Christianity 201

June 21, 2022

Calming Words

Between 2012 and 2014, Stephen Altrogge appeared here four times. We decided to look at what he posted more recently at The Blazing Center and found this scripture medley from March of this year. Click the header below to read this where it first appeared.

22 Scriptures About Peace To Calm Your Soul

The world can be a really tough place sometimes. It seems like every day there is another difficult circumstance or trial can send us into a tailspin. It’s also easy to become overwhelmed by the news and all of the bad things happening in the world. But we don’t have to live in fear!

The Bible has many verses about peace that can help us find calm in the midst of chaos. In this blog post, we will explore some of those verses and learn how to apply them to our lives.

Bible Verses For Peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

The peace that God gives is supernatural. It transcends the difficult circumstances we are faced with and guards our hearts and minds. God doesn’t want us to be anxious about anything! Instead, we are to lift prayers to him in every situation and we will receive his peace.

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)

We can put our trust in God and not be afraid. He is our salvation and our strength! When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we can remember that the Lord is on our side. We don’t have to live in fear when we know that God is with us.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. (Isaiah 43:14)

This verse is a beautiful promise from God that he will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us always, even when we are going through difficult times. We can take comfort in knowing that we are never alone.

Bible Verses For Anxiety and Worry

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

No matter what we are facing in this world, we can rest assured that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing we’re experiencing now and nothing that may come our way in the future. Nothing in the entire creation. Not even death itself can separate us from the love of God.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

This verse is a reminder that God will provide for us, even when it seems like everything is falling apart. He is a good father who knows our needs and wants to bless us abundantly. We can trust him to take care of us and meet our needs, no matter where we find ourselves.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:16)

In this verse, God promises that he will be with us even when life seems to be trying to drag us under like an angry river. He will be with us even when the flames of trials burn around us on every side.

Verses About Peace In Hard Times

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isaiah 40:29)

God is the giver of strength! When we are feeling weary from life’s journey, he will give us the power to keep going. When we are weak, he will make us strong. When we have no strength, it forces us to rely on him, the only one who can give us strength.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3)

This is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible, and for good reason! It is a reminder that when we put our trust in God, he will take care of us, just as a shepherd cares for his sheep. We will lack nothing because he is our shepherd and he knows what we need. He will lead us to green pastures and quiet waters where we can rest and be refreshed.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:16)

If we want to have peace in our lives, we need to keep our minds focused on God. When our minds are stayed on him, we will be able to trust him and have perfect peace, even during a storm.

Comforting Bible Verses About Peace and Strength

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus himself left us with a gift of peace when he went back to heaven. His peace is different from the kind of peace the world offers. It is a lasting peace that can only come from him. When we have his peace in our hearts, we don’t need to be afraid or anxious about anything.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (I Peter 16)

This verse is a reminder that we can cast all our anxiety on God because he cares for us. We don’t need to try to carry the burden of our worries and fears by ourselves. We can give them to God and trust that he will handle our anxieties, even if we can’t understand how.

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. (Isaiah 26:12)

This verse is a reminder that it is God who gives us peace and everything we have accomplished, we have only been able to do because of him. We can’t take credit for any of the good things in our lives, because they all come from him.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

This verse reminds us that no matter where we are in life, God has a plan for us. His plans are always good, even when we can’t see how they could possibly work out. He wants to prosper us and give us hope for the future.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

This is an invitation from Jesus to come to him when we are feeling weary. He doesn’t want us to try to carry our burdens by ourselves. He wants to give us rest. We can find a peace in him that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:17)

Even when we are walking through the darkest times in our lives, God is still with us. He will comfort us and give us the strength to keep going. The only reason we can be free from fear is that we know God is walking alongside us in the dark.

Scriptures To Help You Trust God

The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:14)

We don’t need to be afraid of anything because we have the Lord on our side. He is our light and salvation. He is the stronghold of our lives. There is nothing that can come against us that he can’t protect us from.

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. (Psalm 18:28)

No matter how dark our lives may seem, God can always turn it into light. He is the one who keeps our lamps burning. We can trust him to lead us out of the darkness and into his perfect light.

He will not let your foot slip–he who watches over you will not slumber; (Psalm 121:11)

We can trust God to watch over us and protect us. He is always awake and aware of what is going on in our lives. We can rest assured that he will never let us slip and fall. Even if it feels like we are slipping, God has a firm grip on us.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:14)

When we make God our dwelling place, we can find a peace and rest that can only come from him. He is our refuge and fortress, a shield that cannot be shaken or overpowered. We can trust him to keep us safe and protected from the evils of this world.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:17)

When we seek the Lord, he will answer us. He will deliver us from our fears and give us the peace that we need. The key is that we need to seek him. We can’t be passive when we experience fear. We must run to him.

God’s Word For Fear

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:12)

In the midst of our chaos, we need to remember that God is still on his throne. He is in control and everything is going according to his plan. We can find peace in knowing that he is sovereign and will be exalted in the end.

He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:28)

God is never tired or weary. He knows everything and there is nothing that he doesn’t understand. We can find peace in knowing that we have a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing.

 

May 22, 2022

Do You Have a Teachable Spirit?

Today we’re returning to the daily devotional page at Magnficent Life Ministries where fresh devotional studies are posted (wait for it) daily! This one was a two-part topic. If you click through to their page — the headers below are links — you’ll also find the same content available on video.

Are You Open to God’s Correction?

“For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

Since the dawn of time, humans have been plagued by the fear that something terrible will happen to them. For some, this manifests as extreme worry and an inability to enjoy life; for others, it manifests as a crippling belief that they are not good enough. Regardless of its severity, this fear is too common and often results in destructive behaviors. Remember, Proverbs 29:25 says, The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”

But what if there were a different way of looking at circumstances or mishaps around us? What if some setback were simply an opportunity to learn and grow? This is not to say that bad things never happen to good people or that enemies don’t play tricks, but we can always find something positive even in the worst situations. When something bad happens, it can be tempting to see it as a sign of punishment from God because we are not expecting God’s correction of our actions.

Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

However, if we look at the situation objectively, we will see that God does not punish us but rather redirect us toward the right plan. It can be helpful if we think of that issue or setback as a kind of tuning. Revelation 3:19 says, “Those I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Just as the violinist screws up the key till the tense cord sounds the concert pitch, it is not to break it but to use it tunefully. So likewise, God needs to adjust His children when they go out of tune; Because sometimes we need to go through tuning experiences to correct our life course.

This is an act of God’s correction, tuning his people so that they may be used in his service. God is constantly stretching us and tuning us so that we will produce the beautiful music of His kingdom. Sometimes people think God is punishing them because he is tuning them. But He is always working for our good. As long as we remain pliable under His hand, He will continue to tune us until we reach the perfect pitch for His kingdom. Amen. Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoso loves instruction loves knowledge: but he that hate reproof is brutish.”

Prayer:
1. Thank you, Jesus, for your guidance and help. Thank you, Jesus, for being my guide through life, guiding me through all the storms of life.
2. Psalm 6:1 Oh LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.

Are You Open to God’s Correction? Part Two

“Blessed indeed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17

How do you know if you’re open to God’s correction? There are a few ways to know if you’re open to God’s correction. The first way to know is if you’re living a life of repentance. If you’re living a life of repentance, then you’re open to God’s correction because you’re living a life of obedience. The second way to know if you’re open to God’s correction is if you’re living in submission to Him. If you’re living in submission to Him, then you’re open to His correction because you’re living in obedience to Him.

The third way to know if you’re open to God’s correction is if you’re living a life of prayer. If you’re living a life of prayer, then you’re open to God’s correction because you’re seeking Him and His will for your life. The fourth way to know if you’re open to God’s correction is if you’re living a life of fellowship. If you’re living a life of fellowship, then you’re open to God’s correction because you’re living a life of obedience to Him. And the obedience you have for God is what makes you free from sin.

Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that we might have hope through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures.”

The bottom line is that if you want to know if you’re open to God’s correction, then you need to look at your life and see if you’re living in repentance, submission, prayer, fellowship, and obedience. If you’re not living in any of these areas, then you’re not open to God’s correction, and you need to start living in obedience to Him. Remember, the Bible is full of wisdom, and Job 5:17 is one example. This verse says that God blesses anyone willing to be corrected by Him. God is the giver of wisdom, and He will give it to us if we are willing to receive it.

It’s important to remember that God loves us and wants what is best for us. He knows what is best for us, and He isn’t afraid to correct our plans if they are not in line with His will. We need to trust Him and be willing to follow His direction, even if it is not what we originally planned. When God corrects us, it is out of His love for us. He wants us to be successful and live according to His plan for our lives. We can be assured that if we follow God’s correction, it will lead to blessing and success. Amen. Revelation 3:19 says, “Those I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”

Prayer:
1. Oh Lord, help me know the truth about your ways that I should not sin against you.
2. I am open to God’s correction; therefore, Holy Spirit comes into my heart and shows me how to walk in the way of righteousness in Jesus’ name. Amen.

May 21, 2022

A Part of the Genesis Story I’d Missed

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The early chapters of Genesis are so foundational, it’s hard for me to believe that as early as chapter four, there’s a scene I had skipped over; that is, until today when our guest writer brought it to my attention.

NLT.Gen.4.14 You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”

15 The Lord replied, “No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him.

NLT.Gen.4.23 One day Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
listen to me, you wives of Lamech.
I have killed a man who attacked me,
a young man who wounded me.

24 If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times,
then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”

Today we’re introducing you to a writer who goes by Swaying Leaf who blogs at Reflections: Life, Death, Living and Dying. Clicking the header which follows will take you to where this devotional first appeared.

Revenge and Hurt in Genesis

I am reading in Genesis 4:23-24. Then Lamech (who is the great great great great grandson) of Cain said to his wives: “Adam and Zillow (he had 2 wives), hear my voice; wives of Lamech, listens to my speech! (he really wants to be heard).
For I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged seven fold, then Lamech seventy-seven fold.

This is interesting because when we look at the origin of the seven fold, it started in Genesis 4:14-15. Cain was being cast out as a fugitive, and he was afraid that people will kill him and he told the Lord about it. The Lord, despite Cain’s murder of his brother promised him it will not happen in verse 15: And the Lord said to him (Cain), Therefore, whoever kills Cain, Vengeance shall be taken on him seven fold. And the Lord set a mark on Cain lest anyone finding him shall kill him.

There are many things in this chapter which I don’t fully understand. As far as I knew, there was only Cain and Abel at that time. Why then did Cain fear people wound kill him. Also, how did he build a city with so little people. These thoughts aside, something stood out clearly. The beginning of vengeance and hurt, and the difference between Man and God.

Remember that Cain murdered Abel and God punished Cain by casting him out. But God in his mercy and kindness and love (this was before the 10 commandments), did not kill Cain. Not only did he not kill Cain, he protected Cain with a mark to prevent others from Killing him.

Cain then dwelled (I assume without the presences of the Lord) and this went on for 5 generations till it reaches Lamech. And what happens after five generations without the Lord. Lamech took the one promise of protection from the Lord, and made it into a vengeful practice of pay back. Lamech admitted to killing someone who wounded him and killing a young man who hurt him. I would assume that hurt is less severe than wounded, or may be non physical). But either way, he killed the people who hurt him. This is how the world have developed: Kill the one who hurt you. Not only that, he took upon God’s word and added it into his own commandment that he shall be avenged seventy-seven fold.

In both Cain and Lamech, they both feared for their lives. Cain killed his brother out of fear of losing favor with God and begged God to protect him. Lamech killed the others for hurting him and commandment his wife’s to avenge him if he is killed. Cain didn’t want to die, Lamech wasn’t as concern about dying as he is about revenge.

This reminds us that when we start losing intimacy with the love and kindness of God, we can turn into very harsh people looking to ‘kill anyone who hurts’. This does not have to be actual physical killing. This includes killing people by demanding that they be perfect, punishing them with words or deeds, not in order to love them to change, but in order that they learn thru pain.

Be careful too because all these can be done using God’s words as well. As you can tell from Lamech, it is easy to take parts of God’s words and justify our harshness on others (and ourselves). But God is not such a God, God is a God who loves, who yearns to be close and who changes people thru Grace. There will be natural laws of consequences when we do wrong, but God is not one who is vengeful and hurt you more and kill you if hurt.

Let us remind ourselves the next time someone hurts us, hold back the fleshy desire to kill them or hurt them more. Let God instead heal your wound, soothe your hurt and protect you. He loves you. You are wanted. You are loved, even when you are hurt, even if you have hurt others. I am wanted, I am loved, Even when I am hurt, even when I have hurt others.

 

 

April 27, 2022

Can God Be Trusted?

With all their apologetics objections met, after crossing the line of faith, the major question faced in living the Christian life is, “Can God be trusted?”

This is our ninth time with Jack Wellman who posts daily devotions at Rhetorical Jesus. Each one contains an original drawing that may be used as a link to his writing for your Facebook or Pinterest account. Today’s devotional shared here is really the second of two on a similar theme. We’re going to give you the link to the first one and then you can come back here for part two.

The first one asks the question, Where is Your Faith? Looking at the narrative of Jesus asleep on the boat Jack writes,

…he disciples panicked, and one of the most humorous statements you’ll likely ever hear comes from the disciples when they woke Him at the height of the storm basically saying, “Master, don’t you care that we’re all going to drown” (Luke 8:24a)? Now think about that statement. Does Jesus care about them?…

The reference for this is Luke 8:25,

He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?

Then we come to the second one, which is linked in the header below. Clicking is encouraged!

Do you trust Me enough to give you what is good?

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! – Luke 11:13

Being the Parent

We see Jesus speaking here about what earthly parents do for their children, and if parents, who have a fallen nature, know how to give good things to their children, then how much more so does God know how to give good things to those who ask Him? Jesus compares the idea of when a child asks his father for a fish. Will he give him a serpent or snake? Some fish and some snakes look very much alike, so Jesus’ point is that God the Father can tell what is best for us even if our eyes might deceive us. If a human father, being sinful and having a fallen nature by birth, knows how to give good things to his own children, then surely God the Father knows so much more how to give us good things if we ask Him. He gives His Holy Spirit to everyone who repents and trusts in Christ. The Spirit of God gives a person a new nature, and then even an earthly father can discriminate much better between what is good for their children and what isn’t and what is good for us to ask for in prayer requests and what really isn’t.

Know What to Give

Even a human father or mother, as imperfect as they and all human beings are, can usually tell the difference between what a good thing is and what a bad thing is and whether to give it to a child. When my son was young, he tried to grab a knife out of the kitchen drawer, but the drawers in our kitchen had childproof latches. Even though he wanted to play with the knife, I knew he would hurt himself, so he had no access to it. I made sure of that. In the same comparison, even a human father or mother knows the difference between an egg and a scorpion, and the parent would never give the child something that they could hurt themselves with (Luke 11:12). Since this is true, again Jesus contrasts the frail and subject-to-error parent with the perfect heavenly Father, Who would never choose to give us anything that would hurt us, even if we think it wouldn’t. We don’t have that kind of wisdom. That wisdom comes from above (James 3:15-17), so I must ask for God’s wisdom in order to even know what to ask for.

Knowing What to Ask For

It takes great wisdom to know exactly what to ask for in prayer because what might seem good to us (a fish) might actually be bad (a snake) (Luke 11:11). Just asking is not enough. The Holy Spirit, Whom God gives to those who ask for Him (Luke 11:13), can help us in knowing what to pray for (Rom 8:26-27). Not one of us could ever comprehend the mind of God without the Spirit of God helping us (1 Cor 2:11). The question is do we trust God enough to give to us what is good, even if we don’t think it is?

A Closing Prayer

Righteous God in heaven, thank You for not always giving me what I ask for but giving me only what I need. I haven’t the wisdom to always know what to pray for, but You do, so please help me by Your Spirit to know what to ask for that is best for me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

 

April 11, 2022

Telling Others: A Prime Week for Ministry

One year ago, we introduced you to Bernie Lyle who writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. Although it was posted yesterday for Palm Sunday, it encourages us to invest ourselves in looking for ministry opportunities that could present themselves naturally to us in this week. Clicking the title below gets you to Bernie’s site to read this directly.

Appointment with Destiny

“Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:37-38‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Appointment with destiny

In the human life there are many appointments, some of them are of our choosing, others are ordained for us as unavoidable, such as our eventual death. In the case of our Lord Jesus, His appointment with destiny was both of His choosing, and ordained, as it was determined from the foundation of the earth, that He would come and die for our sins.

On a morning long ago, a morning that we have come to know as Palm Sunday, our Lord entered the Jerusalem to great rejoicing. He came in as a King, with much fanfare, as the public cheered His coming.

“And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!””
Matthew 21:8-9 NKJV

As Jesus approached, I can imagine His conflicted emotions, as the all knowing God, He knew that the very same voices that heralded His arrival, would later be crying “crucify Him!” But still Jesus continued on, on mission to reconcile God with man, and defeat the evil one.

Through the entirety of the coming week, each courageous step toward Calvary was planted in the surety of what was to come after the cross. Even so, I am sure He battled the flesh that He had humbled Himself to dwell in, as He felt everything that we feel.

I try and think of some of the moments of destiny in my life. I think of all the humiliations of going through cancer many years, an experience I walked through accompanied by the Lord alone. Through the journey, the Lord was with me, guiding me, reminding me of His presence in the Scriptures I read, and the worship music in which I listened.

The Father was surely with Jesus as He went through His week.

As we come into this Palm Sunday, there is no certainty that there will be another, as our world appears of its own perilous path to its appointment with destiny. Regardless, we have today, and we too have the surety that there is something beyond the uncertainty before us, as we look to the soon coming of the Lord Jesus.

May this day be a beginning point, a marker that we stand on as the starting point of a week of ministry. Holy Week is a great opportunity to go out and tell of Jesus, for many have a consciousness of God and the work of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, pray for opportunities to share the Good News, to tell of Jesus who came to earth, clothed in human flesh, lived as one of us, lived a sinless life, died the sinners death that we deserved. Tell your own story, of how He forgave you, and changed you, of how He changed your destiny from Hell to Heaven.

Tell also of the new life, brought by His resurrection. The world is full of people who need to hear all of this, for there are many whose lives are filled with struggles and consequences.

Many of the people that we will encounter will have their own appointments with destiny, and more than likely, some of them might even have that appointment with eternity, and yours might be the voice that guides them to heaven.

Let us be sure to cry out and rejoice of all that the Lord has done for us, for we would be ashamed if the stones drowned out our praise.

“And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.””
Luke 19:39-40 NKJV


#prayforukraine

April 10, 2022

The Underlying Tensions of Palm Sunday

First, before we begin, as we were discussing possible “call to worship” or as some call it “opening sentence” material for Palm Sunday, I found myself reading the original prophecy in Zachariah 9:9 which is fulfilled on this day in the life of Jesus.

Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is righteous and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

That’s the NASB. In The Message, Eugene Peterson renders it as,

“Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise your voice, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey.”

Second, the original material that I write here is occasionally prone to be repeated after four years, but the guest writers are never repeated. In looking for some thoughts for yesterday, I also considered, but didn’t use, excerpts from previous C201 devotions, but in the 24 hours that followed I kept thinking I wanted to repeat something we’d used previously — exactly five years ago — from Clarke Dixon. And Clarke is like family. So here, for the first (or possibly second) time is an encore performance from a pastor who practically lives in my backyard. (It’s an expression; he really lives about 20 miles away.) The direct link is in the title below.

Feeling Nervous? Romans 8:31-39

by Clarke Dixon

Feeling nervous? If you are one of the disciples entering into Jerusalem with Jesus then you probably should be. Yes there is the excitement of the crowds waving their palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” but there is also the danger that exists when revolution is in the air. Jerusalem at the time is the home of powerful people with powerful ideas. Some have the idea that Rome should get lost and the occupying Roman army should take a hike. Others think that every hint of revolution should be squashed. These are dangerous times. Within a few decades there will be a revolution and Jerusalem will be destroyed. But right now, revolution is in the air and there’s a miracle worker entering Jerusalem on a donkey, which means he may as well wave a banner saying “I am the Messiah, I will rescue you.” To most minds this means “I will kick the Romans out.” Revolution is in the air, blood will be spilled. If you are one of the disciples entering Jerusalem with Jesus, you should be nervous.

What does the “triumphal entry” of Jesus and the events we celebrate on Palm Sunday have to do with Romans chapter 8? The connection is found in Paul’s quotation from Psalm 44:

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36

Psalm 44 is a “Psalm of complaint” where the Psalmist complains that God’s righteous people are suffering and need to be rescued. Implied in the appeal for a rescue is also, of course, that God would deal with the enemy. This is an appeal to the justice of God, that He would do the right thing and rescue His people. In Jesus’ day you could think of the Jews of Jerusalem being the righteous sufferers while the Gentiles from Rome are the evil oppressors. Surely when the Messiah comes he will rescue Jerusalem and destroy the Romans! However, the facts are set straight at the cross.

By the end of the week, blood has been spilled. It is not the blood of Jewish revolutionaries, nor of occupying Roman forces. It is the blood of one man, Jesus. He is the one accounted as a sheep to be slaughtered. He is the one who can appeal to innocence and the injustice of his death as the righteous sufferer of Psalm 44. He is the one who can appeal to God the Father for a rescue, and the destruction of the enemy.

Therein lies the problem. Everyone is included in that enemy; the Roman authorities granting the final word, the Roman army carrying out the deed, the Jewish authorities instigating the whole rotten affair, and the Jewish crowds shouting “crucify him, crucify him.” The saying is spot on: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Well almost, there is one who is righteous, the one being crucified on trumped up charges, the one experiencing the culmination of hatred, the one experiencing injustice.

This is the moment in which God the Son, as the innocent sufferer, could call upon God the Father to do “the right thing,” to rescue him and destroy the enemy. Problem is, of course, that destroying the enemy would mean destroying everyone. If there is ever one moment that stands out as the moment for God to unleash his righteous anger at the world, this is it; at the cross. If there is ever a moment proving God’s righteousness in sending a flood, this is it. The flood in Noah’s day was due to man’s violence against humanity. Now at the cross humanity’s violence is turned to God Himself. Rebellion against Rome hung in the air, but we sank to our lowest low when, in our rebellion against God, Jesus hung on a cross.

Perhaps we should be nervous? The blood of Jesus is on our hands too. Would we have acted any different than the disciples in abandoning Jesus? Than Peter in denying Jesus? Than the religious leaders in seeking the death of Jesus? Than the crowds in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus? Than Pilate in acquiescing? Than the Roman solider in carrying out orders? We are no different.

So should we be nervous knowing that we are complicit in crimes against God Himself? Let us turn again to Romans 8:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Romans 8:31

But is God for us?

When we ask if God is for us, we may think of the crucifixion as overwhelming evidence of our rebellion against God. However the cross was not just our great act of rebellion, it was also God’s great act of love. Consider:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Satan, the accuser, may have a lot of dirt on us. Actually, not just may, he does have a lot of dirt on us. We have given him a long list of things to choose from as to why we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. However:

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

Satan may argue forcefully about all the reasons we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. God says in effect “I already know about all that, in fact I already paid for it.” When we are in Christ, the dirt does not stick.

When we ask if God is for us, some may point to our own suffering as evidence that maybe He is not. Paul brings us back to the facts. We measure God’s love for us, not on our suffering, but on His. We suffer because we are humans living in a broken world. He suffered because of His love for broken people.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

Our suffering is not evidence that God does not love us. The suffering of Jesus is evidence that He does.

Feeling nervous? Because of sin, you should be. Many a person in this world should be quaking in their boots right now. However, in Christ, you needn’t. Which brings us back to where we began in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV


Read more at Clarke’s blog: Thinking Through Scripture

April 3, 2022

His Mission, Your Mission

This is our third time with Mel Wild, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. Clicking the header which follows takes you to where we sourced it, along with pictures and the opportunity to explore other articles.

The Mission

What has always struck me when I first encountered God is that, in those life-changing interactions, my sins never came up. This was long before I knew Him as a Father. I found that He never deals in shame or condemnation. Now, He is a father, so He has corrected me many times, to help me mature as a son. But never with shame or by rubbing my sin in my face.

Then, after these encounters with God, I began to understand the theology behind what I was experiencing in real time. Apparently, God does not count our sins against us.

that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor.5:19 NIV*)

This is remarkable when I think about how much Christians seem to obsess over sin…. especially everybody else’s sin.

What I’ve found is that to encounter God is to encounter Love—pure, unadulterated, other-centered, self-giving love—for God IS love. If we simply replace the word “love” with God in the following familiar passage, we can see what God’s love looks like:

GOD is patient, GOD is kind. GOD does not envy, HE does not boast, GOD is not proud. GOD does not dishonor others, HE is not self-seeking, HE is not easily angered, GOD keeps no record of wrongs. GOD does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. GOD always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor.13:4-7 NIV*)

The Passion Translations renders the first part of verse 5, Love does not traffic in shame….”

So, it’s true. God does not traffic in shame.

This is the true character of God, not the religious nonsense we make up about Him. God looks like Jesus, and Jesus looks like love.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the following New Covenant promise that Jesus fulfilled on the Cross:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.” (Heb.10:17 NIV)

Beloved, if God is remembering our sins no more, why are we?

Still, to this day, I have trouble convincing people—especially believers—that when we personally encounter God, our sins will not be the subject of our conversation. If it is, we are probably projecting our own guilt and shame on God.

This may be the biggest reason why people, including believers, hide from Him.

We tend to prefer hiding behind religious activity instead letting God love us, which is quite sad when you think about it.

Beloved, our sin is not the problem; it’s that we put more faith in the power of our sin than in the power of the Cross.

I bring all this up because our inability to accept this reality ourselves may be one big reason why we’re not very effective at convincing others to accept it.

We don’t seem to understand the mission.

On that subject, just this week I was reading about our mission in 2 Corinthians from the Passion Translation:

And God has made all things new,  and reconciled  us to himself, and given us the ministry of reconciling others to God. In other words, it was through the Anointed One that God was shepherding the world, not even keeping records of their transgressions, and he has entrusted to us the ministry of opening the door of reconciliation to God.  (2 Cor. 5:18-19 TPT*)

What first struck me here was the Aramaic rendering of the Greek “reconciliation” as “shepherding.” God was shepherding the world through Christ on the cross.

A shepherd is one who herds sheep. And he doesn’t turn his back on his sheep, or ever abandon them; he protects them, even laying his life down for them.

And, likewise, our heavenly Father is a good shepherd. He doesn’t do abandonment either. He didn’t turn His back on His Son on the cross. He was shepherding US through His Son.

This is why the Cross was not about an angry God having to kill His Son so He could forgive us. That’s absurd when you think it through.

No, the Cross was a rescue mission. It was the loving act of a Shepherd.

Think about it. Jesus was the Good Shepherd because His Father was a Good Shepherd.

Then Paul goes on to say….

We are ambassadors  of the Anointed One who carry the message of Christ to the world, as though God were tenderly pleading  with them directly through our lips. So we tenderly plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Turn back to God and be reconciled to him.”  (2 Cor 5:20 TPT*)

Looking at the last line first, you could say that God is pleading with us all to “be shepherded by Him.”

But also notice that He’s now pleading through us, which describes OUR mission. Which, save dying on the Cross, is the same mission as Jesus’ mission.

In light of all these things, my question is this: what kind of God are we projecting to those who don’t know Him? Are we like good Pharisees, rubbing people’s sin in their faces? Or, are we offering our lips to be used by Him to “shepherd” them, so that they can finally know Him as He truly is?

It’s not that sin isn’t important. It’s just that God seems to think He nailed it to the cross and buried it with Jesus’ death 2,000 years ago. And He also seems to have forgotten about our sins ever since.

What God IS remembering is that His Son removed EVERYTHING that would hinder us from knowing Him, so that we could know and experience Love.

And Love wants to use our lips, if we’re willing, to proclaim this crazy good news that brings great joy, to everyone we know.

That’s our mission….if WE decide to accept it. And if we accept it, they may too.

* All emphasis added.

 

March 15, 2022

Thoughts for 3:16 Day

Wednesday is “3:16 Day.” I could have waited to post this, but as we post in the afternoon, I thought I’d release this the day before. The reference is to one of the Bible’s most quoted verses. The day’s revival this year is because a publishing company saw a tie-in with the re-release of the book of the same name by Max Lucado.

That usually makes me skeptical, but apparently an earlier iteration of the day also had its roots in a marketing program. The press release from Faith Gateway states,

The origin of the celebration is unknown, but some media outlets trace it as far back to 2011 when a K-LOVE radio station listener suggested that the day, March 16, should be “John 3:16 Day,” in honor of the biblical verse that affirms the hope we have because of Jesus.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that their motivation was to draw attention to the verse in a cultural moment where Christianity and the Bible have to fight harder to be heard.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (NIV)

So join us on a tour of past John 3:16 references here at C201.

Clarke Dixon writes,

If God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for it, then it is reasonable that He will make sure the record of that loving act is trustworthy. If God has gone to such extraordinary lengths for us through Jesus, we should expect him to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure we have a valid record of what He has done, and what it means.

This echoed something Clarke wrote a year earlier,

Because God so loved the world that he would come to it in Jesus, it is reasonable to expect that he also so loves the world that he is not going to let the record of his love be false or lost.

Quoting GotQuestions.org, a year ago, we noted,

The Bible is clear that God pardons sin by His grace based on Christ’s work on the cross alone, not on man’s actions. Our right standing before Him is established on one thing only—the finished work of Christ,

Quoting an unnamed author at Theist Thug Life (that’s the title) we’re reminded,

While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel.

Ron Harris is, like Clarke Dixon, someone who lives locally to me in Canada. In a book excerpt he expands this further, writing,

I would like to amplify the word “world” to include; “every living person ever been born or even aborted; every weak, suffering, sickly soul, every Down’s Syndrome person, every child with cleft lip, every person regardless of age that is abandoned, abused, beaten, sexually or verbally assaulted and every soul ravaged by sin or tormented by Satan. Despite all of this, God still sees something in us because we were created in His image.

Morgan Murphy said something similar in 2015, emphasizing,

I believe that our God is global. John 3:16 says that God so loved this world. It does not say that God so loved the United States of America. We tend to be really ethnocentric, but the love Jesus has for all of us transcends any and all borders. It reminds me of the children’s Bible song that says red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…it really is true. I am aware that there are people in America that need help. There are people in our own backyards that need Jesus, and we should treat these people no different than Haitians or Ugandans or Indians or whoever. We can’t get so caught up in the ethnicity or geographical location that we neglect the status of the heart or knowledge of the Gospel.

Back in 2015, Clarke Dixon restated this in the light of the Bible’s concluding book, Revelation. He wrote,

…There is the entire trajectory of the New Testament, where Jesus dies not just for the Jew; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); where the Holy Spirit is given to people from any background; where looking forward “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) One cannot read the entire Bible without getting the impression that God’s love stretches far and wide.

Before you dismiss inclusion as self-evident, or feel it’s being over-emphasized today, consider these words from the NIV Application Commentary which notes:

Judaism rarely (or never) spoke of God’s loving the world outside of Israel. God desires to reach this world through Israel, his child. It is a uniquely Christian idea to say that God’s love extends beyond the limits of race and nation.

In 2018, Clarke reminded us that as wide-reaching as this salvation offer is, not everyone opts in. He says,

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The same year, an excerpt from Billy Graham fills in the context of the Bible’s famous verse, which was a late-night conversation I sometimes label “Nick at Night.” Graham wrote,

This was a lot for Nicodemus to take in. Imagine what must have been going through his mind when he heard Jesus say,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

The Bible does not record what happened after their meeting; and if the Book of John ended there, we might not know what became of Nicodemus. But John 7 tells of a debate that later arose among the Jewish leaders about Jesus, for He had told them also that He was going away, and “where I am you cannot come” (John 7:33-34). Jesus knew the chief priests were planning to seize Him, but He spoke of returning to His heavenly home. Then the Pharisees asked one another if any of them believed Jesus, and Scripture says that Nicodemus spoke up for Him (John 7:47-51). Jesus’ words had illuminated Nicodemus’ darkened heart.

Dennis from Luke252 made the application very personal, stating,

John 3:16 teaches us that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for me! When I live a lukewarm lifestyle, it hurts Him when I only want part of what He sent His Son to die for.

Indeed what does it truly mean to believe? Russell Young, who wrote for us here for several years dug into this in 2016, explaining,

Since “belief” is the means of gaining everlasting life one should be sure of its meaning.  “Believe” is translated from the Greek pisteuo which is defined as “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by implication, to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well-being to Christ): -believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #4100)

Belief in the context of salvation goes beyond understanding that something is true; it means that one has sufficient faith in Christ or is sufficiently persuaded concerning the being and mission of Christ that he is willing to entrust his well-being to the Lord.  One’s conception of “belief” should not be limited to the understanding that his well-being can be assured by absenting himself of all responsibility for it by allowing Christ to do all that is necessary.  He cannot abrogate his obligations unless the Lord has allowed him to do so, and He hasn’t.  The writer of Hebrews has recorded that eternal salvation comes through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) “Belief” means accepting the Lord’s teachings in the gospel with the commitment to honouring them with his total being…all his mind, soul, and heart. (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)

As early as 2015, Steven and Brooksyne Weber were discussing the “red-letter” status of the verse, which is an ongoing discussion today regarding the need for Bibles with this feature. They said,

The understandable grandeur of John 3:16 may tend to diminish the rich, instructive material that follows. Bible students differ as to whether John 3:16-21 are the words of Jesus following His discourse with Nicodemus or whether these are the interpretive words of John when he wrote his gospel late in the 1st century. Either way they are God’s inspired Word!

It’s also important to state that despite all the common ground we have with this passage, our churches do vary in their expression of its truth. As early as 2013 I was writing,

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

Finally, here’s The Message rendering of the passage:

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16,17, MSG).

Enjoy 3:16 Day and share it with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 6, 2022

You Were God’s Idea

We’re continually grateful to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for special permission to share book excerpts here at Christianity 201.

Today’s devotional is one you might want to read aloud to any kids or early teens you have nearby right now. Devotions Daily kicked off this one earlier this week with a note saying that some of their most popular readings are actually kids devotionals. (I’ve found that to be true in my work connecting people with resources; there’s a Max Lucado devotional that I’ve recommended for men more than I’ve recommended it for children.)

This one is an excerpt from You Can Count on God: 100 Devotions for Kids.

[Adults: Check out the bonus item at the bottom of the page today.]

If it’s possible that anyone here doesn’t know Max Lucado, he as been a pastor in churches in Miami, Florida; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and San Antonio, Texas. He is America’s bestselling inspirational author with more than 130 million books in print.

Click the header which follows to read this at Devotions Daily.

A Great Idea

God’s fingerprints are all over you.

I praise You because You made me in an amazing and wonderful way. What You have done is wonderful. I know this very well.Psalm 139:14

You are a great idea! I don’t mean you have great ideas — though I’m sure you do! I mean that you yourself are a great idea. How do I know that? Because you are God’s idea — and He only has great ideas.

When God sat down to create the very first man and woman, He said,

Let Us make human beings in Our image and likeness.Genesis 1:26

God didn’t say, “Let us make oceans in our image” or “flowers in our likeness” or “giraffes in our likeness.” Nothing else in all of God’s creation is made in His likeness. Not plants, or weeds, or trees. Not elephants, anteaters, or even the cutest little puppy. Not stars, or mountains, or seas. Only people — including you and me.

What does it mean to be made in God’s likeness? It means you are made to look like Him. Maybe not on the outside. But on the inside, in your heart and mind and soul. Does that mean you’re perfect? Nope, nobody is. Except Jesus, of course. But it does mean that you take after Him. You get your kindness and your courage from Him. And when you love and help and forgive others, that’s when you look the most like Him.

In this world, people will sometimes see your mistakes as a reason to laugh at you. Some people might call you names. Others might decide not to be your friend because of where you live or the way you look. Don’t listen to them. Instead, remember this:

You are made in the image of God.

You’re a diamond, a precious jewel. You are so important to God, so loved by Him, that He sent His only Son to save you.

You can’t see them, but God’s fingerprints are all over you. So be sure to thank God today for His great idea of making you!

Remember

You are God’s great idea!


Excerpted with permission from You Can Count on God by Max Lucado, copyright 2022 Max Lucado.


Bonus item:

Two weeks ago I was listening to some older interview excerpts at Canadian Church Leader’s Podcast, and I came across several things recorded with Kim Moran when she was a pastor at a Pentecostal Church in Abbotsford BC. Kim is a friend of a friend, so I listened with interest.

One of the questions was about her church’s seven core values, and I transcribed them to present here without additional commentary. You can listen to the full 4-minutes at this link.

Diversity over Division

Great over Good

Servants over Stars

Cooperation over Competition

Extraordinary over Expected

Restoration over Rejection

Victors over Victims

What a great set of core values; agree?


Also available, new from Max Lucado, the adult edition:

January 15, 2022

Once We Were Dead, Then God Granted Us a Reset

This is our sixth time highlighting the writing of Art Toombs of Art Toombs Ministries. Art has served in vocational ministry since 1997 as a minister, church pastor, chaplain, and internet minister. As usual, clicking the header which follows sends traffic to their website and that is one way we can be encouraging their ministry.

Changing Our Values

Ephesians 2: 1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (NKJV)

The book of Ephesians is part of what is known as the Prison Epistles. The writings, themselves, affirm that the epistles were written by the Apostle Paul from prison.

There are differing opinions as to during which of Paul’s prison confinements the epistles were written. There are many sources that discuss this subject fully. For our purposes, we will go along with the thought of most scholars that Paul wrote the prison epistles during his house arrest in Rome from AD 60-62.

The book of Ephesians can be divided into two halves. The first half, the first three chapters, is concerned with the positional; doctrine outlining our position in Christ. The second half, the last three chapters, is concerned with the practical; how we work out our position in the practical living of our Christian life. This is similar to the breakdown of the book of Romans.

The epistle was written about AD 61 to the house churches in Ephesus, Asia. The idea was that this authoritative letter would be passed along to other churches in Asia Minor.

In this passage, Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus of their personal spiritual journeys, which is the same journey all Christians make. Paul begins by writing “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1).

Paul describes becoming a Christian as being “made alive” in Christ. Prior to that we “were dead in trespasses and sins”.

Paul calls these people “dead”, meaning spiritually dead. They will not go to Heaven, unless they change.

All Christians “once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air” (v. 2a). This behavior is a result of original sin, the fact that we are all born as sinners.

Many believe that we were all born pure and can stay that way by being a good person. They think that this is the way we were meant to live, that this is just human nature.

The Bible tells us that this is false thinking. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and because of that we are all born sinners, in need of a Savior.

Unfortunately, left to our own devices, the way of the world is all we know. This is all we know if we are not introduced to Christianity.

People who grow up not knowing better are not bad people. They are just not educated in spiritual matters.

As adults though, we bear responsibility in that we all are born with a conscience which causes us to know good, and to seek out the source. It is a curiosity in children that should be welcomed by their parents and cultivated in their children.

Even those who never become Christians know good and do good things, as defined by the world. They may be very good people in the eyes of the world, of whom they serve.

But when we follow the ways of this world, we are following Satan, the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Satan is described as “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (v. 2b). Satan is now at work in those who are disobedient to the Word of God, the Bible.

Satan’s values are the ways “of this world”. As Christians, we make the journey from following Satan, with his set of values, to following Christ, with an opposite set of values.

Before becoming Christians, we “conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (v. 3a). We were captives to the desires of our flesh and our minds, to our own selfish desires.

We “were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (v. 3b). We were “by nature” (our human nature) deserving of “wrath”, the wrath of God. We were enemies of God.

Paul writes “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us” (v. 4). God, because of His mercy and great love for us, intervened in our lives.

Paul then describes this intervention by God. He writes “even when we were dead in trespasses, (He) made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (v. 5). We were dead in our sins, but, when we became Christians, we were “made alive together with Christ”, through the grace of God.

In conclusion, the journey for those who become Christians continues on. The journey, for those who don’t, never progresses beyond the ways of this world. Their values never change.

When we become Christians, our values change. We see things through God’s eyes and not the eyes of the world.

When we are saved, by the grace of God and because of His great love for us, our desire is to please God and not the world. We cannot do both because the values are opposites. Satan’s values are the opposite of those of God.

Where Christians get hung up is that they want to please everyone. They want to be liked by everyone. The result is that they often displease God.

As much as we would like to have it both ways, we can’t. If we try, we wind up serving two totally opposite masters. One will always be displeased.

We must change our values to those of God. As Christians, we no longer belong to the world and its values. We belong to God.

December 20, 2021

An Inclusive Incarnation Invitation

Preview: “…It is a uniquely Christian idea to say that God’s love extends beyond the limits of race and nation…”

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

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

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

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

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

The Christmas message is embedded in verse 19, Light has come into the world, but this stands in contrast to the next clause in the sentence, but people loved darkness instead of light.

The IVP New Testament Commentary Series states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

>>>The commentaries referred to today were originally sourced at BibleGateway.com .

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.

November 3, 2021

Can God’s Love Be Described as Reckless?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

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

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

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

Words do matter. What do you think?

October 23, 2021

Remembering Involves Restoration

NCV.Luke.22.19 Then Jesus took some bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the apostles, saying, “This is my body, which I am giving for you. Do this to remember me.”

CEB.1Cor.11.23 I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. 24 After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” 25 He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.”

Today we’re introducing an author new to us, Amber Dlugosh, who is a high school library media specialist, and writes at This Wordy World. She writes about books, libraries and publishing, but also includes some Christian devotionals like this one! Click the header which follows to read this. Because it was published just today, we’ll close comments here and encourage you to comment there if you desire.

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Jesus sat at a table with four fishermen, a skeptic, a wealthy tax collector, a political activist, and an embezzler who would get him killed. He passed out some bread and wine and gave them one poignant instruction: do this in remembrance of me.

Weekly, the pastors of my past would recreate this scene in my mind as I held a small plastic cup of grape juice in my left hand as my thumb traced the edge of an oyster cracker. Modeling those around me, I knew that to eat these things in remembrance of Jesus meant to call to mind all of the awful things I had done that required his body to be broken on the cross for my sins. I often hung my head in shame. Once I got chastised from the pulpit for laughing with a friend during this portion of the service, for it was not one of joy and laughter–but one of somber heart and mind. On the worst days, when I felt I couldn’t even cultivate the sense of shameful sorrow laced with gratitude, I would let the elements pass by me. I was not fit to remember Jesus.

But Jesus sat at a table with four fishermen, a skeptic, a wealthy tax collector, a political activist, and an embezzler who would get him killed. If these men were fit to remember Jesus, maybe there was something unfit with my approach to remembering, not something unfit with me.

I’d always associated the word “remember” with the act of calling something to memory, until Cathy Cox–a courageous mentor in the faith–expanded my view. “Member” is defined as an animal, person, or plant belonging to a particular group–a piece of a complex structure. To dismember means to rip that structure apart. The prefix “re” means “back or again”. Remembering involves a restoration back to belonging. To be unified again. Sometimes we do that by recalling a moment within our mind, but sometimes we do that by action

God so loved the world that they sent their one and only son to re-member Love on earth. Remembering Love involved bringing back together again what had been ripped apart, so humanity and divinity coalesced. Love sought no division; there was no need. In Love, all pieces find their integrated place.

I think there’s a beautiful purpose that Jesus first said this famous line to such a rag-tag group. We can become guilty of picturing them all as fishermen. It helps me to modernize the image.

God sat at a table with a factory worker, a fast-food employee, a mechanic, a maid, a curious professor, a corrupt government official, a Ponzi schemer, and a protestor. He passed them bread and wine. And then he told them, “This. You are all around the same table with the same bread and the same clean feet. This is what I urge you to do to remember God. This is where you can start with restoring Love. You all belong together, again.”

August 8, 2021

A Devotional Three-for-One Special!

For the third year in a row, we’re bringing you a trio of short-form devotionals from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner). Click on each of the headers below to bookmark or read at source.

The Valley of Decision

Joel 3:14 – “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”

The day of the Lord will characterize itself in a terrifying way to most. However, the day of the Lord can also be a day of great victory. For those of us who have accepted the Lord Jesus, our day of the Lord has come and God has already entered into judgment with our sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. Only as we have accepted Him as our sacrificial Lamb, will we then have moved from judgment to mercy as our sin has been forever atoned for by Christ’s perfect life.

The tragedy is that most will be caught in the conundrum of their own indecisiveness, not accepting the Lord’s most gracious gift before their respective death or His eminent return. If only they had known how close the Lord was to them in this time of decision! He patiently waited for their response but there was none.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us, if today you hear His voice, do not harden your heart but give your life to Him for He is full of love and abounding in mercy (Hebrews 4:7).

Divine Recognition

Acts 4:13 – “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”

Have you ever recognized someone as having been with Jesus? They aren’t difficult to spot. As the Pharisees witnessed, the hallmark of these folks is their immovable confidence in what they believe. How does confidence of this type manifest itself? Well, it starts in secret and spills out publicly. It oozes out of believers that truly believe their Lord and desire to spend time with Him. It comes by searching out His Word, and then living it to the best of their ability. It comes by living out the Great Commission and spreading the love of Jesus Christ to their communities, counties, states, countries, and finally to the world. Godly confidence is something that cannot be self-created but is a by-product of living and breathing the Lord Jesus Christ on a daily basis.

Do you want to provoke amazement as the Pharisees experienced? They merely acknowledged the confidence of Peter and John, that they were uneducated but yet they recognized the Lord Jesus in them. Confidence in one’s standing with the Lord only comes by getting into that secret place with Him — to pour out one’s heart and to pour over His word. Then, when we come out into the public light, there will be little to mistake any of us from having been with our Risen Lord.

Love and Compassion

Matthew 20:34 – “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.”

Often people confuse God’s compassion with His love. The Lord certainly loves at all times, for this is His nature (Proverbs 17:17), However, His compassions are often kindled according to His great will (Hosea 11:8). These ebb and flow in perfect measure as He touches and mends lives. Jesus’ nature did not always look loving, yet He never failed in this respect, even when He was angry or openly grieved. Likewise, His compassion was always at work although it was most demonstrative when God’s heart was “kindled.”

Always know God is a loving Father, even when He does not appear that way. The sign of a mature believer is patiently discerning how the Lord chooses to reveal Himself through His compassion. When God does touch us, there is a new awareness of His love and kindness and a greater desire to follow Him no matter where He might lead.


Bonus content:

It’s been awhile since we shared anything from Ruth Wilkinson. Today we have two video teachings for you in what will eventually become a series of four or five, which are based on the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy.

Click these links for

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