Christianity 201

January 20, 2022

Water Into Wine?

Thinking Through John 2:1-11 (and also thinking about “Conversion Therapy”)

by Clarke Dixon

  • The sermon on which this is based can be seen here

If you were allowed just one of Jesus’ miracles today, would you ask for water to be turned into wine?

You have likely heard of WWJD, meaning “what would Jesus do?” As we read through the Scripture Focus for today let us ask WWBD, “what would Baptists Do?” (You can substitute your expression of Christianity if you are not a Baptist.)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Had we been there when Jesus turned water into wine, we might have questioned what Jesus did. We may have asked:

  1. Why encourage the drinking of alcohol? It seems irresponsible.
  2. Why waste a miracle on a party? It seems inefficient. Wouldn’t healing someone from a terrible disease be more productive than providing wine for partygoers?
  3. Why use stone jars that were set aside for religious purposes? It seems sacrilegious. It would be like using a baptistry as a hot tub in our day.

Let us consider each of these questions.

Why encourage the drinking of alcohol?

Some Bible scholars point to the place of wine in the future Kingdom of God such as in this prophecy:

The time is surely coming, says the LORD,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

Amos 9:13-14 (NRSV)

Amos prophesied that God’s people would experience judgement, primarily through an invasion of enemy forces. Though such an invasion would lead to the devastation of the land and therefore the ability to produce wine, the prophecy also looks beyond that devastation to a time of plenty, a time of blessing. When Jesus turned water into wine he gave a sign that such a future time of great blessing was near, and was coming through him.

Further, on the the day before his crucifixion, Jesus did this:

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Mark 14:23-25 (NRSV)

Again wine is linked with future blessing in God’s Kingdom. It is also linked here with the shedding of Jesus’ blood, through which that blessing would be made available.

According to John, the turning of water into wine was not just the first miracle of Jesus, but more importantly, the first sign. It was a sign of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. It was a sign that the Kingdom of God would come through Jesus.

Why waste a miracle on a party?

Our scripture focus begins with, “On the third day.” Perhaps John is hinting at something else that happened “on the third day.“ The resurrection of Jesus is worthy of joy and celebration! The “third day” was a great day for a party. This brings us to the next point, namely that Jesus did not waste a miracle at a party, but again, gave a sign that God’s presence, specifically God’s presence in and through Jesus, should be joyfully celebrated:

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?

Matthew 9:14-15 (NRSV)

There is much to celebrate with Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God including resurrection, re-creation, and renewal. This first sign of turning water into wine, pointed to a greater sign, the resurrection of Jesus.

Why use jars specifically set apart for religious purposes?

That Jesus would use jars set aside for religious purposes suggests that the religious life of the people had become rather staid and stuck in formal ritual. The worship of the Giver of life, had become lifeless. People were trying to do the right things, but often failed to do the right thing.

We see this, for example, in the parable about the Good Samaritan. The priests and the Levites were known for doing all the right things, keeping all the rules about ritual purity. Yet in the parable of the Good Samaritan they didn’t do the right thing. In fact some Bible scholars point out that it was their attempt to do the right thing in keeping ceremonially clean, that caused them to fail to do the right thing, which would have been to help the man left for dead. It was the Good Samaritan, and Samaritans were known for believing and doing the wrong things, who did the right thing. Likewise, while the religious leaders often condemned Jesus for not doing the right thing when he broke Sabbath laws, Jesus pointed out how he was doing the right thing in healing people.

Jesus came to bring something that lifeless religion could not, namely life. So here he is at a party, doing something unexpected, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that inspired faith in the disciples. Using stone jars set apart for religious purposes was not sacrilegious. Empty formal religion is sacrilegious.

So what would we Baptists have done had we been in Jesus position?

I’m guessing that at least some of us, instead of turning water into wine, would have gathered up all the wine at the party and turned it into water. We would have missed out on the sign, the signpost to the Kingdom of God, of the life-giving, lively, exciting, joyful nature of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus knew what he was doing. Perhaps we might have done something different, thinking we knew better, but not really knowing what we were doing. Perhaps we still do this. Perhaps there are some things we do as Christians, as Baptists, where we turn wine into water so to speak, where we could instead provide signs of God’s Kingdom.

One example where I think we have been turning wine into water.

During this past week, it became law that conversion therapy is now illegal here in Canada. That is, to put it as simply as possible, it is now illegal to try and help a gay person become straight. Therefore there has been a call for pastors across Canada, and the United States, to preach on sexual morality today.

What I find strange is this: a conversation about sexual morality, that is, how one honors God, others, and one’s self with one’s body, is a completely separate and different conversation than one about so-called “conversion therapy.” Since the law is about “conversion therapy” I’d rather focus on that today.

Perhaps an illustration might help us start this conversation.

I have been described as being excruciating shy as a boy. Report card after report card said “Clarke is too quiet.” In Grade 6 the teacher called me out to the hallway for a private chat. “What do you want to do for a living?” he asked. I told him I wanted to be an airline pilot to which he responded; “Airline pilot? How are you going to be able to do that, for airline pilots have to pick up the microphone and speak to people on the plane.” Thankfully, I didn’t become an airline pilot, so I didn’t have to worry about that. God obviously has a sense of humor. My quietness continued on into adulthood and on a personality test I scored 9 out 10 for introversion vs extroversion.

So, what would happen if we created a world where there is no room for introverts, where one’s introversion is seen as something that needs fixed? Perhaps someone might come up with a therapy that promised to help introverts become extroverts. Those who score 6 of 10 on the introversion scale may find themselves seemingly more extroverted and the therapy may be hailed as a success. But people like me, scoring 8, 9, or 10 out of 10 wouldn’t experience change. Now not only is there something fundamentally wrong with us that needs fixed, but now there is something doubly wrong with us, for we are not fixable. We would become very frustrated in not experiencing change, frustrated to the point of despair. Some of us would take our own lives.

This kind of thing has been happening with “conversion therapy” for gay people all along. Actually it has been worse than my illustration of introversion, for not only have gay people had the label “broken,” but also “evil.” Making matters still worse, where we might have no difficulty having conversions about introversion, conversations about being gay can very quickly cease to be conversations. Bottom line: conversion therapy has caused more harm than good. People have been hurt, badly.

Back to the story of the Good Samaritan. What if, the beat up person left for dead in the ditch is the gay person who has been beat up by efforts to change him or her? What if we Baptists have been the priest and Levite passing on the other side, or worse, the perpetrator of the crime? What if the Canadian government is trying to be a Good Samaritan here?

There may well be nuances on the wording of the law that needs attention, but much of what I’ve seen in the call to preach on sexual morality in response to the new law has not been honest discussion on how awful conversion therapy is, but rhetoric about how awful the “gay agenda” is, and how persecuted we Christians are. We are not the ones left for dead in the ditch.

Perhaps we need to do some thinking about where we identify in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps it is time to think about what it looks like to turn water into wine, what it looks like for there to be signs of God’s Kingdom within the LGBTQ+ community.

As a ban on conversion therapy comes into effect, instead of rushing to pulpits to speak about sexual immorality, perhaps we should begin by walking with someone who is gay, taking time to listen. That means making time to listen. That also means making room in our minds and hearts to hear what is said. Maybe listening could be one sign of the Kingdom coming?

I will never tell my gay son that he should not identify as gay. He will never tell me that I should not identify as introverted. I have never stopped being an introvert, but I have learned, with stumbling steps sometimes, how to survive and thrive as a quiet person in a noisy world. Maybe that speaks to what should be our focus, not how we get gay people to become straight as conversion therapy aims to do, but how do we help all people, gay or straight, walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. What does water into wine look like in each person’s life?

Conclusion

Had we been at the wedding at Cana, we might have done things differently, but Jesus, being predictably unpredictable, did what he did, and and it stirred faith in the disciples.

We ask “what would Jesus do?” He just might do something surprising, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that leads to joy and celebration, something that points to the beautiful Kingdom of God.

While we began with What would a Baptist do, the question here is, what will we do, to show signs of God’s Kingdom?

November 23, 2021

Our Desire for Servanthood Status

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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(if the last two words in the above title strike you as an oxymoron, you’re on the right path for today’s devotional)

Last year at this time we shared a quote from a decade-old article by Ben Sternke and in preparation for today’s devotional I’ve been reading some of his articles and really like his take on things. He spent years in Charismatic churches and now finds himself leading worship and church-planting in a liturgical setting.

Clicking the link in the header which follows will take you there, and I hope you will, and then click his blog title to discover more helpful thoughts.

The Gospel Disrupts Our Status Games

“Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matt 19:30).

Jesus speaks these words to his disciples after promising that the sacrifices they’ve made to follow him will indeed be worth it in the Age to come, which comes after shocking them by saying it will be hard for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of the heavens, which follows directly on the heels of a wealthy young man walking away in sorrow because he was unwilling to part with his wealth in order to follow Jesus.

Jesus then tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard, where the master of a household hires workers at various times throughout the day to work in his vineyard. Some work the whole day, others work for only an hour or so, but at the end of the day, they all receive the same amount for their work. The workers hired at the beginning of the day don’t like this, but that’s the way it is. The master wanted to give everyone the same pay, and that’s that. “Thus,” Jesus concludes, “the last will be first, and the first last.”

Measuring ourselves against each other

It’s a parable about the Kingdom of the heavens, and Jesus speaks the aphorism about the first and the last at the beginning and the end of the parable. He’s clearly trying to help his disciples understand something important about the nature of the Kingdom. Jesus is emphasizing a crucial aspect of the “life of the Age” that the wealthy young man wanted so badly to have.

In the Kingdom, in the “life of the Age,” the radical generosity and self-giving love of God moves toward everyone indiscriminately, and this disrupts our status games. Everyone receiving equally from the master upends all the ways we seek to measure ourselves against each other, all the ways we calculate who is better and who is worse, who’s on top and who’s on the bottom, who is worthy of honor and who can be disregarded.

Too offended to enter the Kingdom

By declaring that all are loved, the gospel demands that we leave these status games behind, lest we become too offended to enter the Kingdom. In God’s economy, we all receive out of the overflow of God’s generous love, and thus we must cast aside all the ways we attempt to distinguish ourselves as better than others. We must lay down all the ways we try to prop up our own egos in order to receive the gift, or we simply won’t enter the Kingdom at all.

Thus it would appear that the first are last and the last first, because the old order of things has been completely upended. The workers who started at the beginning of the day would have been fine with their pay until it became apparent that others “worse” than them were receiving the same pay. For them, it was all about status. They didn’t actually need more money, they just wanted recognition that they had worked harder than all the other workers. They wanted assurance that they were better than others. But the Kingdom of the heavens is like a master who upends the whole game by giving to everyone equally.

This is the work the gospel does relentlessly, which is why it’s so hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of the heavens. It’s the reason it’s hard for anyone who feels they’re on top of some kind of status game to enter the Kingdom: it’s hard to let go of the story that you really are better than other people, and you have the receipts to prove it (wealth, or intelligence, or humor, or good looks, or right belief, or moral purity, or popularity, or influence).

What game do you play?

What status games do you play? What kinds of comparisons do you make to figure out who’s better and who’s worse? What would it look like to lay aside those games today and enter the Kingdom of the heavens?


Second Helping: In Charismatic worship, prophetic visions can take many forms, including this allegory of Jesus as a pirate!

Worship Leaders: For something a little less “out there,” here’s an article contrasting taking time to explain liturgical forms in a worship service, versus simply “going for it” and inviting people to participate. (Ben’s experiences are very diverse!)


Ministry Models: What if a Christian ministry organization with a 100+ year history were to totally re-shape what it does? The Gideons International in Canada did just that over the past ten years. From my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, read about their journey to becoming ShareWord Global.

November 11, 2021

The Greatest New Beginning Ever

Thinking Through Acts 1:1-5

What is the biggest new beginning the world has ever seen?

Some might point to the conclusion of WWII, ushering in a post-war era, or the the dropping of atomic bombs, ushering in the nuclear age and a nuclear arms race. Some might point to the Reformation, or the Enlightenment, or of course, the current pandemic. Has anyone in the world been immune to the changes it has brought?

Whatever we might think has been the biggest “new beginning” humanity has experienced, let me suggest that the biggest and greatest new beginning ever can be found summed up in the first few verses of the book of Acts:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven . . .

Acts 1:1-2 (NLT)

The writer, in speaking of a first book, is referring here to the Gospel of Luke in which he wrote about the birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The biggest new beginning the world has ever seen is Jesus!

You don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate how Jesus has had a great impact on world history. Yes, Christians have sometimes had a negative impact, but there can be no doubt Jesus has changed the course of world history. Of course we can also think about the impact Jesus has had in many, many individual lives.

As the book of Acts opens, we learn about how Jesus has been the greatest new beginning ever seen:

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles . . .

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

Central to this new beginning is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. There are different ways of looking at how the death and resurrection of Jesus works, of how the events of that first Easter have brought a new beginning. Though there are others, here are three keys ways:

First, Jesus took our place, suffering the consequence of our sin, so that we may have eternal life.

Second, Jesus had victory over evil, sin, and death. Though it looked like the powers of evil had won at the crucifixion, actually it turned out that God had the victory. As Bible scholar N.T. Wright often points out, Jesus is not a failed messiah, but the true king. Good triumphs over evil in the end because God triumphs, and God is good. Love wins in the end because God wins, and God is love.

Third, Jesus is the example of what love looks like. God came to us in Jesus, we killed Jesus, God loves us anyway and offers reconciliation. If everyone responded to offence the way that God responded to the offence of humanity at the cross, what a different world this would be!

When we hold these three perspectives together we see a wonderful new beginning with the expectant hope of eternal life though we have not earned it, the knowledge that Jesus is Lord though we don’t always perceive it, and the example of the better way of love though we don’t always live it. The suffering and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything.

Let us continue in Acts:

. . . and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

It was obvious to the disciples and everyone else in Jerusalem that Jesus was killed. It likely took a wee bit more convincing that he was alive. However they were convinced, not that they had seen a ghost, nor that Jesus was simply resuscitated to life in the here and now, but that Jesus was raised to new life with a new kind of body. The disciples and many others were convinced enough to change their whole perspective, and convinced enough to suffer and die for what they knew to be true. The resurrection changed the disciples. The resurrection changed everything. It was a wonderful new beginning.

Let us continue,

And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

We can take note that during the forty days between resurrection and ascension, the Kingdom of God was a special focus for Jesus as he taught his disciples. Therefore the Kingdom of God really ought to be a focus for Jesus followers today.

We may think the focus of Christianity is “how to get to heaven when I die.” We think, therefore, that the new beginning will be when we die. True, that will be a wonderful new beginning, but there is much more to it than that.

We are reminded of how Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What are we praying for when we pray that? Are we praying for the end of the world?

Here is one way to imagine “Thy kingdom come.” What do you imagine that future will look like, when we are with God in the age of resurrection?

Will there be poverty then?
No, so let us deal with poverty now.
Will there be racism then?
No, so let us deal with racism now.
Will there be abuse, sexism, discrimination, bullying, war or…?
No, so let us deal with these kinds of things now.

Will people be suffering from mental health and depression then?
No, so let us help people who suffer from these things now.
Will people battle addictions or other kinds of inner battles then?
No, so let us help people who are facing these kinds of battles now.

Will there be a concern for truth then?
Yes, so let us pursue truth now.
Will there be justice then?
Yes, so let us pursue justice now.
Will people feel free to be honest then?
Yes, so let us make space for people to be honest now.
Will there be a love for reconciliation, then?
Yes, so let us pursue reconciliation now.

Will we be a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and things like these then? (See Galatians 5:22,23)
Yes, so let us open our lives to the Holy Spirit to be nurtured in these qualities now.

Are we waiting to die before things can get better, before we experience a true new beginning? There is no need to wait, Jesus is already king, we are his kingdom people now.

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

We are not done yet,

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5 (NLT)

This new beginning brought about a new normal which persists even today; the Holy Spirit is now running rampant in the world. This new beginning, this Kingdom, is not happening without God. It is not going to happen without us either.

In Conclusion.

With Jesus came a massive new beginning for the world. In Jesus God’s kingdom is both here and near. It is a massive new beginning that God is doing in the here and now, which will lead to something bigger in the there and then. It is a massive new beginning that we are invited to participate in. It changes the world, it changes our communities, it changes us, it changes everything.

Are you ready for a new beginning?


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

October 31, 2021

Forever Amen

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.6.9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one

For eight weeks, Ruth Wilkinson shared a worship teaching segment on Sunday mornings based in the Lord’s Prayer. This was week nine, and she knew for some people the series wouldn’t be complete without thinking about the phrase with which we commonly end when reciting the prayer.

In the NIV (above), it’s a footnote:

some late manuscripts: for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

The version in Luke 11 is even shorter. The phrase doesn’t occur in some earlier manuscripts, but in one of the earliest writings we have, the Didache, which we discussed here a few days ago, it does appear. The website Got Questions says the phrase “should not be discarded lightly” as there are “data points” on both sides of the discussion.

We looked at the first part, in a 2014 post entitled, For Thine is the Kingdom, and more recently in 2020, Clarke Dixon studied the phrase in a post titled, For Thine is the Kingdom, where he reminded us of this related scripture:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

Ruth shared that part with the congregation the week prior. Today she continued considering the phrase “forever and ever, Amen.”

Forever

Some of the prayer is for this lifetime. It speaks of having “daily bread” needs met, of forgiveness and forgiving, and of God’s leading in our lives.

Some of the prayer is about things beyond this life: God’s Kingdom, His holiness, His will (plans and purposes), His majesty and power, and His glory.

Having a ‘forever’ perspective reminds me that

►Faith isn’t just rose coloured glasses wear to get through the day; rather it’s more like prescription glasses help me see better.

►Faith isn’t just a template to make the complicated world seem simpler; rather it’s a perspective accept the complications and find my path through them.

►Faith isn’t a crutch help us limp through; rather, healing lets me stand firm, run toward, walk without fainting alongside those in need

Faith makes difference starting now, continuing forever.

Eternity has implications for my everyday: what I say, do, spend money and time on, how I treat people around me, how I interact with the world of which I’m a part.

Faith is therefore a response to what I see in Jesus, how I follow his example and live out his teachings.

Amen

The final word we recite is also a name give to Jesus.

NRSV.Rev.3.14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation…

The more common use of Amen occurs in our worship as affirmation of something just stated, confirming that “this is truth” or “this will be.” We say it here for the prayers about this life and the things that are prayers beyond this life.

Amen.


Here is a very short look at the prayer which Ruth shared 10 years earlier while serving at a different church. Check out, Before You Say, “Our Father.”

September 6, 2021

Terminology: Missionaries or Workers?

Today we’re back for a third time at Disciple All Nations. The author is teacher, administrator, pastor, missionary, researcher, college professor and writer Russ Mitchell. This first appeared in the spring of 2020, and clicking the header which follows will get you there. (For those of you in missions, there’s an excellent article there on June 15th you should check out.)

Is it Time to Put the Term “Missionary” to Rest?

Recently I read Amy Peterson’s book Dangerous Territory, which chronicles her two-year adventure as a Christian English Teacher in Asia, which she self-critically subtitles “my misguided quest to save the world.” Early on I was struck by Peterson’s aversion to the term missionary. She shares:

“Despite my sincere and passionate desire to change the world for God, I hated that term –missionary—for all the connotations and baggage trailing behind it. I dreaded being aligned with the long history of abuse that educated westerners commonly associated with “missions” – destruction of indigenous cultures in the name of Christ, introduction of foreign diseases, wars in the name of evangelism. …I was terrified that I might accidentally live into this horrific, ethnocentric, imperialistic tradition.” (pages 18-19)

Peterson’s remarks reminded me of research findings of the Student Volunteer Movement 2 (renamed Global Mission Mobilization Initiative in 2019). Through interviews with young people around the world they too discovered an aversion to the term “missionary” for many of the same reasons Peterson lists. In addition, young people either viewed missionaries as “super saints”  – a measure they could never attain – or as cultural misfits, something they never wanted to become. Sensing that the term “missionary” was a hindrance to mobilizing students for service, SMV2 championed “message bearer” as a replacement for “missionary.”

I have also noticed that sending organizations avoid the use of “missionary” for practical reasons.  As many work in limited access countries where local governments do welcome foreign Christians, the term “workers” is preferred. Here are two personal examples.

Earlier this year my wife and I led a group of students to Central Asia. Our local hosts warned us to never use the M word in any of our communications. Otherwise the security of the entire work could be jeopardized. Also a few years ago, when reviewing our sending organization’s website, I was shocked to discover that the term “missionary” was not to be found anywhere on our public website! Upon inquiry, I learned that this was intentional.

So, I wonder, it is time to put the term “missionary” to rest? And if so, what shall replace it?

I was nurtured in a theological tradition that championed calling biblical things by biblical terms. How does missionary” fare? First, nowhere in the scriptures does the term “missionary” occur. So, it is not a biblical term. “Missionary” comes from the Latin verb, missio, to send. This is a semantically equivalent to biblical term, “apostle”, which literally means “sent out one.” Theological considerations, however, commonly restrict the use of “apostle” to leaders in the first century church. It is prudent to not go down that path.

Is there biblical alternative to “apostle” or “missionary?”

I believe there is, and it is a term that already is finding broad usage: worker.

Jesus tells his followers in Luke 10:2 (NIV), “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Consider too the parallel passage in Matthew 9:38.)  Here we see an early instance of people being sent out into the harvest field and the term used is worker.

Paul in his letters refers to numerous people as “fellow workers” or “co-workers” among whom are Urbanus (Romans 16:9), Timothy (Romans 16:21), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:13), Philemon (Phm. 1) and Stephanus (1 Corinthians 16:16). In the case of Stephanas, we see an even broader use of the term: “Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer (1 Corinthians 16:16 ESV). Also, when writing Timothy Paul also uses “worker” in a general sense. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV).

The term “worker” also eschews “super saint status.”  A saying of Jesus reminds us, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). “Workers,” then, are not super saints. They have only been obedient. They have done their duty.

What, then, are the advantages of the term “worker”?

  • It is a biblical term.
  • It has the connotation of being sent out by God.
  • It implies that one can rightly handle the “word of truth”
  • It shows that one is devoted to serving God’s people and is a trustworthy leader.
  • It already is used by sending organizations and churches with activity in limited access countries.
  • It is a humble term, that avoids the “super saint syndrome.”
  • It has none of the baggage associated with the term “missionary” that hinders mobilization

So, it seems prudent to lay the term “missionary” to rest and use the biblical term “worker” in its place. What do you think? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages to using the term “worker”?

 

February 22, 2021

Reaping Where You Did Not Sow

Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
(NIV)

dollar signNot wanting to overstate this, but in the past year we’ve watched as people who were stewards of ministry organizations, including those responsible for the finances of those same organizations, have proved themselves to be less than good stewards of what well-meaning donors had entrusted to them. Some have shown themselves, in their other endeavors to be “pursuing dishonest gain.”

This should not be. The ESV version of today’s verse says, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

When found out, we sometimes expect God will just step in and seize control of the situation, but sometimes he allows things to go unchecked. One of the more interesting articles here at C201 is a 2014 one called “Why Did Jesus Allow Judas to Manage the Petty Cash?” Matt Perman wrote,

Why did Jesus let Judas carry the money bag during his ministry, knowing in his omniscience that he was stealing from it (John 12:6)? One blogger humorously points out “one is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship.”

But then goes further,

…If it’s surprising that Jesus would have let Judas carry the money bag, it should be even more shocking that he let Judas be an apostle at all. For the task of going out and preaching the gospel, which Judas participated in, is even more significant than carrying the moneybag.

(Now you want to read the whole article, right?)

While we’re reminiscing about previous articles, a 2013 article from (re)Versing Verses which we called “Two Different Measures” looked at this verse:

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 25:15 NIV

and noted:

The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him [Proverbs 11:1]. This is a matter of integrity, and often it’s so easy to gain a little here and there that we tend to do it naturally and think of it as harmless. It isn’t harmless though. It harms your integrity. The Lord frowns on it. It incurs the Lord’s wrath – For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly [Deu 25:16]. Let us learn to be honest and have integrity in small things and big things alike.

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call. (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.” Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36 also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt“) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

A 2015 C201 post, “Proverbs on Poverty…and Riches” contained a number of scriptures on this (unfortunately without references) and ended with this one:

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

So while we may have determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

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

March 29, 2020

Obeying Those in Authority

Today we’re back another time with Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. This is a very timely article as we’re witnessing a conflict between those who are obeying lockdown and quarantine orders, and those who feel the mandate of God’s people to worship together trumps government directives.

What about obeying the government?

Some Christians claim that God will not allow them to experience a plague. They quote Scripture and continue to meet in large numbers. In contrast, a friend said that we trust God yet wear a bicycle helmet, drive the speed limit, take our vitamins and so on. God promises protection but is it okay to play in traffic? One of the devil’s temptations to Jesus encouraged Him to jump off the top of the temple because angels wouldn’t let Him be injured. Jesus replied that this was putting God to the test.

God’s people, me included, need to remember that God’s protection goes hand in hand with obedience including this passage:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1–2)

God is sovereign. That covers all authorities, even those we don’t like. Agreeing with separation of church and state does not include ignoring political authority during this crisis. That attitude is deadly.

My hubby once took a course called “Christ and Government” which suggests there is much to consider on this topic. I am challenged to think more deeply by this passage:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. (John 18:33–38)

The kingdom of God is not like those of the world. It is not defined by boundaries. It has no flag or logos. Its citizens are not governed by military might, nor according to how much money they donate to their current political party. Jesus’ kingdom is about allegiance to Him and having a personal relationship with Him. All our ‘laws and rules’ are in the Bible.

My devotional book offers additional thoughts. It says that Jesus’ servants will not fight to advance His kingdom the way the kingdoms of this world achieve success — using military drive or human armies. Apparently, Pilate believed at least this part of what Jesus was saying, and therefore saw him as no political threat . . . . But this does not mean that Jesus is making no claim whatsoever with respect to the kingdoms of this world. He insists He is King Jesus, even if His source of authority is not in this world, and His servants will not defend Him by resorting to arms. However, the time will come when all will acknowledge that He alone is Lord of lords and King of kings and all the kingdoms of this world are destined to become His.

How does this work in a practical sense? Again, my heart says to obey those in authority, not because I trust them, but because I trust the One who tells me to do it.

What if they order something contrary to the Lord’s commands? The Bible answers that also. The authorities were worried that the Gospel would spread so they decided to warn the disciples:

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:17–20)

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:27–29)

APPLY: Pay close attention to both the Bible and governing authorities. This could mean the difference between life or death even as God gives me a means to stay alive at this time. I am a citizen of heaven living as an ambassador for Jesus in a worldly kingdom. As long as I’m here, I’m to trust Jesus and obey His Word, especially concerning those in authority.

October 10, 2019

Behold Your King! Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and Power

by Clarke Dixon

“Behold your king!” This is how a cat would probably want to be introduced into a home. When we introduced a cat recentlyIMG_0281.jpeg, the dogs were terrified at first! Thankfully, they are now friends. People throughout history have clamored for power and authority. Unfortunately, many have been terrified and terrorized as a result. Perhaps you know someone who likes to be introduced with “behold your king.” Perhaps it is you.

We like power. We don’t like being at the losing end of power. We may feel that certain people have power over us in some way. We may feel like we have lost power due to situations, whether financial or health related. Cancer may seem to have all the control, for example. Power itself is neither good, nor bad. Power and influence can be a wonderful life-giving gift. Good things happen when influencers influence well. Power can also be a terribly destructive problem. How shall we deal with power, whether our influence over others, or their influence over us?

The concept of power is central to the Book of Daniel. The Babylonian empire has it all. God’s exiled people seem to have none. The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, has it all. Daniel and his friends seem to have none. God speaks into this power arrangement through a dream to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, chapter 2. Daniel is given the interpretation to share with the king.

Now imagine you are the king. Imagine how great you would feel when Daniel begins the interpretation of your dream like this:

37 Your Majesty, you are the greatest of kings. The God of heaven has given you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor. 38 He has made you the ruler over all the inhabited world and has put even the wild animals and birds under your control. You are the head of gold. Daniel 2:36-38 (NLT)

Wow! You are something else indeed! The top dog, the ruler, the “greatest of kings,” the “head of gold.” Yes, the king has great power. But do you notice something subtle within the interpretation? However powerful the king is, God is more powerful. The king only rules because God allows it. There are two things to note.

First, since God has given Nebuchadnezzar power, the king is accountable to God. Even the king is accountable to Someone in how he uses his power. King David of Israel knew this when he said “The LORD is my shepherd” in Psalm 23. David was not just referring to God’s care for him when he called God his shepherd. He was looking to God as his king, as the One he was accountable to, as the more powerful One.

Every person of influence is accountable to God. We all have influence of some sort. We do well to call upon God as our shepherd. Is our influence in line with God’s leading? Are we using power in ways, and towards ends, that are in line with God’s Kingdom? Is the Lord our shepherd as we influence? Look around at the current leaders of our world. Are they being led by the Shepherd?

Second, since there is Someone more powerful than the king, the king’s power is limited. This would have been a comforting thought to God’s people in exile as they lived under Nebuchadnezzar’s power. It will all turn out how God says, not Nebuchadnezzar. This is still a comforting thought in our day. Someone is in charge Who has greater power than anyone or anything exercising power over us. It will all turn out how God says it will, not how cancer says it will, or addiction, or any kind of disease or troubling situation in our lives. All powers are limited. God’s power is not.

There is something else worth noting in the interpretation:

39 “But after your kingdom comes to an end, another kingdom, inferior to yours, will rise to take your place. After that kingdom has fallen, yet a third kingdom, represented by bronze, will rise to rule the world. 40 Following that kingdom, there will be a fourth one, as strong as iron. That kingdom will smash and crush all previous empires, just as iron smashes and crushes everything it strikes. Daniel 2:39-40 (NLT)

The king’s power is only temporary. There will be other kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar’s  rule will end up being really only a “blip” in the history of the world. All rulers, kingdoms, empires, and governments are only temporary.  All shall all give way someday. But there is a Kingdom that is everlasting:

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. The dream is true, and its meaning is certain.” Daniel 2:44-45 (NLT)

There is a Kingdom that is everlasting, because its King is eternal. The rock which smashes the statue is uncut by human hands, in contrast to the statue which is fashioned by human hands. It is God’s Kingdom. God sets up His Kingdom in contrast to the empires and kingdoms which people create.

There are differing interpretations around the identity of the empires represented in the statue of Nebuchandezzar’s dream. We can be quite certain, though, that the kingdom of God is to be identified with Jesus:

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14-15 (NIV)

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36 (NIV)

All empires and kingdoms are only temporary. Any destructive power that is over us, is only temporary. This would have been a hope filled message for God’s people in exile. This too, shall pass. This is still a hope filled message for us when our troubles seem unending. This too shall pass. All troubling powers overs us shall be replaced with God’s future for us.

We should also recognize that any influence we have is only temporary. Therefore, who’s kingdom is it better for us to invest in? Our own? Or God’s? There is a contrast in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream between what humans can accomplish, and what God can accomplish. When we build up an empire, it is something easily destroyed and replaced. When God builds a kingdom, it is eternal, and therefore worthy of our investment.

Like God’s people in exile, when someone else’s power and influence threatens our destruction, we look to the coming Kingdom. All earthly powers are limited and temporary. This, of course, also means that our own power is also limited and temporary. Therefore we do well to harness our influence for God’s Kingdom purposes.

(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)

September 24, 2019

Can You Lose Your Salvation?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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by Russell Young

Can You Lose Your Salvation?

This question is frequently raised and deserves a thoughtful response. Much of the confusion rests in word meanings and often involves concepts that are philosophical constructs as opposed to Biblical truths.

Before it can be established whether a person can lose his or her salvation, it is important to understand what “salvation” means. A commonly accepted perception is that it means ‘brought to the state where you will go to heaven upon death.’ The Hebrew word y@shuw`ah has been translated to mean “salvation.” Its first Scriptural use is Genesis 49:18. y@shuw`ah doesn’t refer to “going to heaven” but to deliverance from danger or disease, the preservation of a person’s welfare, victory. The Greek soteria has a similar meaning without reference to heaven but referring in general to rescue, health and deliverance.

Salvation is used in the New Testament in a rescue or deliverance manner. The woman with the issue of blood was healed, delivered, or saved from the agony of her physical condition. Paul was saved from drowning when the ship he was aboard sank. Confessors are rescued from the death that they had earned and from the Old Covenant which brought about their condemnation.

Unfortunately, “salvation” has come to be specifically and singularly accepted as referring to the gaining of God’s heavenly kingdom. When this connotation is attached to the word, problems arise.

Those concerned with the thought of losing salvation are of the understanding that their heavenly hope has been established and they don’t want to entertain the idea that it can be lost. Two questions arise: Has their hope of heaven really been established? If it has, can it be destroyed?

Those who accept that they have been eternally saved, must accept that they are living the obedient life that Christ requires and that they will always live that life. Hebrews 5:9 states, “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” The believer’s hope comes through obedience. Paul has written, “For in this hope—our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies—you were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. But who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Rom 8:24−25) He has stated that we were or have been saved, yet our adoption remains a hope for which we “wait eagerly” and that it comes with “the redemption of our bodies.” (v 23)

The “saved” or salvation that has taken place refers to a rescue or deliverance, but it does not mean to infer that the deliverance is into God’s heavenly kingdom; it is a different deliverance or salvation. Careful examination of the fullness of God’s Word reveals that confessors are first saved or delivered from the righteous requirements of the Old Covenant law and the death that they had earned, so that they might receive the Spirit (Gal 3:14). This is not an eternal deliverance. Following this gifting, they are to live in obedience to Christ as Spirit.

Can a person lose this salvation, deliverance from the covenant law? Yes! Paul has also written, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (Gal 5:18) Those who have been given the Spirit but do not permit his leadership must revert to accomplishing the righteous requirements of the law apart from the Spirit’s help (The Spirit is Christ the Lord; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18), to the hopeless state that existed before their redemption.

The hope that is not reality and for which we wait eagerly is for “our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” and this is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13−14) The hope of adoption is accomplished by putting to death the misdeeds of the body (redemption of the body) through the leadership of the Spirit.

Some might protest that the Word presents salvation and eternal life come through belief. Eternal life and eternal salvation are different. Eternal life is life unending or immortality, and nothing more. Eternal salvation refers to a deliverance from any circumstance that would cause a person harm or negatively affect their eternal welfare. The only passage that addresses eternal salvation in the Bible, Hebrews 5:9, reveals that it comes through obedience and is availed for those who have overcome the world and have found a place in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7)

The confessor cannot lose his or her “eternal salvation” because he or she does not have it. Unless personal obedience to Christ can be guaranteed, neither can eternal salvation.; it is being awaited and will come following judgment. Confessors can lose their salvation from sin if they fail to obey the Lord and continue to deliberately sin (Heb 10:26; Mt 13:41) following their confession of Christ’s lordship (Rom 10: 9−10), if they have walked in darkness rather than in the light of the Spirit (1 Jn 1:6−7), and if they have failed to confess known sin when it happens. (1 Jn 1:9) Peter warned that confessors who “have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and again are entangled in it are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” (2 Pet 2:20)

Paul, on whom many base their understanding of salvation, wrote that it remained for him to become like Christ in his death so that “somehow” he could attain to the resurrection. (Phil 3:11) He did not claim to have been eternally saved after many years of ministry and suffering. He had to live Christ’s death to the end.

Christ warned Jewish believers that sinful practices would render them impermanent members of God’s family (Jn 8:35) and cautioned that those in him who do not bear fruit would be cut from him. (Jn 15:2) He also spoke of the need to “stand firm to the end” to be saved (Mt 10:22), and that his angels would “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41)

The promise of God concerning eternal salvation is for the obedient; the disobedient will find themselves forever separated from him. (2 Thess 1:9) A person cannot lose their eternal salvation because they will not have achieved it until they have been judged acceptable for God’s eternal kingdom. (Rom 15:16).



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.


 

August 14, 2019

Temptation, Humility and God’s Open Invitation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a trio of short devotionals for you from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner) which we first linked to back in 2014. I hope you’ll read them all, and then focus on one of them in particular for something personal from God today for you. Or link through to read more; these are all from August, 2019. Each title is a link to the reading.

Temptation is Optional

Matthew 26:41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

God knows we are weak. Truly, we are but dust. That is why it is of paramount importance to continually be watchful over our hearts since we are but mortal flesh while upon earth. Temptations can and should be avoided as Jesus warns. He tells His disciples (and us) that watching and praying safeguards us against temptation. Jesus also tells us in The Lord’s Prayer that temptation is not necessary. We must ask God not to lead us in a direction where we would wrestle with the possibility of sinning (Matthew 6:13). This is one of the outworkings of the fear of the Lord and His wisdom.

The Holy Spirit within will always speak wisdom within if we are listening. We often no longer listen when the flesh begins to rule and we allow temptation to tantalize and woo us by its siren call. However, when we feel that devilish wooing, we must quickly turn to God and repent, allowing the willingness of His Spirit to once again lead us away from the destruction that seeks to overwhelm us.

Right-sized

Matthew 23:12 – “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

In context with this verse, we must constantly be on guard against all forms of self-righteous Phariseeism. When we judge others without humility, not first looking to ourselves and our faults and failures, we exalt ourselves. This is a setup for a fall. Instead of doing someone good, we have done or spoke evil into their lives and also ours. Humility – the understanding of who we are in God — ensures that when we do speak into another’s life, it is with both grace and truth.

Self-righteousness is not only a deception, but it can become an addiction not unlike any other substance. It feeds the need of the flesh to feel empowered and significant. We should all heed James’ words when he states that where there is jealousy and selfish ambition, every evil thing exists (James 3:16). May we all understand who we are in God and “right size” ourselves in humility so God can exalt us in due season.

God’s Welcome

Acts 10:34-35 – “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.'”

God’s welcome is to anyone who will observe His criteria to accept Him. The first criterion is the fear of the Lord which means to look to God in reverence and humility, knowing ultimately we are not God. Too often people attempt to come to the Lord by just doing “what is right.” This is the trick of the enemy to lull us into believing we are gods and merely good works will save us.

There is salvation in no other than Jesus Christ, as Peter proclaimed to Cornelius in this passage. The centurion was a God-fearing man which allowed Him the rudimentary basics for God to welcome him into His kingdom (Acts 10:2). We must likewise understand that without our surrender of self and thinking that God is lucky to have our “good works,” that God cannot welcome us. Instead, we make Him our enemy. May we all surrender in the fear of the Lord and seek to do what is right in His eyes so we may all one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matthew 25:23)
 

May 19, 2019

Entering the Place Where the Lord Dwells

Today we’re introducing an author who is new to us here. Mark Stephenson co-pastors Horizon Church of Towson. Maryland and writes at Fire and Light. In today’s article, he paints a vivid picture of what it is like to enter into the dwelling place of the Lord, referred to in scripture as Zion or Mount Zion.

Click the link below to read at source.

City of the Living God

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[ref. Deuteronomy 4:24]

– Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

When we worship God we get to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We get to walk among thousands upon thousands of angels who have gathered to joyfully worship the Lord. We get to approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that Jesus has made a way by His blood.

Can you picture it?

As you walk toward God’s throne, surrounded by cheering angels, you are clothed in garments of white. The aisle to the throne is as clear as a crystal sea. The angels, as servants of the King, all know that a child of the King has entered the throne room. Royalty has walked in and they all act accordingly. You are an heir of an unshakeable Kingdom, a co-heir with Christ.

As you approach God on His throne, your pace slows. Your steps are careful. You are reminded that this is not only the King of Kings but also your Heavenly Father. You stop. You know this is close enough. The rest of the distance from you to Him is for Him to walk if He decides. He is a consuming fire, and you can feel His power from here. You bow down with your knees to the ground to honor the One who deserves all glory and honor.

You bow your head in reverence and awe. You don’t bow as a slave bows to a master. You are not afraid. You don’t bow in shame and guilt. His eyes see through you, but it is not a stare of disappointment or judgment. It’s a gaze of pure love. He loves that you bow your head in reverence, but He doesn’t want your head to stay bowed. As a loving Father, He signals to you to lift your head. He doesn’t want the top of your head but your eyes looking back at Him. He loves to see your face. The joy and pride of a proud parent fills His countenance.

As He stands to His feet, all the angels–the cherubim, seraphim, and all the other heavenly beings–drop to their knees in worship. As He walks the transparent aisle toward you, He signals you to your feet. You’re not sure you should be standing so your personal angel has to tell you to stand up. You stand before pure love and pure light walking toward you.

Self-limitation is an act of love and had He not reduced His own glory and power in this moment, you’d be fatally consumed immediately. And you know it. You can feel Him dial down His presence and majesty in order to draw near to you. It’s what He did in Jesus and here He is doing it again…just for a moment with you.

He has a smile that makes you smile. When you see His smile it’s so contagious you can’t help but feel joy well up from your gut and overtake your face. He puts His left hand on your right shoulder. You instinctively know that if His power wasn’t sustaining you in this moment you’d collapse under the weight of His glory.

He doesn’t have to say a word. Somehow everything that needs to be communicated is already being said, heart to heart, mind to mind. And somehow He’s not speaking one word at a time but instead it feels like He’s downloading whole ideas instantaneously. These thoughts would take a long time to explain using words but somehow the ideas come all at once.

He draws even closer. He wraps you in His arms. He transmits a love that is intoxicating and overwhelming. Tears burst from your eyes, and your heart feels like it is about to explode. It’s like your current heart wasn’t meant for this amount of love. You need a new heart, one with the capacity to hold a fraction of what is coursing through you in that moment.

The encounter ends.

Grateful is such a small word for what you feel in the aftermath, but it’s as close as you can get to describing the feeling. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and you are in awe!

 

January 6, 2019

Epiphany Sunday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

Hands up if your Christmas tree is still vertical and decorated. Yes, I see those hands.

You’ll be glad to know that you’re not wrong – according to the worldwide Church calendar, Christmas isn’t over.

All around the globe, we observe this Sunday as Epiphany – a celebration of the arrival of the wise men from far beyond Israel’s borders.

They weren’t there on the night Jesus was born. They probably never met the shepherds or heard the angels. Their journey may have begun that night, and they arrived up to a couple of years later when Jesus was a toddler, running around getting into everything.

But their arrival marked some amazing good news for those outside the Jewish community. God had come for everyone. The borders of His Kingdom had shifted and expanded to include those of us who were, for so long, on the outside looking in.

So we find in the Scriptures this message:

The Lord led Abraham outside and said,
“Look at the sky. Count the stars, if you can.
Your family will be like that…

“I’ll make you into a great nation.

“I’ll bless you,
and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Until that promise was fulfilled
we Gentiles were without the Messiah,
foreigners to the promise,
without hope
and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus, we who were far away have been brought near.

Through Him we are no longer outsiders and foreigners,
but partners of the promise,
and members of God’s household,
built on a foundation of Christ Jesus Himself.

This great news was first made known to the world through Gentile wise men
who arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is He? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Now we are saved by grace through faith – God’s gift.

And even more –
As Abraham was blessed so he could become a blessing,
we are His creation, created for good works in Christ Jesus
which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Bold, and confident of more than we could ask or think.
His power. His riches.
Raised up by the fulfillment of one promise,
to be the embodiment of another.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

 


References: Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Ephesians 2, Ephesians 3, Matthew 2


Previous devotionals on Epiphany:

November 29, 2018

Who’s In Charge Down Here?

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Clarke Dixon’s ordination. Congratulations on two decades of faithful service!


by Clarke Dixon

Who is in charge down here? Life can make us wonder. Is God in charge? Are we ever in charge? It might feel like the battle goes to the strong and the bullies are in charge. World history reads like a list of bullies giving way to bigger bullies. Personal relationships are marked by bullies taking charge. This past Sunday marked the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women. How long has humanity been around and women are still being bullied by men? Perhaps disease is in charge, or finances, or whatever we might be addicted to. Who is in charge down here?

It is a question the people of God in Daniel’s day could ask. They were well acquainted with big, brutal empires. If it is not the Egyptians, it is the Assyrians, and if not them it is the Persians. The first part of Daniel chapter seven affirms that this has been and will be the experience of God’s people. Daniel was given a vision of four terrible beasts arising out of the Sea. This is symbolic of the rise of four successive empires that are brutal. Bible scholars have seen these as symbolic of a mix of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Whichever empires they refer to, the bullies are in charge. This is an affirmation of what God’s people were experiencing; yes, it seems that bullies are in control down here.

However, there is a crucial moment spoken of in Daniel 7:

As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened. Daniel 7:9-10 (NRSV)

Brutal empires seem to be charge down here, but that is only until we are reminded Who really sits on the throne in the heavens. The imagery used in the passage above speaks to the wisdom of God and to judgement. Indeed, judgement comes next:

I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. Daniel 7:11-12 (NRSV)

The Kingdoms are stripped of power.  So who is in charge?

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)

The Son of Man is in charge. In other words, the beast-like empires give way to someone who knows how to rule like a real gentleman. According to some Bible scholars, the original readers would have focused on this as a promise to the whole people of God rather than to the Messiah. That is, Israel will someday rule instead of these empires. However, Jesus did something remarkable. At various times he referred to himself as “son of man.” He goes on to explicitly make himself the focus of Daniel 7:

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! Mark 14:60-64 (NRSV emphasis added)

Looking back to Daniel 7, Jesus is the one who “approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (Daniel 7:13). We see elements of this is what we call the ascension of Jesus:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (NRSV)

While the disciples were asking about the kingdom of Israel as a political entity, fact is, Jesus is now the king. As per Daniel 7, Jesus has taken his rightful place as the one in charge, now all nations are to worship him. His disciples are to be members of His kingdom, calling others to trust and worship the true king:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

Jesus is the rightful ruler, the better ruler, the one who reigns as a good and humane king unlike the empires that were described as beasts in Daniel 7. Jesus is a better ruler than anyone or anything else that tries to take charge in our world or in our lives. The awful things in life can make us wonder who is in charge. It might not feel like God is. It certainly might not feel like we are. Part of trusting Jesus, is to trust that Jesus is the king,  the good king, the coming king, and we are already his kingdom people.

Though the bullies may take charge and we may be victimized by life circumstances, when all is said and done we are not victims, but victors in Christ. Let the bullies do their worst, the true king has done and will do his best!

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 5, 2018

Seeking the Kingdom When It’s Convenient

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back with Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. He lives in Rochester, NY.

How He Gives Us What We Need

Luke 12:29-32 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

A good deal of the 12th chapter of Luke deals with the foolishness of pursuing riches before all else, and is an encouragement to us that God knows what we need and will supply. We all need to get it down deep in our hearts that “your Father knows that you need these things.”

Yet there is a different perspective we are to take to those things that we need. The Lord doesn’t say, “Seek after these things and I will make sure they shall be added to you.” The Word says “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” That’s a whole different emphasis. Phrased different, God promises to meet our needs as we put Him first. That’s the order: Him first, then our needs are met.

Many of us serve God in our spare time, in effect seeking the kingdom when it’s convenient. What is locked down for many of us are a solid job and a “good life,” and then in that context, we serve Him as time and energy allow. But that is not how He promises to provide. He promises to provide as we put His kingdom first. Yes, that takes faith, and it doesn’t look like anything the world has ever known or modeled for us. God is gracious and full of blessing, and “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He may have allowed you many a material blessing, but that doesn’t mean that you are putting His kingdom first.

What often gets lost here in our fear of letting go and seeking His kingdom first is the promise of v. 32: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Unlike in the world, where we often have to swim upstream, fighting the “sharks” and burning the midnight oil to get ahead, God shows us His heart: He not only is willing to give us the kingdom, it is His good pleasure. He’s not only inclined to give us the kingdom; it brings Him joy to do so.

It can be greatly challenging to live a life of faith, where we put His kingdom first and believe that He knows our needs and will supply them. But some of the pain we encounter in trying to live this way is from not fully believing that He wants to give us His kingdom. We sometimes think that He is like the world, and that we have to strive against great odds for spiritual success, as we often have to do for success in the kingdom of this world.

We will always face spiritual warfare as we seek to put His kingdom first. But may we never forget that He has promised us victory in Christ. And before, during and after any struggle, it is always His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. As we keep putting His kingdom first, we come to see how very much He wants to give it to us.

Prayer: Father, help me to see this principle of Your kingdom more clearly than I ever have. Help me to make the spiritual leap to putting Your kingdom first and trusting You for the rest. Give me eyes to see how You give me Your kingdom.


If you enjoyed this article, check out another by Mark, Can You Hear Me Now?


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