Paul told his readers not to be deceived; they would reap what they sow…receiving either life or destruction. (Galatians 6:7)

The Lord said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Luke 16:1-17, NIV) God’s grace does notabolish” the law (Matthew 5:17) or preclude the need for its righteous requirements to be satisfied. Woe to those whose teaching allows such. His requirements can ONLY be met through obedience to the Spirit.

One’s need and hope for righteousness is being “awaited” (Galatians 5:5) and it comes through his allowance of the Spirit being lived through him. (Romans 8:4) Eternal salvation comes through God’s grace and not by the “works” of the law. However, the believer is to put every effort into obeying the Spirit. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Luke 13:24, NIV) When the Lord encouraged His listeners “to make every effort.” He was requiring just that. They are to hear His voice (the Spirit) and they are to follow. They are to do something. Later in the passage Christ made it clear that it is those who are “evildoers” (v. 27) who will be condemned and cast from Him even though they had walked in His presence…they had not been led or had not put forth the “effort” to walk righteously. The writer of Hebrews offered the same admonition. (Hebrews 4:11) Paul admonished the Philippians “to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12, NIV)

When Paul spoke of being saved by grace, he identified that grace as creating a product having been accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (God’s “workmanship”, Ephesians 2:10, NIV), the product of one’s transformation. The expression of God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit makes one a suitable offering for God. (Romans 15:16)

October 28, 2015

Shall We Condemn God for Bad Behavior?

by Clarke Dixon (click here to read at source)

I was planning on preaching on Deuteronomy 7:7-11, but verse 2 kept getting in my way. It is the kind of verse we Christians love to gloss over but the super-sceptics love to dwell upon. God’s people are almost ready to enter the Promised Land following their desert wanderings, but the question arises as to what should happen to the peoples who are already living in that land. Verse 2 tells us:

. . . and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. (Deuteronomy 7:2)

Ouch, that does not sound much like the “Jesus loves you” that we are used to. In fact it sounds like the kind of thing that would get a nation into deep trouble at the United Nations. It has caused many people to wonder if this God is credible. Can we believe in a God who commands destruction without mercy? Shall we love the LORD or shall we condemn Him as unjust and unworthy of devotion?

First off, let me recommend Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Some of what follows here is written there but with greater depth and clarity. Let us consider the following points:

Strong language is used to make a strong point. Overstatement was a common practice in Biblical times and is found in the Bible. We still do it today, such as when I state that the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to destroy every team that stands between them and the Stanley Cup this year. Obviously I am overconfident, but more obvious is that there really will be no “destroying” going on. The language of destruction is used to make a point about winning. Here in Deuteronomy 7:2 there is a strong point being made: The best chance God’s people have of staying in a close relationship with the LORD is to have nothing to do with the people already living in the land. It would be too easy to write up treaties and be assimilated into those peoples. But then how well could God’s people keep the Law, especially the ten commandments which begin with the call for the people to have no other gods beside the LORD? Indeed the point is not so much the elimination of people, but the utter destruction of an abhorrent religion:

But this is how you must deal with them:break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Deuteronomy 7:5-6)

If “destruction” is used to make a strong point, “driven out” better reflects the reality. The Bible itself sometimes asserts that the Canaanites will not be destroyed but rather “driven out.”

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations–(Deuteronomy 7:1 NIV emphasis mine)

When the Lord your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, “It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to occupy this land” (Deuteronomy 9:4 emphasis mine)

Additionally, not having aircraft or motorized vehicles, ancient wars did not rely on the lightning quick shock and awe attacks of today. There was time for people to flee. In fact the inhabitants of Canaan show up in the Bible after the days of conquest, so they were not utterly destroyed in a genocidal way we might have expected from the command of verse 2. Indeed our passage assumes that God’s people will be rubbing shoulders with the Canaanites in the days to come:

3 Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)

There is no need for commandments about intermarriage if the people are utterly destroyed.

The command to destroy the Canaanites must be read in the context of the entire Bible. There is the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. There are the laws God had already given that were designed to protect foreigners who may be poor and vulnerable. There is the book of Ruth where a foreigner is welcomed into God’s people and even becomes the great-grandmother of King David. There is the book of Jonah which challenges God’s people to allow or even expect God to love their enemies. There is the entire trajectory of the New Testament, where Jesus dies not just for the Jew; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); where the Holy Spirit is given to people from any background; where looking forward “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) One cannot read the entire Bible without getting the impression that God’s love stretches far and wide.

God had been very patient with the Canaanites, but his patience had run out allowing justice to be rolled out. When we hear about God’s people being told to destroy the Canaanites we might be under the impression that it would be like the nice people of Prince Edward Island being called to wipe out the nice people of New Brunswick. But ancient peoples were not that nice. In fact the rise of ISIS today gives us a glimpse of the kind of evil ancient tribal peoples could be capable of. Not too many of us would be sad to see ISIS destroyed. Actually ISIS displays better morals than the Canaanites for they know better than to sacrifice children in religious rites. The Canaanites had hundreds of years of descent into darkness, now it was time for God to express His justice through judgement. It is: “because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4)

God’s command to destroy the Canaanites should be read with this important truth in mind: God owes no person another minute of life. This is something we learn from the flood in Noah’s day which was not genocide, but the just judgement of God. The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death, and in the flood the payment of those wages were brought forward. More accurately, those wages were no longer held back. God is holy. We are not. That anyone should live to see another day, another hour, another minute, is a sign of God’s grace and mercy. God would be just if even Noah and his family were not spared. They did not deserve life. None of us do. That we experience life at all is a sign of the grace of God.

That God’s people stood ready to enter the Promised Land was a sign of the grace of God. They did not show themselves worthy of the honor:

6 Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people. 7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; you have been rebellious against the Lord from the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place. (Deuteronomy 9:6-7)

So why was God being kind to Israelites? It was because of love:

7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples.8 It was because the Lord loved you . . . (Deuteronomy 7:7,8a emphasis mine)

Salvation begins, not with people and their righteousness, but with God and His love. Your salvation, and mine, begins not with our righteousness, but with God’s love.

And God was kind to the Israelites because of promise:

8 It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8 emphasis mine)

God had promised Abraham a blessing and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. This wee bit of justice poured out on the peoples of Canaan was part of a plan that would lead to a whole load of grace being poured out and made available to the whole world. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the single greatest focus of God’s blessing. But it is a long journey from the promise of blessing to Abraham to the fulfillment in Jesus. The destruction of the Canaanites is part and parcel of that journey to blessing.

What kind of God is it that calls for the destruction of people? The same God that was ensuring that we need not face destruction: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) God’s nurture of His people through dark and dangerous places and times is part of the unfolding of His grace so that we will not face condemnation when we turn to Him in repentance.

Shall we condemn God for working out His purposes of salvation? We have no right to condemn God. He has every right to condemn us. But out of love He has made reconciliation possible.

If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. (Romans 8:31-34)

Unless noted otherwise all scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

June 24, 2015

Hoping to Let Ourselves Off The Hook

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Time for our always-appreciated midweek post from Clarke Dixon.

You Are Only Human

We have all heard it. Some of us have even said it: “We are only human.” Typically, what we mean by that is “cut me some slack, I’m not perfect.” I must confess that I used to be a perfectionist but gave it up because I found it too depressing. I needed to cut myself some slack. Now I am only a perfectionist while working on home renovations. The weather has to be perfect and I have to be perfectly in the mood otherwise renovations are put off for another day!

There are none of us perfect. None of us were perfect students in school. Those of us who are parents know there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There are no perfect teachers. There are no perfect prime ministers. Sometimes we need to cut each other some slack. But do we maintain this attitude toward people like the leaders of ISIS and Boko Harum who are also not perfect? After all, they along with Hitler and Stalin are only human. Do we cut some slack to the people involved in things like human trafficking? Or is there not a place for higher expectations, for saying enough is enough?

The Psalmist writes “they are only human” but it means something quite different to what we normally mean:

19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
let the nations know that they are only human.
(Psalms 9:19-20 NRSV)

In Psalm 9 there are some people who could say “I am only human, cut me some slack.” They are less than perfect. In fact they are oppressive, they are murderous. They are destructive and wreak havoc in the lives around them:

9 The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13 Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death.
(Psalms 9:9-13 NRSV emphasis mine)

The theme of rescue from evil men runs through Psalm 9 and also Psalm 10 which many scholars believe were once one Psalm. We may not be as bad as the oppressors spoken of in these Psalms, we may never bring another person to “the gates of death.” But we may, like them, wreak havoc in the lives of those around us. This Psalm has something to say to us also. Let us look especially to verses 19 and 20:

“Do not let mortals prevail”

This prayer of the Psalmist is very much like a prayer that our Lord taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Not the oppressors’ empire come, but God’s kingdom. Not the oppressors’ will be done, do not let them prevail, but the Lord’s will. How often do we pray “Thy kingdom come” then strive to build our own empires and to have our wills prevail. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal, do not let my way prevail, may Your kingdom and Your purposes prevail in my life.

“Let the nations be judged before you”

We do not like to hear about judgement. But we do like justice. Justice does not happen without judgement. God’s sense of justice is impeccable:

4 For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment. . .
8 He judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with equity.
(Psalms 9:4,8 NRSV)

God’s judgement is right and good. In fact it should not escape our notice that this Psalm calling for God to act in judgement is actually a Psalm of praise:

1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(Psalms 9:1-2 NRSV)

That God will bring judgement to evil men is something that should inspire praise. Oh Lord I am mere mortal, while I depend on Your grace, may I be aware of those things you would judge in my life.

“Put them, in fear, Oh Lord.”

A better translation of fear is ‘terror’. Things would be better for the oppressed of the world if the oppressors of the world were terrified by the thought of the judgement that is looming over them. People do not have an appetite for hellfire and brimstone sermons any more. Yet we still need them for people think they can get away with murder. Many people need to be very afraid. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal. May I never think I can get away with murder, but may Your Holy Spirit convict and unsettle my heart.

“Let the nations know that they are only human.”

Now that we know the context we can see that “Let the nations know they are only human” is no “cut them some slack Lord” kind of prayer. Rather this is ”let them know they are only human and that therefore they need to seek You in repentance.” Since we are only human we should be turning to God. We should be turning to God for ethics, our sense of right and wrong. We cannot come up with that on our own. After all we are only human. We should be turning to God for salvation, for redemption from our sin. That is something we can not attain on our own. We are only human. God brings His perfect justice and grace together through Jesus at the cross. Since we are only human we ought to turn to God in repentance, going our own way will not get us very far. Oh Lord, I’m only human. So I turn to You and turn my life over to You.

When we say “I’m only human” we are usually trying to get off the hook. But knowing we are only human, we should be getting onto God.


Read more of Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

March 18, 2015

The Exclusive Claim of Christianity

Clarke Dixon returns with part four of our midweek series in John 14 (and its relationship to Revelation.)
one-way-jesus

Why is Jesus the Only Way?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NRSV

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NRSV

Why is Jesus the only way? Jesus himself taught this, as did the first Christians. To believe otherwise is to depart from a Biblical Christianity. But why did it have to be this way? Why can’t God just make it such that all sincere believers of anything, or something, or nothing in the case of a sincerely good atheist, are all on a path to God?

Revelation chapters six and seven are helpful in understanding this. In Revelation chapter six we have a vision of the opening of six seals. With the opening of each of these seals terrible things take place. This is symbolic of the judgement of God against sin, and let’s just say that it does not go well for the sinner. It culminates in a desire to escape the judgement of God:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? Revelation 6:15-17 NRSV emphasis mine

We should take a moment here to recognize that many people, Christians included, do not like to hear about the “wrath” of God. It makes God sound like he is terribly, well . . . judgmental. But let us consider that the wrath of God is the expression of the justice of God. While we don’t like hearing about wrath we recognize that justice is good. When justice is missing in the world, we long for it, we work for it, we pray for it. If justice were missing in God, we very soon find ourselves longing for it. The wrath of God, the expression of God’s justice is part of the glory of God. To ask God to express no wrath would be to ask God to have less glory. Wrath is part of the goodness of God. God is perfectly just. God cannot be perfectly just and turn a blind eye to sin no more than a judge can be perfectly just and pay no attention to the evidence just because he or she happens to like the defendant.

Revelation six therefore speaks to us about the justice of God, that yes, sin carries consequence. The chapter finishes with a question: when God’s justice is expressed, “who is able to stand?”

Now let’s move to chapter seven where we find there is a

great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12 NRSV

This sounds more positive! And did you notice something about these people? They are “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” They are standing! On the day of God’s wrath, on the day God’s justice is expressed, who is able to stand before the throne? These people are. Who are these people? Good question, in fact it is asked:

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” Revelation 7:13 NRSV

If we were John how might we have answered that question? Many might say things like “these are good people, nice people who are good to others, they are able to stand on the day of justice,” or “these are people who were sincere in their religion, no matter what religion it was.” John, however, does not attempt an answer, he asks the one who knows the answer:

14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14 NRSV

Here we have the reason that Jesus is the only way. In Jesus the perfect justice of God meets the perfect love of God. No one comes to God the Father except through God the Son, because He is the only One through Whom the perfect justice of God could be expressed in a way that saves sinful people. This justice and love comes together at the cross. No one else could pay the penalty of sin for us, because everyone else has their own sin on their heads. Except Jesus, He is the only One who could stand in our place while the perfect justice of God is expressed. And He is the only One to ever have claimed to do such.

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NRSV

Because of Jesus, people are able to stand on the day of God’s wrath, the day His perfect justice is expressed.

But this still sounds very exclusive to some people. However, notice how wonderfully inclusive this vision is. It is a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” No one is excluded on the basis of race, gender, status, or nationality. God’s love knows no boundaries. You can be included in that multitude through repentance and trust. But perhaps it is your love that has boundaries? Perhaps it is not God’s love for you that is in question, but your love for God? If this is the case, I hope you will dig deep and consider your response to God’s offer of salvation through Jesus. I hope you will be found standing.

Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:14-17 NRSV

 


Today’s graphic is obviously a book cover, but now I can’t track down the source.

February 15, 2015

The Buck Stops Here

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  II Cor 5:10 NLT

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.   Romans 14:12 ESV

As you know by now, for Sundays in February, we’re highlighting the website Christian Fellowship Devotions. Today we look at the writing of Janice Moser, one of the regular contributing writers at the site. Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate the site.

Stopping the Buck

Most of us have heard and even used the phrase, “The Buck stops here,” which is said to have originated from the French phrase “bouc émissaire,” which translates as scapegoat.

During a recent election campaign, it was refreshing to hear one candidate using that phrase to accept responsibility, instead of blaming others as some national and local leaders do – even many years after those blamed have left office – and the media don’t do their job. They don’t hold them accountable, if it’s someone they like, or they are afraid of not being “politically correct.” Our Georgia governor, Nathan Deal – with whom I definitely have not always agreed – has shown true leadership in taking responsibility (even sometimes when not legally necessary, as during an ice storm for which – unlike in NY – he did not have the authority to shut schools etc.). There are so many political leaders who could learn from him.

responsibilityBut it’s not just political “leaders” who try to cast blame on others, rather than “manning up,” as the modern phrase goes. Most all of us do it at some time or another. Having been involved in the Criminal Justice system for a decade-and-a-half, I have heard more than my share of the phrase “someone else did it,” as well as countless excuses given for committing crimes. In one case, a young man had five separate convictions of felonies – five separate Grand juries had indicted him five separate times. Five separate trials, five separate juries had then found him guilty, five separate times of five separate violent crimes. Yet his mother stood up and said “Your Honor, every time my son has been convicted of a crime, it’s been someone else’s fault.” She did not have a clue how obviously ridiculous she sounded. The discerning judge responded: “Ma’am, you can blame someone else once but not five times – and eventually your son has to accept his own responsibility. You, ma’am are part of the problem. Sit down and don’t say anything else.” The buck had to stop with the young man, but in his defense, he didn’t get very good parenting or role modeling in that regard.

We live in a world where society doesn’t often hold us responsible for our own sins or mistakes. We live in a world where people overlook the fact that someone has committed traumatizing violence against others, and instead of holding them responsible for their acts, the people lift the felons up as heroes. We live in a world where someone violates a law and someone’s safety by breaking into their home or business, but instead of saying “it’s my fault,” the perpetrator sues the victim because the perpetrator gets hurt while committing a felony. We live in a world that glamorizes violence with television shows and movies that make heroes out of criminals. For those of us who work with the traumatized victims, this can be frustrating, as we see the sometimes life-changing effects of the violence. We want justice here and now, we work toward that, and thankfully sometimes it happens. It is our responsibility to do our part:

Isaiah 1:17 (MSG) Work for justice.
  Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
  Go to bat for the defenseless

And regardless of the success or failure of Earthly systems, God Himself will not accept excuses. We do all ultimately answer to Him, and he will hold us responsible for our own sins and crimes. He holds us individually accountable. With God, “the buck stops here” for each one of us. Let’s all resolve that in 2015, we will take responsibility for our own sins and mistakes, and encourage others to do so as well. Otherwise, we aren’t being honest with ourselves, others – or with God. The more people (including us) who take responsibility for their actions, the safer and healthier society we will have – and the more we will please the Lord.

Proverbs 28:13
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.

November 21, 2014

Changed to a Pure Speech

NIV Zeph. 3:8 Therefore wait for me,”
    declares the Lord,
    “for the day I will stand up to testify.
I have decided to assemble the nations,
    to gather the kingdoms
and to pour out my wrath on them—
    all my fierce anger.
The whole world will be consumed
    by the fire of my jealous anger.

“Then I will purify the lips of the peoples,
    that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
    and serve him shoulder to shoulder.

Recently, I encountered verse nine in the ESV and I was especially struck by the wording of the first line, underlined below:

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord.

Some other translations offer:

  • For then [changing their impure language] I will give to the people a clear and pure speech from pure lips (AMP)
  • I will purify each language
    and make those languages
        acceptable for praising me.  (CEV)
  • In the end I will turn things around for the people.
        I’ll give them a language undistorted, unpolluted,
    Words to address God in worship
        and, united, to serve me… (The Message)
  • Know for sure that I will then enable
    the nations to give me acceptable praise.  (NET)
  •  And then I will transform the words spoken by the nations to pure words,
            and the people will finally hear My truth.
        Then all the people will be able to pray to and serve the Eternal One,
            standing together as part of the same people. (The Voice)

The Reformation Study Bible considers this phrase:

To purify the lips is either to cleanse from sin in general

Is. 6:5  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

or to remove the names of foreign gods from the lips of a worshiper

Hos. 2:17  For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.

One of the resources on BibleGateway.com is the Asbury Bible Commentary which covers verses 9-20.

Zephaniah closes with a joyful note of redemption. Jerusalem, the city of God, will be cleansed from the arrogant so that Yahweh himself might dwell among his people. They also will be cleansed so that their language and their deeds might reflect the moral nature of the God they serve. With Yahweh, the Mighty Warrior, dwelling among them, the people will not fear their enemies but will rejoice in the care he will provide.

There is no distinctive break between vv. 8 and 9. They are linked by the concept of fire, which on the one hand consumes the world but on the other purifies God’s people. The prophet, in vv. 9 and 10, draws upon the imagery of the Tower of Babel incident (Ge 11:1-9) to portray a once-scattered but soon to be united people whose lips (speech) have been purified. This reestablished community will be characterized by worship, the natural activity of a redeemed people.

The theme of purification continues in v. 11 in that the proud will be removed from their midst. The holy habitation of God (“holy hill”) is in the midst of the meek and humble (v. 12). He will not dwell with the arrogant but must first humble and purify the people of all that is contrary to his nature. Because he will purify them of their sin and dwell among his people Israel, they will be free from wrong, lies, and deceit (v. 13) The ethical character of the people of God will reflect the nature of Yahweh himself. Thus these verses teach the normative paradigm of redemption: Yahweh removes sin and arrogance from the midst of his people and then comes to occupy that vacated throne of values, filling it with his holy presence and shaping their lives to conform to his own righteous nature.

In a brief hymn of salvation (vv. 14-17), the people of God are summoned to rejoice in the presence of Yahweh. The recurring word qirbek, “your midst” (NIV “within you,” v. 12; “with you,” vv. 15, 17), contains the central theological idea of the passage, Yahweh dwells among his people. They may rejoice and not be afraid, for they will be protected from any harm. Yahweh will be their God, a warrior of salvation. His people will rest securely in his covenantal love (v. 17).

The final verses of the book (vv. 18-20) are spoken by Yahweh himself as he promises to reverse the fortunes of his people who must go through the destruction measured out to the nations in the Day of Yahweh. For them judgment becomes remedial, not final. Strong emphasis lies in the repeated “I will.” All that they will gain—relief from burdens, salvation from oppression, return from exile, honor and praise—will be due to the direct action of Yahweh. Salvation belongs to him alone.

July 16, 2014

Our Work Revealed By Fire

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Today I was drawn to this passage:

“The work of each one will become plainly and openly known; for the day of Christ will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done. If the work which any person has built on this Foundation survives this test, he will get his reward. But if any person’s work is burned up under the test, he will suffer the loss of it all, losing his reward, though he himself will be saved, but only as one who has passed through the fire.” (I Corinthians 3:13-15)

Through a long process, I ended up at Superior Word, the blog of Charlie Garrett who took this passage in some interesting directions.  I invite you to read this at source by clicking this link.

 

…each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 1 Corinthians 3:13

Paul is now speaking of anyone who builds on the foundation, which is Christ. Therefore, as noted in the preceding verse, he is speaking of saved believers regardless of the soundness of their work. Having noted six different metaphors concerning their work, he now says that “each one’s work will become clear.” Those people who teach incorrectly will be shown where their faults were; those who taught what is right and in accord with sound doctrine will likewise be so informed.

A great example of what Paul is speaking of today is how modern Israel is perceived. The doctrine of dispensationalism teaches that despite being out of God’s favor due to their rejection of Christ, Israel’s time of punishment will end and Christ will return to Israel after the Tribulation period refines them. From Jerusalem, and in the midst of His people Israel, He will reign for a thousand years.

Reformed theologians, for the most part, dismiss this and believe that the church has replaced Israel. To them, the 1000-year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation is merely symbolic of the entire church age; not a literal time-frame, but simply a number which represents “fullness.”

Both of these cannot be right. Both sides truly believe they are correct and they find the opposing view incredible to even contemplate. In the end, proponents of both views will stand before the Lord and this, along with all their other correct or incorrect doctrine, will be evaluated. At that time “the Day will declare it.” This means that when the judgment of believers for rewards and losses are handed out, in that Day, the declaration for right doctrine will be proclaimed and the declaration for the faulty will also be called out.

Paul says that the reason it will occur is “because it will be revealed by fire.” In Revelation 2:18, we read this comment about the Lord –

“These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.”

The “eyes like a flame of fire” speak of His ability to seek out and determine all things, burning away that which is of no value. The “feet like fine brass” speaks of judgment. It is at the Judgment Seat of Christ that the evaluation of each man’s efforts will be made. He alone will determine the truth of matters such as dispensationalism by “the fire” which “will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

The marvelous thing about Christ’s judgment is that it will be perfectly fair and it will be perfectly just. No soul will come before Him for judgment and leave feeling as if he had received unfair treatment. Instead, he will realize the error of his faults. Another beautiful aspect of what is involved in this judgment is the fact that we were given, in advance, the necessary tools to determine what our judgment will be!

In the giving of the Bible, we have been handed His instruction manual for life, doctrine, and practice. It is up to us to rationally, fairly, and competently evaluate those doctrines which are presented and then to reject those which are faulty. In the end, we can be as right as we want or as wrong as we want. We can pray about, study, meditate on, and proclaim God’s word competently, or we can trust other’s findings and hope they were right.

Of what eternal value is sitting on the computer playing games, watching an endless succession of television shows, or heading out to the mall day after day for shopping? And yet, we pursue these at the expense of right doctrine! Let us be prepared at our judgment, which is coming, for that which lasts.

Life application: How sure are you about which type of baptism is correct? Are you trusting the Bible or tradition? If the Bible, are you properly evaluating baptism’s symbolism and purpose? This is one of a zillion things that you will be evaluated on. Read, study, be approved!

Magnificent and splendid God! Someday I will stand before Jesus Christ for my judgment. On that day, the doctrine I held to, the things I taught concerning Your word, and the decisions I made about the standards You have given in Your word will all be exposed before me. Those things of value will stand. The others will be burned away in the fire. Give me the heart now, Lord, to study and be approved on that awesome Day. Amen.

March 20, 2014

Spiritual Responsibility

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30 NIV)

This is another verse that teaches what some refer to as spiritual responsibility in the light of privilege. Those of us who live in a time where there are multiple Bibles in every home, where Christian radio and TV proliferate, where millions of pieces of Christian periodicals and devotional literature are printed each month, and now where the internet offers untold access to unlimited Bible study resources and commentary; we have a much greater responsibility.

Sadly, the same printing, broadcast and electronic resources offer us the potential for limitless distraction when it comes to spiritual focus. While I don’t believe we’re meant to live in a bubble — you should enjoy know what’s happening in popular music and by all means take ten seconds to look at the cat pictures your friend emailed you — we are citizens of another country and there should our focus lie.

In context, verse 22 tells us, Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus; this was the TEDTalk of Paul’s day and verse 32 tells us Paul was invited back; …others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” With the completion of God’s work in Christ, followed by the giving of the Holy Spirit to enable his followers to share this message with power; the message is broadcast in that culture with every bit as much significance as our mass media holds today.

The Reformation Study Bible so clearly explains the importance of our key verse today, verse 30:

That is, God took into consideration the limitations of their knowledge about God, but now Paul has revealed the truth about the living God. With all people, they are called upon to repent of their sins.

So what knowledge has always been available? Paul writes,

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

This verse is one of several that establish the general revelation of God.

He then says,

Romans 2:2 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Jesus teaches in Luke 12:

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Paul is talking about ultimate responsibility in light of the general revelation given to all, Jesus is explaining particular responsibility in light of what has been heard and seen.

The truth is, You and I are the means by which the truth of God can now be seen and heard. Yes, we are to share a verbal and visible witness to our friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow-students and extended family; but we are also the ‘givers’ who can make possible the printed literature, the Bibles, the radio broadcasts, the television programs, the podcasts, the blogs, the films, etc.  We live in a time where media can do much. (Is this part of what Jesus meant by ‘greater works you will do’?) But it still takes individuals to produce and disseminate that media.

What role are you playing in all this? What role would God want you to have?


This devotional was prepared exclusively using BibleGateway.com.  You can do this, too. Try your hand at writing a devotional based on a scripture God has placed on your heart. Submit it; we’ll critique it, edit it and send it back to your final approval and then possibly print it here.

December 26, 2013

God Desires All to be Saved

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave…

Most readers here at C201 are so familiar with the above verse, that I need not post it here in full, and probably many C201 readers know from memory the verse which follows it:

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

The purposes of God are not about condemnation, though the world-at-large often sees it that way. However, we’re probably less familiar with the verses which follow:

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

The IVP New Testament Commentary Series states:

God’s purpose is clearly stated: not condemnation but salvation for the whole world (vv. 16-17). Jesus has come not just for the Jews or the elect, but for the world. He has come not to save some and to condemn others, but solely for salvation. Nevertheless, condemnation does take place—not through God’s rejection of some, but by their rejection of him (v. 18). Judgment is a matter of what people do with the light, as Jesus emphasizes at the end of the first half of the Gospel (12:46-48). One’s response to Jesus is one’s judgment because Jesus is the revelation of God himself (12:49-50).

Why is it that some come to the light and some do not? John does not unravel this mystery entirely, but verses 19-21 shed some light. At first glance this passage seems to say that one’s response to the light is determined by one’s moral behavior prior to encountering the light. This cannot be correct, however, since John describes people living immoral lifestyles, such as the Samaritan woman, who come to the light. The key is in the terms be exposed (elencho, v. 20) and be seen plainly (phaneroo, v. 21). It is sometimes assumed that the image in verse 20 is of someone working under cover of darkness so no one will know what is taking place. That person does not come into the light lest his or her activity, which is obviously wrong, be seen. But a preferable image is of a person involved in some activity that is morally neutral or even virtuous. This person does not come to the light because it would expose that what was considered virtuous is actually evil. This latter interpretation best fits this context, and we know it was held very early because some manuscripts…

I want to go back to verse 16 now and offer some commentary from the NIV Application Commentary:

The statement that God loves the world is surprising on two counts (3:16). (1) Judaism rarely (or never) spoke of God’s loving the world outside of Israel. God desires to reach this world through Israel, his child. It is a uniquely Christian idea to say that God’s love extends beyond the limits of race and nation. (2) John tells his readers elsewhere that they are not to love the world (1 John 2:15–17) because it is a place of disbelief and hostility (cf. John 15:18–19; 16:8). Carson comments effectively, “There is no contradiction between this prohibition and the fact that God does love it [the world]. Christians are not to love the world with the selfish love of participation; God loves the world with the selfless, costly love of redemption.”

This helpful insight gives a clue to what John means by “the world.” In John’s writings “world” (Gk. kosmos) is not a reference to the natural world of trees, animals, and plants—a world defended by the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. For John kosmos (used seventy-eight times in this Gospel, twenty-four times in his letters) is the realm of humanity arrayed in opposition to God (1:9; 7:7). Thus Jesus enters this world in his incarnation, knowing that hostility will result and that sacrifice will be needed in order to redeem the world (1:29; 3:17; 6:51). This dimension of the Son’s work must be underscored: The Son did not come to the world to save a select few (those chosen, those privileged); rather, he came to save the world, namely, the all-encompassing circle of men and women who inhabit this planet, people who embrace darkness habitually (3:19–21).

Despite the familiarity of John 3:16 and the partial familiarity of successive verses, the concepts are not as easily processed as might first seem. Great doctrinal distinctions and differences exist from denomination to denomination over God’s over-arching love for us versus God’s justice and judgment. Ultimately, you can’t get close to this truth from the text or commentaries; you have to pause, think these things through and work them out in your own heart and mind. That’s why we’re told to meditate on scripture; I personally like the idea that we need to chew on it.

Getting to know and understand the ways of God can take a lifetime. But there is also a simplicity in John 3:16 that you can use with your friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow-students and extended family; as long as you yourself are continuing to work at understanding the broader implications.

>>>You can find the commentaries referred to today by going to BibleGateway.com and clicking on “show resources” toward the upper right corner.

December 24, 2013

Joy to the Whirled

Isaiah 26:3
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

In the various themes linked to Christmas, one is “Peace on Earth.”  It originates with the announcement made to the shepherds,

Luke 2:13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

But Jesus never said, ‘I have come to bring peace on earth;’ rather he says something quite the opposite:

Matthew 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

At the blog Possessing the Treasure, Matt Ratliff writes:

The number one accusation against those who proclaim the truth from God’s Word in the face of apostasy is that they are being divisive. I believe we should seek to have peace with all men, but we must be prepared to encounter conflict with those who refuse to submit to God’s truth. We are never called to be at peace with false teachers or false prophets or apostates. We don’t have to go to war against all of them either (Proverbs 26:4,5). From Jesus’ own teachings we learn that the cost of being His disciple is very high. Grace is free, but becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ costs us everything. We are told that no one is worthy of the Kingdom of God who is in love with this world. We cannot serve God correctly if we love our own life more than Him. We cannot love our families more than Him. We cannot love possessions more than Him. We are called to be the interim or peacemaker between those whom we love and God. We are to be the one God uses to bring them into the Kingdom. However, we are also called to not waiver and turn our backs on God and His ways because pressure is put on us to compromise our walk with God for the sake of peace.

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:49-51 ESV)

Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. This statement by our Lord is speaking of judgment. John the Baptist made the following statement about Jesus Christ.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12 ESV)

John the Baptist used three references to Baptism in this passage. The first was “water for repentance.” This is what John the Baptist’s role was. His baptism symbolized cleansing. It was for those who were being baptized to show their commitment to repentance. The second was “baptize you with the Holy Spirit…” This signified that all genuine believers in our Lord Jesus Christ are Spirit-baptized. They receive the Holy Spirit indwelling them. No one without Him is genuine. The third baptism is with “fire.” This is referring to the baptism of judgment upon all the unrepentant.

Notice also that John tells us that in this our Lord will use His winnowing fork in His hand. What does that mean? This was a tool used for tossing grain into the wind so that the chaff is separated from it and blown away. This is speaking of separating those who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit from those who are to be baptized by fire. The grain signifies genuine disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ while the chaff represents unbelievers. The grain is gathered into barns, but the chaff is burned with a fire that is never quenched.

If we look back at Luke 12:49-51, we see that Jesus deeply desired for this unquenchable fire to be already kindled. He then states that He has a baptism with which he is to be baptized. His baptism was one of suffering. This is referring to his suffering and death on the cross. When a new believer is baptized, the ceremony symbolizes identification with Him in death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus stated that he was in great distress until His baptism in this was completed.

Why was Jesus in distress about going to the cross? Was He afraid of the beatings or the nails in His flesh or death? No, He knew that while on the cross that all of God’s fury and judgment against sin would be poured out on Him. He would endure God’s wrath against our sin.

51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother- in- law against her daughter- in- law and daughter- in- law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53 ESV)

Again, our Lord tells us that through His work on the cross there would be two groups of people. One group is made up of His disciples. The other group is everyone else. This “division” will run through families, cities, nations, churches, you name it. No matter where we go in this world, no matter what groups we are part of; those groups will contain some from both divisions. As a result, along with the natural conflict that goes on through the works of sinful men everywhere, there will be a supernatural division between our Lord’s flock and the rest of the world. This division will not be peaceful. It takes many forms. There is outright persecution in some situations. However, some of the worst conflict here comes when non-believers insist on being part of our Lord’s flock on their own merit.

Despite the efforts of those who try to be at peace with apostates, our Lord knows better. He knows who is bound for the fire and who is bound for the barn. However, we do not. That is why we must be very careful whom we accept as a brother in sister in Christ. We do no one any favors if we blindly accept everyone’s testimony without careful observation. If we give people false hope then we have done more harm than good.

What about families divided by the cross? I know that many reading this have loved ones that believe they are Christians because of their works, or what church they belong to, et cetera. What are we to do? We must never stop being peacemakers. (Matthew 5:9) We pray for them continually. We witness to them every chance we get. When war breaks out over the division we always seek to leave a door open in which to do our peace work.

What about apostates who demand to be seen as genuine? If you look closely at these people, you will see that they have made up their own version of Christianity that is self-focused and temporal in nature. That is rampant in our time. We must never allow anyone to proclaim a false version of the Gospel to be proclaimed as genuine. We must never allow anyone to twist our Lord’s words or the Bible’s words to make them say what they do not say. How are we to confront them? We must do so only from the basis of truth from God’s Word. That is why I do not allow debate on this blog unless all arguments are based in scripture. Personal and Straw Man attacks are not allowed. Instead, we use God’s Word to simply proclaim the truth. If any change is to be made in these people it will only come through the working of the Holy Spirit in them, not by our arguing.

September 27, 2013

Punished For Sin, Punished By Sin

Romans 1

In addition to preparing these daily readings, and keeping up with the writings of others at Daily Encouragement, I’m trying to start my day with my copy of The Voice translation of the Bible. Today I decided to read through Romans.

Romans 1 is often invoked in the context of some current issues that are causing the influence of the broader culture to encroach on the Church. Without engaging that today, I simply want to share something that appears in the supplementary “transition passages” which are added as amplification to the text.

The focus verses are:

18 For the wrath of God is breaking through from heaven, opposing all manifestations of ungodliness and wickedness by the people who do wrong to keep God’s truth in check. 19 These people are not ignorant about what can be known of God, because He has shown it to them with great clarity. 20 From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible; and it voids the excuses and ignorant claims of these people 21 because, despite the fact that they knew the one true God, they have failed to show the love, honor, and appreciation due to the One who created them! Instead, their lives are consumed by vain thoughts that poison their foolish hearts. 22 They claim to be wise; but they have been exposed as fools, frauds, and con artists23 only a fool would trade the splendor and beauty of the immortal God to worship images of the common man or woman, bird or reptile, or the next beast that tromps along.

24 So God gave them just what their lustful hearts desired. As a result, they violated their bodies and invited shame into their lives. 25 How? By choosing a foolish lie over God’s truth. They gave their lives and devotion to the creature rather than to the Creator Himself, who is blessed forever and ever. Amen. 26-27 This is why God released them to their own vile pursuits, and this is what happened: they chose sexual counterfeits—women had sexual relations with other women and men committed unnatural, shameful acts because they burned with lust for other men. This sin was rife, and they suffered painful consequences.

28 Since they had no mind to recognize God, He turned them loose to follow the unseemly designs of their depraved minds and to do things that should not be done. 29 Their days are filled with all sorts of godless living, wicked schemes, greed, hatred, endless desire for more, murder, violence, deceit, and spitefulness. And, as if that were not enough, they are gossiping, 30 slanderous, God-hating, rude, egotistical, smug people who are always coming up with even more dreadful ways to treat one another. They don’t listen to their parents; 31 they lack understanding and character. They are simple-minded, covenant-breaking, heartless, and unmerciful; they are not to be trusted. 32 Despite the fact that they are fully aware that God’s law says this way of life deserves death, they fail to stop. And worse—they applaud others on this destructive path.

Chapter 2: 1 So you can see there are no excuses for any of us. If your eyes shift their focus from yourselves to others—to judge how they are doing—you have already condemned yourselves! You don’t realize that you are pointing your fingers at others for the exact things you do as well. There’s no doubt that the judgment of God will justly fall upon hypocrites who practice such things. Here’s what is happening: you attack and criticize others and then turn around to commit the same offenses yourselves! Do you think you will somehow dodge God’s judgment? Do you take the kindness of God for granted? Do you see His patience and tolerance as signs that He is a pushover when it comes to sin? How could you not know that His kindness is guiding our hearts to turn away from distractions and habitual sin to walk a new path?

I’ve included a rather healthy section of this here; it is the set-up for the section that follows where Paul speaks of the wrath and judgement of God, the same wrath that one denomination wanted excised from a popular worship song.

It’s interesting that the section in chapter one appears in the past tense. Maybe that’s why the people who created the chapter breaks chose to put what follows after verse 32 of chapter one into a new section.  But it’s interesting to look at some of those phrases in the present tense, for certainly these things continue today:

  • God gives them what their hearts desire…
  • They give their lives to the devotion of the created…
  • God releases them to their own vile pursuits…
  • They choose sexual counterfeits…
  • Their sin is rife…

So what are the consequences. Ultimately, Paul is going to talk about the eternal consequences; the aforementioned outpouring of God’s wrath; but it was this transitional sentence that struck me that I want to leave us with:

Paul sounds a sober warning. God’s wrath is here; it is not some far-off future event. Paul says that God’s wrath is already at work in the world in what is effectively God’s “hands-off” policy. God, he says, steps aside and gives us over to idolatry, sexual sins, and depraved minds. Human sin and depravity are both its cause and effect. You see, we are not only punished for our sins, but we are punished by our sins. If God’s salvation consists essentially of His presence with us, then His wrath consists of His absence or separation from us. The bad news is this: God’s wrath is real. Without the good news of Jesus, no hope exists.

 

It looks like this bookstore has a huge section devoted to Romans, but in fact, it's in Montreal where in French, Romans means 'novel.'

It looks like this bookstore has a huge section devoted to Romans, but in fact, it’s in Montreal where in French, Romans means ‘novel.’