Christianity 201

June 15, 2018

Defending Yourself and Protecting the Attacker: Are Both Possible?

Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God, available July 4th, 2018. He is also the author of the best-seller, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb. He is the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in California. This is his second time featured here at C201. Click the title below to read this at his Patheos blog and check out other articles.

The Aikido Spirit of God

If you’re not familiar with Aikido, it’s a style of martial arts that uses an opponent’s energy against them to redirect their kinetic force to turn it back upon them.

Or, as the Wikipedia entry explains:

Aikido’s techniques include irimi (entering), and tenkan (turning) movements that redirect the opponent’s attack momentum.

The man who invented this style of martial arts created for one purpose:

“to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury”.

This is exactly what God does.

Consider that God never wanted anyone to rule His people other than Himself. God wanted a people who would look to Him as their King. But, unfortunately, His people wanted “a King like all the other nations have” and even though He was grieved by their choice, He gave them what they asked for.

After giving them a King, God told them that He would send them a Messiah who would rule on David’s throne forever. But notice, it was never God’s desire for King David to have any throne at all. Yet, God used the disobedience and rejection of His people and redirected it to the Messiah to come.

God also never asked anyone to build Him a temple. When King David set out to build one for God, His response was: “Heaven is my throne and Earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?” and then promises that, instead, God will build a house for David which, again, is a nod to the coming Messiah who would build a Temple not made with human hands but from human hearts that are surrendered to God [the Ekklesia where God lives by His Spirit – the Church].

So, once again, God takes our mistakes and turns them around to bless us anyway.

As Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery out of jealousy: “What you intended for evil, God meant for good.

This is the Aikido way of God.

Another example of this is animal sacrifice.

Moses knew of no other way to worship a god [any god] other than a blood sacrifice. There simply wasn’t any other form of worship known to mankind in that ancient world. So, Moses assumes that to worship Yahweh, something must be slain on an altar to please God.

But, according to Jeremiah, God never wanted animal sacrifices in the first place:

For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.  But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’  Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” [Jeremiah 7:22-24]

Again, God did not want animal sacrifices. Moses did.

But, God allowed this to be practiced in spite of this and, instead, used this misunderstanding to point to Christ who would come and fulfill this picture of the scapegoat and redeem the barbaric practice of sacrifice to liberate us from the bondage of guilt and sin.

This is why Jesus echoes the prophet Hosea and says:

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” [Matt 9:13; 12:7]

God is always taking our disobedience, our misunderstandings, our limited vision, even our total rejection of Him, to redirect it back around to bless us and redeem us and draw us nearer to Himself.

God uses everything – all wisdom, all knowledge, all ignorance, all disobedience, all rejection, all striving – to declare His love to us and to set us free from everything that entangles us.

This is who God is. This is who God has always been. This is who God will always be.

His love endures forever.

 

May 24, 2018

Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and LOVE

by Clarke Dixon

(This is the final sermon in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

When we are going for a concise statement about what we are about as a church, why does love make the cut? In fact love does not just make the cut:

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)

Love is the “greatest of these”! Love makes the cut and is the greatest because love is central to Jesus. We often connect 1st Corinthians 13 and its message of love with romance and weddings. However, we ought to connect it with Jesus.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NRSV)

Though Jesus could and did work many wonderful miracles, if he had not love, where would we be? We would be in trouble! We would be dead in our sin. While love might seem like a luxury to some, it is essential to the follower of Jesus, because it is essential to who Jesus is.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry in preaching at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spoke about love, and in doing so, spoke about Jesus:

 . . . This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it; he died to save us all. He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He wasn’t getting anything out of it. He sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the well-being of the world, for us. That’s what love is.

Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial and, in so doing, become redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change this world. (The Most Rev. Michael Curry)

When we are told to “pick up your cross and follow”, we should not have in mind the idea of being weak in the will to live, but strong in the will to love.

So how do we walk with Jesus in love and help others do the same?

First, we define love as a decision and then we decide to love at every opportunity. Faced with a crucial decision, Jesus decided to love:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36 (NRSV)

Many sermons, I’m sure, have been preached on the obedience of Jesus to the Father in this prayer at Gethsemane. But it was not just obedience to the Father. It was love for you. Jesus made the crucial decision to love, and that has changed everything. Love as a series of decisions can change many a relationship, between marriage partners, within family or friends, and of course even between enemies.

Second, we love by growing into a loving character which reflects that of Jesus. When you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus, you don’t get the impression you are reading about an impatient, or unkind man who happened to make some loving decisions. Or an envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude man who insisted on his own way apart from a few decisions to love. Rather, you get the impression that Paul had Jesus in mind when he wrote about love:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NRSV)

In meeting Jesus in the Gospels you get the impression that love was central to his character. It still is! When people meet Jesus in the Gospels, then meet us, is it a huge contrast in character?

The best way to help others walk with Jesus in love, is to be walking with Jesus in love ourselves. But what if you feel far from being a person characterized by love? Then remember the Bible says

. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

It does not say “the result of my hard work is love”, but the “fruit of the Spirit is love.” Indeed, just as love is the “greatest of these”, love is the very first fruit. You can be and do whatever God calls you to be and do, including love and be loving. He calls you to love. He calls us as a church family to help people, to the glory of God, walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. Our very first step is to pray!)


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

May 2, 2018

Extreme Love

While preparing an article for a book industry blog I edit, I came across the name of Pastor Ray Bentley, founder of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, California. The two devotions which follow are from his blog. Click the titles to read each at source, and then if you have time, navigate to other devotionals posted there.

Extreme Love, Extreme Living

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”— 1 Peter 4:8

Extreme love. Love so great that it makes up for not just a few sins—but a multitude! And you know, we are not forced to live in this extreme stratosphere of love. We are invited.

Jesus initiated extreme love.

First He taught His followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15: 13); then He did it.

As He hung on the cross, He had few friends left to witness His suffering.

But He hung there anyway. He died for his friends, and for those who hated Him, who misunderstood His purpose, and who were lost in sin and hardness of heart. “While we were still sinners,” He died for us, so that we can know love. We are invited to experience it, to live it, to demonstrate it in our own lives.

Love is the most potent emotion and power in all of creation.Love motivated Creation, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life for mankind. Abundant love, when accepted gratefully, gives us abundant lives, full of purpose, meaning, sacrifice, and ultimate love.

Hebrews chapter eleven is a partial list of daring individuals who chose to live in extreme love. They are as varied a group of people as you will ever encounter, and they laid the foundation for our faith.  

They were judges and farmers, rulers and prostitutes, prophets, and parents.

They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, escaped the edge of the sword; their weaknesses were turned to strength; they fought battles, and saw their dead raised to life.

Some were tortured, some faced jeers and flogging, others were chained in prison.

They were stoned; they were tortured; they were put to death by the sword.

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. They lived in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

They were commended for their faith…and God declared that the world was not worthy of them.

Now that’s extreme living.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” —Amy Carmichael


Love Experienced

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” —1 John 4:8

The apostle John simplified everything when he stated, “God is love.”

But we can misunderstand that love. You might regard your relationship with God as an invitation you once answered when He knocked on the door of your life and you let Him in. Now you’re a Christian. Simple.

But don’t let that be enough. We’re not supposed to just start going to church, put a Bible on the coffee table, and figure, OK, took care of that. I’m right with God.

That’s not love experienced!

A life that knows true love is filled with a multitude of invitations, because of the nature of love. Love is a living relationship that never remains exactly the same, but grows deeper, more intimate, more secure. We can never get enough of it, and we will never come to the end of it, because God Himself, the Author of love, is infinite and His love knows no limits.

Every day, in a variety of ways, the Lord comes knocking on the door of your heart. Through circumstances, people, new opportunities, a change of venue, the beauty of nature, and sometimes heartache and tragedy—God gives us the chance to experience and live with His love in a new way, everyday.

Don’t miss your daily invitation to grow deeper in God’s love.

Seek Him in His Word.

Look for Him in the faces of the people around you.

Accept the hard things, as part of what makes you a deeper, more compassionate person.

Give the love God gives to you away freely, abundantly, wisely, and with a grateful heart.

April 25, 2018

Giving to Get

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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NIV Luke 14.12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Today we’re back with Mayfield, Kentucky pastor and counselor Josh Ketchum. Click the title below to read at source.

Life in the Kingdom

Why do we do what we do? Most things we do with an expectation of getting something in return.

Consider these questions . . .

Why did you have the last people over to your house? Why did you give your wives flowers for your anniversary? What was your expectation when you helped a poor person with gas? What was your expectation when you mowed the yard for a neighbor when he was sick?

What were you expecting? Why did you serve them? What was the repayment you were hoping to get?

Jesus gives us a challenging principle in Luke 14:12-14. He says for us to have a dinner and not invite our friends or family. Don’t invite those who have wealth or those similar to you that will “pay” you for the invitation. He says rather to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” The reason you will be blessed is because they “cannot repay you.” In fact, you may not receive any earthly payment or satisfaction, but you will be “repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Who loves like that? What if we did? What if we loved simply to love. What if we let our expectations of what we will (or should) get out of it go?

It would transform our relationships and our attitudes.

Consider these thoughts . . .

What if I loved my wife today without expecting anything, but only offering to her my service and complete acceptance for who she is? It would foster sincere and true love in our marriage. It would free her and me to love, rather than acting out of fear and pressure.

What if I chose to invite people to my home who are different from me, who I don’t really know, but people whom need a friend and whom I haven’t really learned their story?

What if I chose to love others in my family in a way that communicates I respect who they are and the choices they make, rather than punishing them when they fail to meet my imposed expectations?

What if I sought to release my focus on what I get and chose to simply love for the sake of Jesus? Isn’t this the love of Christ? Christ’s love is unselfish and done without the expectation of payment. He loved us on Calvary’s cross, while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:8-10).

Consider your motives for your actions toward others. Choose to intentionally love others without the expectation of anything in return. Choose to love without expecting any repayment. Even take it one step farther, go find someone to love who can’t really give you anything (a young child, a poor stranger, or a elderly person). You will be blessed when you do!

NIV Romans 5.8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

March 25, 2018

Amazing Love!

Yesterday and today we’re reintroducing you to Canadian Presbyterian pastor Jeff Loach who writes at Passionately His. Both of these are great to share with someone who has not yet crossed the line of faith. Click the title below to read this on his blog.

My Chains Fell Off

Most of us, from time to time, get a song stuck in our heads.  I don’t know about you, but for me, this is an almost daily occurrence, and sometimes, it persists beyond the day.  Since Tuesday evening this week, I have had the same song in my head.  So today, I thought I’d put it in your head, too!

It is a hymn, a piece of poetry put to music, that dates back to the 1730s.  The accompanying tune is called SAGINA, which is the name of a spring plant common in the Roman Empire; it can also mean “nourishment”.  It was written in 1825.  But the text and the tune were not put together popularly until well into the twentieth century.

The text was written by the great Methodist leader Charles Wesley (1707-1788).  No one knows for sure, but it is thought that this text came to him at the point of his conversion.

Wesley had been trained for ministry and had attempted to serve in ministry, failing miserably as a missionary (alongside his brother, John) in the new-found colony of Georgia, now part of the United States.  It was only following his return to Britain that he experienced new birth, at which time he is thought to have written these words:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

These lyrics certainly allude to the story of the earthquake that occurred when Paul and Silas were in prison:  All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!” (Acts 16.26b, NLT).

But Wesley had experienced this in his own heart, too.

The good news is that any of us can have the same experience.  By God’s grace, our chains can fall off, too.  If you feel as though your spirit is lying in some sort of prison – enslaved to sin, locked in old ways, tied down by guilt – then Jesus longs to free you.

If you’ve not been set free from sin, think of what song might come from your mouth when your chains fall off!

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.
 (Psalm 40.1-3, NLT)


February 24, 2018

Billy Graham Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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[He has] fought the good fight, [he has] finished the race, and [he has] remained faithful. Now there is in store for [him] the crown of righteousness… (2 Tim 2:7-8a, amended)

Yesterday we honored Billy Graham with an excerpt from his final book. Today we want to include him in our quotations series here at Christianity 201. Quotation columns here at C201 always run the danger of being pithy — such as the shorter ones found here — so I’ve tried to include some more substantive quotes as they were available. Preparing this was an amazing opportunity to learn more about a servant of God who was willing to be obedient to the call of God. His presence and influence will be missed.

The greatest need in our world today is the need for hope. We thrive on hope, we rejoice in hope, we witness in hope, knowing that experience works hope. ‘Happy is he . . . whose hope is in the Lord his God (Psalm 146:5).’ There is hope for the future. It is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the grave and is alive now. I have staked all that I am or ever hope to be on Him.

One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied. This is the answer that millions are giving today. Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ. All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests. Their response is not atheism. It is not defiance. It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christianity.

God proved his love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’

Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.

Ruth and I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a great one. How can I say two things that seem so contradictory? In a perfect marriage, everything is always the finest and best imaginable; like a Greek statue, the proportions are exact and the finish is unblemished. Who knows any human beings like that? For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. We learned that even before we were married.

The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.

The happiness which brings enduring worth to life is not the superficial happiness that is dependent on circumstances. It is the happiness and contentment that fills the soul even in the midst of the most distressing circumstances and the most bitter environment. It is the kind of happiness that grins when things go wrong and smiles through the tears. The happiness for which our souls ache is one undisturbed by success or failure, one which will root deeply inside us and give inward relaxation, peace, and contentment, no matter what the surface problems may be. That kind of happiness stands in need of no outward stimulus.

There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men.”

Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have many regrets…I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ. I would spend more time in prayer, not just for myself but for others. I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life. It is far too easy for someone in my position to read the Bible only with an eye on a future sermon, overlooking the message God has for me through its pages.

The cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for he took them upon himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.’

The men who followed Him were unique in their generation. They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up. The world has never been the same.

The cross shows us the seriousness of our sin—but it also shows us the immeasurable love of God.

I have a certainty about eternity that is a wonderful thing, and I thank God for giving me that certainty. I do not fear death. I may fear a little bit about the process, but not death itself, because I think the moment that my spirit leaves this body, I will be in the presence of the Lord.

Like Joseph storing up grain during the years of plenty to be used during the years of famine that lay ahead, may we store up the truths of God’s Word in our hearts as much as possible, so that we are prepared for whatever suffering we are called upon to endure.

The message I preach hasn’t changed. Circumstances have changed. Problems have changed, but deep inside man has not changed, and the gospel hasn’t changed.

“What is the greatest surprise you have found about life?” a university student asked me several years ago. “The brevity of it,” I replied without hesitation. … Time moves so quickly, and no matter who we are or what we have done, the time will come when our lives will be over. As Jesus said,As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work(John 9:4).

When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.

I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it, and for all He has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven. I look forward to the reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone on before. I look forward to Heaven’s freedom from sorrow and pain. I also look forward to serving God in ways we can’t begin to imagine, for the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is not a place of idleness. And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace–just as I am.

 


Sources:

November 27, 2017

The Reckless Love of God

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

Often here we begin with a devotional study and then end with a worship video. Today, I want to begin with the song, Reckless Love. The following is a shorter (5½ minute) version of the song originally by Bethel Worship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To me this parable is much in the spirit of the lyrics of the song above.

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

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

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

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


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

See also tomorrow’s devotional, The God Who Pursues Us.


I mentioned that my wife and I had been discussing this song.  Sometimes I will workshop an idea for a blog post with friends online, and my friend Martin at Flagrant Regard agreed with her somewhat:

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

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

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

Words do matter. What do you think?

 

August 22, 2017

“For God So Loved the World”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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by Russell Young

The verse proclaiming God’s love for the world, John 3:16, is probably the most recognized passage in the Bible.  It is used as a common source of entry into the passages used by evangelists to reveal hope to humankind. The passage is a declaration of God’s love and of his provision for the person who is prepared to reach beyond himself or herself for a greater hope. The evangelist would state that “For God so loved you that he sacrificed his Son so that you might have eternal life if you would only believe.”

This verse has much more to proclaim than his love for people, however.  Note that the passage reads, “God so loved the world.” “World” is translated from the Greek kosmos meaning cosmos or his whole creation.  Jesus did not limit his proclamation of God’s love to people but to the totality of his handiwork.  The book of Genesis records, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31 NIV) Paul re-stated this thought to Timothy, “everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected.” (1 Tim 4: 4)

God’s love for his world or creation has been made clear in his revelation to John concerning the visitation of his wrath. “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18 NIV) He does not look kindly on those who would treat his handiwork with disdain.

All creation, including the earth, was and remains to be of great value to God. We live in a disposable age when things are perceived to have a specific lifespan. When the usefulness of something is considered to have been spent, it is indifferently cast aside. Apparently, God will not treat kindly those who have destroyed or who have treated his creation callously.

Believers should take note of this fact. But, you may say, the world is going to be consumed by fire and a new heaven and new earth will be formed so what difference does it make? Of first importance is the display of a careless attitude towards what God put design and effort into creating and which brought him pleasure and about which he proclaimed his satisfaction and joy. The second problem is that the earth is going to be redeemed or renewed and it is on earth that God’s heavenly (heaven-like) kingdom will be established.

God’s heavenly kingdom will not be someplace in space but here. It will not be a spiritual sphere without substance. At his return, the Lord will be the king over the whole earth. (Zech 14:9) When his work has been completed, his enemies are under his feet, and all dominion, authority, and power has been destroyed, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. (1 Cor 15:24) Even prior to Christ’s reign many physical changes will have taken place. (Zech 14:8,10, 12; Isa 35: 6 – 10; Mic 4: 1; Eze 36:35) “The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.” (Isa 51:3 NIV)

Paul has stated that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” (Romans 8:22 NIV) God’s creation has not been completed or brought to maturity; it is being birthed. It will not be completed until the sinful body has been redeemed and the people who will dwell with him have been revealed. (Rom 8:19) God’s creation has been frustrated and is waiting “to be liberated from its bondage to decay.” (Rom 8:20 NIV) It will one day be returned to its Eden-like state, will have a people who have willingly chosen to submit to God’s sovereignty and are holy in state (Heb 12:14)and righteous in practice, and with whom God will dwell forever.

God loves his people and he loves all that he has created. When his enemies have been defeated, his creation will be freed and will assume the state and glory that he had planned and which humankind had thwarted thus far. The Lord, Jesus Christ not only gave his life to redeem a people for God’s kingdom, the world will be redeemed. Christ will have enabled God’s creation plan to be completed and once more it will be “very good.”

 

May 23, 2017

Paradoxes in the Upside Down Kingdom

We’ve linked before to the blog Don’t Ask The Fish at our other blog, but this is the first time for this devotional site, written by Dr. Tommy Kiedis to appear here at C201. There is some really great content waiting for you there. Clicking the title below will allow you to read this at source, where you can then navigate to some other great articles.

The Upside To Down Times

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.  — Charles H. Spurgeon

The New Testament is full of paradoxes:

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul shares another anomaly for those who walk with God: There is an upside to down times. This is a truth Paul discovered while walking through some very difficult circumstances.

We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 The Message)

What happened to Paul in the province of Asia? Was there an attempt on his life? Did he suffer some punishing malady? No one knows for sure. What we do know is that Paul said, “it was the best thing that could have happened.” Why? Because God used the trying time to deepen Paul’s faith.

As Paul trusted God, he discovered that God (who raises the dead) would employ that power to rescue him again and again—as many times as he needed rescuing.

Amazing!

Where are you experiencing a “downer” in life? There is an upside to it. Like Paul you can say, “it was the best thing that could have happened.” This change in perspective occurs as you learn to trust that God really is working in your life in the midst of your challenge.

Sometimes it is hard to think of God at work when difficulties arrive. Anxiety, like some swashbuckling pirate, is making too much noise. But Spurgeon is right, “anxiety . . . only empties today of it’s strengths.” My task is not necessarily to fight the anxious thought, but to look to God through all the dust of emotions, to learn to rest in the fact that is there and that he is at work on my behalf — because he is!

Here’s an idea. Why not take something on your desk or work space and turn it upside down today as your reminder that God promises to bring an upside to your down times.

He has that kind of power. He loves you that much.

 

May 20, 2017

Who is God?

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

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

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

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

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

Of this passage, Matthew Henry wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

bold face emphasis added

John Wesley’s commentary on this passage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

April 8, 2017

Psalm 130

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Twice in the last week I noticed someone referred to Psalm 130 in something I was reading and last week I attended a concert in a church which had one of the old “hymn board” signs at the front indicating that their reading that morning had been this same text. (Talk about ‘the writing on the wall!’) I decided to check out what one online writer called “The gospel in a Psalm.”

Psalm 130 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
    who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
    that we might learn to fear you.

I am counting on the Lord;
    yes, I am counting on him.
    I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
    more than sentries long for the dawn,
    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
    for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
    His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from every kind of sin.

At Redeemer.com we find some general advice from Eugene Peterson for studying the Psalms as a whole:

  1. The Psalms teach us to pray through imitation and response. … Real prayer is always an answer to God’s revelation. The Psalms are both prayer and revelations about God — the perfect ideal soil for learning prayer.
  2. The Psalms take us deep into our own hearts 1,000 times faster than we would ever go if left to ourselves. … Religious/moral people tend to want to deny the rawness and reality of their own feelings, especially the darkness of them. … The secular world has almost made an idol of emotional self-expression. … But the Psalmists neither “stuff” their feelings nor “ventilate” them. They pray them — they take them into the presence of God until they change or understand them.
  3. Most importantly, the Psalms force us to deal with God as he is, not as we wish he was. “Left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us, and to everything he speaks to us … the Psalms train us in that conversation” (from Eugene Peterson’s Answering God).

At Daily Doorstep Devotional (Trinity Bible Church) we read:

…Even though we are not to be of this world, we do know that we are in this world and the things of this life do require our attention. Just as we are to rejoice always and pray without ceasing, so too are we to continually set the Lord before us. All of these are to be regular daily facets of our lives. We are to be so conscious of God, His presence, and His working that it shapes our view of the world and it becomes second nature to us to turn to God in all things. When we do, the Lord will be the center of attention and our affections, especially in those times when He is to be set before us without distraction. [W]hat times, circumstances, or occasions are necessary for our total attention to be placed upon God?

One such time is seen in Psalm 130. In this Psalm the Lord is mentioned in every verse either by name or personal pronoun. The Psalmist is clearly focused upon God without distraction. What has brought him to this? Verse 3 tells us it is his iniquities. The sin of the Psalmist has caused him to sink to the depths and it is from here that he cries out to the Lord and makes his supplication before Him. He knows he is a sinner and confesses it before God, acknowledging that he cannot stand before a holy, righteous, and just God. The sinner acknowledges that if God were to judge him based upon his deeds that he could not bear to stand before God and would be utterly consumed by God’s righteous wrath against his sin.

Yet the Psalmist knows the Lord. He knows He is a merciful God that forgives, and he comes before Him in confidence, waiting upon Him and trusting in the promises of His Word that He will forgive (Psalm 103:3). The sin of the Psalmist has left him in dire straits; he mourns over his sin, and he knows that apart from the Lord there is no deliverance. He knows that his only hope is in the Lord. Desperate men will give full attention to the One upon whom they know their very lives depend…

At Devotional Reflections from the Bible we read:

Psalm 130 is one of the most encouraging and compelling Psalms regarding our true estate before God and the perfect redemption that He alone provides. The Psalmist is calling to God out of the depths. Don’t you find that we are more often likely to cry out to God when we are laid low than when everything is great and we seem to be living on the mountain top? Don’t ever be sorry for that, because that is exactly what we should do when surrounded by obstacles that seem to crush us lower and lower.

There is no other help available; no one else has the power and love to pull us out from the depths. Why does God do this; is it because we are more worthy than others? No, the Psalmist says that if the Lord should mark iniquities who could stand? That’s a love we know little about; a love that is there even though there is nothing within us that deserves such love. Knowing this, the Psalmist waits for the Lord more than the watchman waits for the morning.

The message of the Gospel to everyone is: Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. I will never understand that, but I am so incredibly thankful to God for the complete redemption He provides, and the daily help to get through the circumstances of life.

Pray today that you would hope in the Lord and experience His steadfast love and plentiful redemption.

 

February 23, 2017

Little Power and Great Affirmation in Philadephia: Revelation 3

by Clarke Dixon

You feel powerless. Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it. There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution. The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way. What are we to do when we feel powerless?

Our friends may respond with a big dose of positive thinking; you are powerful, you can do anything, you are amazing! And sometimes, when we are thinking of ourselves more lowly than we ought, we need affirmation. But sometimes affirmation falls short. It feels hollow somehow. It is not just that we think we can’t fix it, or find the solution, or find our way. It is that we can not fix it, find the solution, or find our way. Sometimes we don’t just feel powerless, we are powerless.

In Revelation chapter three we have a letter to a small community of Christians who are of “little power.” (Revelation 3:8) This small community of Christians in Philadelphia could easily feel overwhelmed by those loyal to Roman ways of thinking and acting. They could also feel overwhelmed by those who strictly observe the Hebrew Bible but who don’t share their excitement over Jesus as the fulfillment of those scriptures. These two communities were much larger than the Christian community, and persecution was known to happen. So what does Jesus have to say to these powerless Christians?

Here is what Jesus says:

“These are the words of the holy one . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus is in effect saying, “I am the Holy One, and so the only One who has the power of God.” We read in Mark chapter 1 of a demon saying “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24). The demon knew Jesus had the power to destroy because the demon knew Jesus was God’s Holy One. 

“. . . the true one, . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

The word “true” here means “authentic, genuine.” Jesus is the “real deal.” No one but Jesus can promise relationship with God, life, or eternal life, and deliver on the promise.

“. . . who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus holds the key of of the Kingdom, and makes decisions on the door of the Kingdom. Persecutors may make decisions about a person’s death, but Jesus is the one who makes decisions on every person’s life & eternal life.

“I know your works.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus knows stuff! Nothing escapes his notice, neither the patient suffering of the persecuted, nor the evil deeds of those who persecute.

“Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus creates opportunities. It may feel like opportunity belongs to the strong and powerful. However, Jesus can create opportunities for those with little to no power.

“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet,” (Revelation 3:9)

In other words “I will make justice happen.” There is a turning of the tables here, from the Philadelphian Christians being kicked out of the synagogue to those of the synagogue gathering around them.

“ . . . and they will learn that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)

Jesus will clear up misunderstandings. Those who hate people because they think God hates them will someday find out whom God loves and how foolish it was to hate.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)

Here Jesus promises to hold the Christians through a time of trial. There are differing interpretations on the “what” and “when” of this “hour of trial.” The important thing is the promise of Jesus to keep his people through it.

“I am coming soon;” (Revelation 3:11)

Jesus will return and those persecutors who say that he is of no consequence, will see him and come to a new appreciation of just Who He is.

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it.” (Revelation 3:12)

Jesus will ensure the believer’s presence with God. They may have been cast out of the synagogue, and disowned by the city, but Jesus will give them a secure standing in his temple, the Bible’s great symbol for the presence of God.

“I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

This is a promise of inclusion in God’s people, as well as a promise of reflection of God’s character, a “family resemblance” if you will.

The Christians in Philadelphia have little power. Does Jesus respond with affirmation, telling them that they have much more power than they think? There is affirmation, but most of the affirmations are about Jesus Himself! Let us look at the full letter to Philadelphia and notice the affirmations that pertain to Jesus:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Revelation 3:7-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus does not affirm the power of his followers. He affirms His own power! In other words Jesus is telling the Christians in Philadelphia that they do not need to be God. He is! They do not need to be powerful. He is, and He loves them. Their part is to keep doing what they have been doing;

“I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. . . . Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, . . .” (Revelation 3:8,10).

Do you feel powerless? Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it? There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution? The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way? Perhaps you are correct. But you are not God. You don’t have to be. Look instead to the One Who Is.

There is one matter in life where we are completely and utterly powerless. We have absolutely no power to reconcile ourselves to God. But God does. And He has made it happen through Jesus at the cross. Let us not look to ourselves with false affirmations, but look to our Lord and Saviour with honest affirmations of His power and love.

 All Scripture references are from the NRSV

 Original Source: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

February 4, 2017

Discipline Hurts But We Should Embrace It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our fourth time linking to the writing of Michael Kelley at Forward >> Progress. He consistently produces a quality of writing that is such a good fit for readers here. You can send him some link love by clicking the title below and reading this on his blog. Follow him on Twitter @_MichaelKelley .

3 Reasons to Love Discipline from the Lord

Discipline is painful.

We have known that to be true for some time, haven’t we? When you look back at your childhood, your fondest memories are probably not those involving the discipline of your parents. Similarly, we don’t take pictures of our kids when they are in time out or being sent to their room. That’s because no one likes discipline at the time. At its core, discipline means something is going wrong in your life, and someone is stepping in to help you correct.

This is not punitive in nature; discipline has a greater goal in mind. Of course, as we grow older, discipline becomes less and less something that is done to us, and more and more something we must take up on our own. We must discipline ourselves to read the Bible and pray. We must discipline ourselves to physically exercise. We must discipline ourselves to put down the bag of Cheetos. But even though we make that shift to self-discipline, it’s still painful in the moment. This is what the writer of Hebrews acknowledges to be true in Hebrews 12:11:

“No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

But his acknowledgement of the general unpleasantness of discipline comes not in a discussion about the way we discipline ourselves, but in the way we react to the discipline of the Lord. For while we might outgrow the discipline of our earthly parents, we never outgrow the disciplining arm of God. But even though discipline is not enjoyable, part of growing up in Christ is not only accepting the discipline of the Lord, but actually growing to love it, painful though it might be. And if we look a little earlier in this passage, we see why:

“Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

1. The Lord’s discipline means we are His true children.

Sometimes the temptation for us, when we are undergoing the discipline of the Lord, is to think that it’s evidence of His lack of love. The Bible tells us that the opposite is actually true. The fact that the Lord disciplines us is the evidence of His love for us – it’s one of the ways we know that we are truly His children.

Think about it for a minute. Let’s say there are a hundred children on a playground, and as you look across the landscape you see a group of kids doing something dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense that someone’s going to be permanently disfigured, but unsafe nonetheless. Now you might be compelled to step in, but then again, you might say to yourself, Those aren’t my kids. There are a bunch of parents out here, and so I’m going to mind my own business. But your posture completely changes when your own child is involved, simply because that is YOUR child. And as your child, it is your duty to intervene for their welfare. Chances are they will look at you as someone who has spoiled the fun, but you know better. You are acting for their good. In a similar way, God intervenes with His discipline because He is our Father. We aren’t somebody else’s kids – we are His. Because we are, He is compelled to act.

2. The Lord’s discipline means He is actively involved in our lives.

As a parent, I know that discipline is difficult. It’s not only difficult because it takes an emotional toll on you as a mom or dad; it’s difficult because to discipline well and consistently you have to actually pay close attention to your children. You have to know them, and know them well. You have to know who their friends are, what their activities are, what they’re doing on and off line, and a host of other things. Parental discipline necessitates a very active level of involvement on our part.

The same is true with the Lord. When we experience the Lord’s discipline, we can know that He is not some distant deity with only a passing interest in our comings and goings. We can know instead that He is intimately and specifically involved and concerned with the smallest details of our lives, so much so that He is willing to step in and exercise His power if it means helping us grow in holiness.

3. The Lord’s discipline means He is deeply committed to us.

Oh sure – we don’t have to discipline our children as parents. It would certainly be easier in a way. But we choose to discipline our children because we are deeply committed to their well-being. If we were not, then we would not be willing to put ourselves through the near constant exercise of correction and training. Such is the case with the Lord.

Jesus did not die so that we could go our own way. He died so that we could do and be all that our good Father intends for us to do and be, and the primary thing He intends for us to do and be is holy. He is deeply, deeply committed to this, even when we are not. This is because He knows that ultimately, holiness is for our good and everlasting satisfaction in Him. And as a perfect Father, He will settle for nothing less, even if it means the road to get there is difficult for us.

So, Christian, perhaps today you sense the disciplining hand of your Father upon you. It does not mean He has abandoned you or ceased to love you. Quite the contrary. It means you are His true child. It means He is actively involved in your life. And it means that though in this moment, you might not be committed to your own holiness, God is. And so we can love the discipline of the Lord, for we can trust the discipline of the Lord:

“Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead” (Hebrews 12:12-13).

January 19, 2017

Lost Love: The Letter of Revelation to Ephesus

gnbnby Clarke Dixon

“I have some good news and I have some bad news.” Such is how we could summarize the words of Jesus to the Christians of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation. So let us begin with the good news:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. . . . this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:2,3,6

Works, toil, endurance, standing up to false teaching and also to bad practices. Sounds like a good report. However,there is a ‘but,’ coming. And it is a really big ‘but.’ It is something very serious, so serious that here are the consequences:

Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5

What does it mean to lose the lampstand? We are told in John’s vision that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). In other words, the Christian community will cease to be relevant in Ephesus, there will be no church there. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

If the Christians in Ephesus do not change course there will be no lampstand in Ephesus which means no Christian witness which means no glory to God.

So what is the ‘but,’ the bad news that needs fixing?

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4 (NASB)

What does this mean exactly? At first reading, it certainly seems as if the Christians in Ephesus are good at expressing their love for God. Remember they are commended for their works, toil, endurance, and standing up to false prophets and bad practices alike. On the surface of it, it looks as if they are expressing a great love for God. In fact it seems they are very religious about expressing their devotion to God. And maybe that is the clue. 

The Christian journey can sometimes look like this: We fall in love with God. In fact we become religious about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we become RELIGIOUS about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we can become VERY RELIGIOUS about expressing our love for God. Then we just become VERY RELIGIOUS. And we have left our first love. We have replaced it with religion.

We can leave our first love in two ways:

The first way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

There is an easy way to tell when this is happening. We enter a church, or enter into prayer, and say, “look at me, Lord. Look at how good I am. Look at my works, toil, endurance, and how I stand up to false prophets and bad practices.” We know religion has replaced love when we find ourselves at the center of it all. We have no capacity to impress God. Nor do we need to. When God’s love is at the center rather than our religiosity, we are free to enter into church, or into prayer, and say, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.” We enter into church, or into prayer, not because we have a chance of impressing Him, but because He loves us. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosever is really religious shall not perish but shall have eternal life?” You know that is not how it goes! It is “whoseover believeth in Him, or better, whosoever trusts in Him.

The basis of our relationship with God rests first of all on His love and the fact that He gave Himself for us. We leave our first love and trade it in for mere religion when we trust, not in the love of Jesus, but in our own efforts. If the Christians in Ephesus don’t get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we replace love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

The second way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with others.

You can see the challenge the Christians in Ephesus faced. They were in a very Roman world with very Roman practices, which were very far from Christian practices. There were huge pressures to cave. It is commendable that they have not. They are to be commended for enduring, and standing up to false teaching and bad practices. However, the easiest way to endure when all the world around you is putting pressure on you to cave is to crawl into one.  Crawl into a cave and disconnect yourself from all that pressure. Hunker in a bunker. There is such at thing today as “hunker in a bunker” Christians. There we are free from pressure and temptation. We are free in a bunker, sheltered from the world around us to excel in being religious. Religion becomes the main point of connection with our friends, and the main point of disconnection from everyone else. We can excel at being religious in, but we cannot love the world around us from, a bunker. We are called to love!

Study the life of Paul and you will see that despite all the pressures on him, he never hunkered down in a bunker. He rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting his light shine. Jesus rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting His light shine. It is good to do those commendable things the Christians in Ephesus were doing; not countenancing evil, weeding out the false prophets, enduring. But it is not good to become isolated and a closed community. If the Christians in Ephesus do not get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we don’t keep love as the basis of our relationship with others.

Jesus shows the way:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: Revelation 2:1

Jesus is the example of love, walking among the the seven gold lampstands, a living presence of love. In everything he has done and everything he does, he gives us an example, not of what religion looks like, but love. May we be more like Jesus, and not so much like the Ephesians.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted


Read today’s and other writing by Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 28, 2016

The Shortest Path to Reconciliation

Yesterday, Andy Stanley spoke on the the three “lost” parables of Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. While this is very familiar to most of us, I am always amazed at how the various dynamics and nuances of this famous story result in the situation where good preachers always find something new in this parable.

The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

The last seven words have been amplified and expanded in expository preaching for centuries, but Andy noted:

Andy Stanley 2013This son was gone relationally long before he left home. This relationship was broken.

The father wanted to reconnect with the son so bad, he chose the shortest road back. The father wants to reconnect relationally so much; he knows the relationship is broken; the conversation is the pinnacle of a bunch of other conversations that probably went on… He knows the son is distant… the son is gone, he’s just physically there. The father wants him back; not his body, the relationship. He chooses for the shortest route back. He funds his departure.

What the audience heard when Jesus said this was that the father loved his son — don’t miss this — the father loved the son more than he loved his own reputation, and for that culture, they summed the father up as a fool. This is when you need to go to Leviticus and find that hidden verse that says, ‘stone the rebellious children,’ because this kid deserves to be stoned. In the story the father says, ‘Okay. Let’s pretend that I’m dead. I’ll liquidate half the estate…’

…Here’s a dad who is willing to lose him physically, lose him spatially, lose him to (potentially) women.

He didn’t mention this, but I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, verses 24, 26 and 28:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Implicit in this is the idea of God “letting go” of someone, giving them over to their sin. This particular message in Romans 1 seems very final. But in I Cor. 5, a book also written by Paul and in a context also dealing with sexual sin, we see Paul using the same language but with a hope of restoration:

So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The language in the last phrase isn’t found in Romans 1 but occurs here. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation renders it this way:

Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.

Back to Andy’s sermon! The story in Luke 15 continues:

20b “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Andy continued:

He ran to his son and threw his arms around him…

…Why, when the son was leaving; why when the son had his back to his father,  did the father not from that same distance, run throw his arms around him the son? Why does he let the go? He doesn’t chase after him throw his arms around him and say ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’? Why now? It’s the same son, it’s the same distance. It’s the same two people But now he’s running toward his son to throw his arms around him and bring him back. Why? What’s the difference.

This is Jesus’ point. This impacts all of us… The father desired a relationship. The father desired a connection the father desired a connection. — not a GPS coordinate, it was not about not knowing where the son was — it’s not spatially, it’s relationally. What the father wanted more than anything in the world was not the son living in his house, but to be connected with the son and when he saw the connection being made when he saw the disconnected son begin to reconnect he ran toward his son and he kissed him.

He concludes this part of the sermon by reminding us that Jesus is telling his hearers:

‘My primary concern is not the connected; I know where they are. And I’m grateful that we’re connected. My priority, my passion, the thing that brought me to earth to begin with was to reconnect the disconnected to their father in heaven.’ This answers the question, why would Jesus spend so much time with irreligious people? …The reason Jesus spent so much time with disconnected people is because they were disconnected. The reason Jesus was drawn to people who were far from God is because they were far from God.

The gravitational pull of the local church is always toward the paying customers. It’s always toward the connected. It’s always toward the people who know where to park and know how to get their kids in early and find a seat… The gravitational pull and the programming of the local church is always toward the 99 and not toward the 1. …We all, individually and collectively, run the risk of mis-prioritizing… how we see people.

There’s much more. You can watch the entire message at this link; the passage above begins at approx. the 50-minute mark in the service.

 

 

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