Christianity 201

November 15, 2018

Sailing Lessons for the Super Religious and Irreligious

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the 35-minute message on which this devotional is based at this link.

“Since God loves us so much, we ought to be super-religious, zealous for learning and keeping all the rules!” Or, “Since God loves us so much, we can be irreligious. It does not matter what we do!” Which is it? What kind of impact does the love of God through Jesus have on our lives?

Paul helps us sort this out in his letter to the Galatians. Paul discovered that the Galatians had become super-religious, expecting non-Jewish people to become Jewish in order to become Christian. That is, all Christians should keep all the Old Testament commandments right down to the strict dietary restrictions. Most Christians today regularly disregard such laws. Should we start worrying about all those rules? Should we become super observant of the Old Covenant laws? What do we learn from Galatians? Here is where the sailing lessons begin . . .

We are no longer one-design racing. This summer we bought a sailboat that happens to be a “one-design” racing boat. It has all the bells and whistles of a racing boat. It is also built to exact specifications. Should I show up for a one-design race, everything would be checked out to ensure that my boat still fits the exact specifications. Should we fail to meet even one of the rules, we will be disqualified. We will be stuck on the beach.

This is like relating to God through the Old Covenant. Should even one law be broken, then the covenant is broken. You are disqualified, stuck on the beach. Problem is, no one could ever race! Everyone was stuck on the beach. Through the Old Covenant, God was teaching His people their need for His grace. He was pointing to Jesus:

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. Galatians 3:23-26

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Galatians 4:4-5

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

We no longer relate to God through the Old Covenant. Now we relate to God through the New Covenant, through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is like my boat which is now retired from one-design racing. I need not be concerned that I will be stuck on the beach because of the rules. I am free to sail! We are not under the Old Covenant, we are not fearful of disqualification, being stuck on the beach for breaking a rule. We are free to sail!

So this means that we can do anything? There are no rules at all? Not so fast! We might not be one-design racing with all the rules and regulations, but we are sailing. A sailboat has sails, a rudder, a centreboard and all such things required for sailing. A sailboat has different equipment from a powerboat. A sailboat sounds and feels different out on the water than a powerboat. We can think of it this way; while we are free from all the rules and regulations of one-design racing, we are called to go sailing with God rather than continue power-boating alone. The early Christians had learned that non-Jews did not need to become Jews on their way to becoming Christians. But neither could they remain “typical Romans” either. Paul explains:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

We are not to live by the law, but we are to love, we are to live by the Spirit:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Galatians 5:16-18

While the non-Jews were not called to become Jews on the way to Jesus, they were called to be different from what they were. We can think of them as being called from a life of power-boating to a life of sailing, only they are not required to enter a one-design race. In being called to follow Jesus, we are not called to just stay as we are, we are called to live by the Spirit, not the rules.

Sailing is best enjoyed under full sail. My first sailboat had a lot of character. That is a nice way of saying it was old and in rough shape. In our first summer of sailing part of the deck ripped away making it impossible to use one of the two sails. I could have kept sailing without that sail and a section of the deck for the years I owned the boat, but it was much better sailing once fixed. The Christian life is like that. We can keep living with brokenness in our lives, with blind spots to our sin. But the Christian life is so much better under full sail. What does that look like?

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25

Is your deck broken? Is your sailing hampered by sin and brokenness? Perhaps you are not as loving as you think? Or patient? Or kind? Or generous? Or gentle? The fruit of the Spirit is a good place to look when we are checking our boats over for needed repairs.

As for my boat, I didn’t fix it. My Dad did! We should note that the fruit of the Spirit is precisely that. It is not the fruit of our labours. It is not the fruit of our efforts at keeping the law. It is the fruit of God’s work in our lives. Our heavenly Father does the repairs.

Are we to be super-religious or irreligious? Are we to be bound by religious rules or are we free to do anything and everything? Neither, rather we are to experience relationship with God through Jesus, being moved and changed by His Holy Spirit. Let us conclude by noting that the words for Spirit in both the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible also are the words for ‘wind.’ Happy sailing!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

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

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV


 

November 12, 2018

The Bridegroom Prepares the Way for the Bride

Today we’re paying a return visit to Dylan Tarpley at the blog One Thing. He’s currently working his way very carefully through Song of Songs, with several blog posts devoted to a single verse. Click the title below to read at source.

Hephzibah | A Bridal Paradigm

Growing up in church, I only remember hearing people talk about God as a righteous, angry judge. While this is certainly a part of who He is, that is the only side of Him that I ever knew. This only produced fear, guilt, and shame in my heart. No matter how often I heard about how God was angry with my sin, it never seemed to help me grow out of the sin patterns that were in my life. I just ended up like Adam who tried to cover his sin and hide from the presence of God.

For others, God is a distant being that is uninterested and not involved in their lives on earth. He spoke the earth into existence and then sat back as it took its course. In this view, God has no interaction with us on earth.

While there are many facets of who God is, I believe that the most paramount way to view God is through the eyes of a bride who is passionately in love with her Bridegroom King. While God may act as a righteous judge who is angry because of sin, He is also a tender Father who longs to walk with us in the cool of the day, just as He did with Adam in the garden.

As a young man, I remember being afraid that my dad would get mad at me. This had a measure of impact on the way that I behaved, but for the most part I just kept doing the same things. I would just try to hide it from him. There came a transition though as I grew in maturity to where I was no longer afraid of him being angry with me. Rather, I actually wanted to please him. I wanted to make him proud of the decisions I made. I assure you that one was much easier than the other, and made for a much better relationship between us. I have found this in marriage as well. Your marriage will always be a struggle if you are constantly afraid that your spouse is going to leave you or be angry with you. However, I have found marriage to be easy as long as you are in love. The same is true in our relationship with Jesus. We must mature to a place where our obedience is no longer only motivated by fear, but instead by love. This is the only way to experience true holiness.

It’s easy for most people to recognize their affection for God. In one sense, it is easy to love God. He’s holy, He’s perfect, He’s beautiful. What is perhaps more difficult is for people to understand God’s affection towards them. We find this in the beginning of the Song when the Shulamite begins to explain to the Beloved, “I am dark!” This type of thinking has caused many people to reject the love of God in their lives because of a false humility and a faulty way of thinking that says they are dark in the eyes of God.

As we watch Jesus prepare for His ministry on earth, there is an interesting transaction that takes place between Him and the Father. In Luke 3, the heavens are opened and the Father declares, “You are my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Even Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, had to be baptized into beloved identity before operating in the fullness of what was intended for Him. We must begin to ask ourselves, if Jesus needed to receive affirmation from His Father, how badly do we?

David modeled this in his life as the man after God’s heart. After living in a compromised state for some time in Ziklag, God delivers David from harm and David’s response is profound. He says in Psalm 18:19, “He delivered me because He delighted in me.” If we are honest, none of us would respond this way. We would put ourselves in some sort of Spiritual time out where we would make ourselves suffer for awhile, beating ourselves up because of our mistakes. Not David though. He was so rooted in beloved identity that even in a season of compromise, He was confident that God delighted in Him.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is found in Isaiah 62:4-5

You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.

What a promise! There are two words that I want you to focus on: Hephzibah and Beulah. Hephzibah means, “My delight is in her.” Beulah means, “married.” Many of us are content with the idea that He no longer calls us forsaken or desolate. We’re simply happy with the idea that He has forgiven us. Jesus longs for much more though. He does not simply want to bring you out of your desolation, He wants to give you a new name called “Delightful” and “Married.”

The entire story line of the Bible was built around a Bridegroom preparing a way for His bride. What if I told you that there was more to this journey than only going to heaven, but that Jesus died so that He could marry you here and now? It sounds too good to be true, huh? I agree, and that’s the best part. Dr. Brian Simmons has an interesting commentary on Jesus’ declaration on the cross, “It is finished!” Did you know that it was possible that Jesus actually says, “It is finished, my bride!” Jesus declared that it was the joy set before Him that empowered Him to endure the cross. You were that joy. As He was beaten and tortured, He was filled with the joy of one day being married to you.

I am praying this prayer tonight, “Jesus, sing your song of love over my life. Baptize me in beloved identity. I want to know how You feel about me.” I encourage you to begin to meditate on this idea that Jesus died, not only so that you go to heaven when you die, but that He could be married to you, today. You are always on His mind. I want you to get alone with Him and allow His love to wash over you as you begin to feel His affection for you as His bride. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

October 25, 2018

Nothing is Escaping God’s Notice

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Editor’s Note: Some of you know I like to cut to the chase here and don’t like devotional studies which begin with a long set-up or illustration. In this case however, the song which Clarke begins by quoting echoes the view of many people, especially in a world where some people know all they think they know from popular music. You probably know people who subscribe to the view expressed in the lyrics.

So with Clarke away this week, I chose this particular devotional from his personal archives, which appears here for the first time.

Genesis 6-8 Up Close and Personal

by Clarke Dixon

It is not a song that lasts very long around me, I change the station if I hear it on the radio, and move the song on if it comes onto my wife’s iPod. It has not even made it onto mine of course. The verses I quite like as they inspire us to a greater sense of harmony and the ideal of peace:

From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting is for

From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

All very nice and all but what ruins the song for me (beyond a lack of power chords) is the chorus:

And God is watching us, God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

Now there is wishful thinking and I suspect there are many who wishfully are thinking this. It seems God our Heavenly Father has been replaced by God our heavenly great-grandfather, whose eyesight is failing, and who cannot tell what the great-grandchildren are up to because their lives are so far removed from his. But they can always depend on him for unconditional love and a hug. Methinks this is how some people want to see God, or better, how they want God to see them;from a distance.

This is not the case in Genesis 6:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5 NIV)

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. (Genesis 6:11, 12 NIV)

No heavenly cataracts here, nor a need for God to squint like I did for three years in school before I finally admitted to needing glasses. God saw what was going on, and his remarkable vision had disastrous consequences for most earthlings:

The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:6, 7 NIV)

So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. (Genesis 6:13 NIV)

The story of the flood in Genesis teaches us some valuable lessons, most of which many would rather not learn.

  1. Sin and violence does not escape the notice of God. I was and am blessed by a mother who knows her Bible. The Biblical truth most quoted my Mum as I was growing up? “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Good to know and too bad more don’t know it.
  2. God has the right to be judge. All too often people will try to be the judge of God and his decision to send the flood, making it out to be a cosmic genocide. If you or I had done it, it would be a condemnable genocide, and a violence that would grieve God deeply (note Genesis 9:6 from the flood story). But in the hands of God it is justice brought swiftly, which brings us to our next point –
  3. God owes us nothing. All human living is lived in a time and as a result of God’s grace and mercy. We live because God withholds His just judgement. God does not owe us another day, nor an hour, nor even a second. Each breath, each heartbeat is a sign of God’s grace. It is not owed to you. Eternal life in Jesus is grace and mercy taken to the extreme. That is not owed to you either.

Some may object that here we find the God of the Old Testament and that now we should focus on the God of the New Testament, as if God’s eyes are now failing and He is watching us from a distance today. Sorry, God does not change. Here we might consider the rainbow which is very interesting in what we learn from it. Most of us think of it as a reminder to us that God will keep his covenant promise to never again send a flood like he did. This is correct, but in fact we find that twice it is emphasized as a reminder to God!

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:12-16 NIV)

Do we grasp the implication of this? No, it does not point to God’s memory as if it could fail any more than his sight. It points to the fact that from the flood on God still sees the sin and violence of the world, it still grieves him, and he would still be right to just put a sudden stop to it. What is stopping God from doing so is not that he is watching us from a distance as some sort of cosmic great-grandfather who isn’t really seeing what is going on, but because he is watching us with the heart of a father, full of love and grace, bound by a father’s promise. Of course he is not a human father that he might fail, he is God that he shall follow through. God is watching us closely, but his eyes are full of love.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

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

 

October 19, 2018

A Beauty Not Found in Open Fields or Peaceful Days

Six months ago I remember being struck by the quality of writing of Sarah Jo who writes at Blind Insanity. Yesterday I returned there and read several articles. I kept coming back to this one. Click the title to read at source, and then take a few minutes to pick another item or two read and enjoy.

There is Light on this Side of the Clouds

September 17, 2018

“You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of God”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV Mark 12.28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Today, something completely different: I’ve copied and paraphrased and updated notes on the passage from Alexander MacLaren’s Exposition of Holy Scripture as found at this website. I’ve tried to make minimal changes in the flow (except where noted) except for changes in vocabulary, formatting and paragraphing.

Not Far and Not In

This is a special case of a man who appears to have fully discerned the spirituality and inwardness of law, and to have felt that the one bond between God and man was love. He needed only to have followed out the former thought to have been smitten by the conviction of his own sinfulness, and to have reflected on the latter to have discovered that he needed some one who could certify and commend God’s love to him, and thereby to kindle his to God. Christ recognizes such beginnings and encourages him to persevere: but warns him against the danger of supposing himself in the kingdom, and against the prolongation of what is only good as a transition state.

This Scribe in this story is an interesting study as being one who recognized the Law in its spiritual meaning, in opposition to forms and ceremonies. His intellectual convictions needed to be led on from recognition of the spirituality of the Law to recognition of his own failures. ‘By law is the knowledge of sin.’ His intellectual convictions needed to pass over into and influence his heart and life. He recognized true piety, and was earnestly striving after it, but entrance into the kingdom is by faith in the Saviour, who is ‘the Way.’ So Jesus’ praise of him is but measured. For in him there was separation between knowing and doing.

I. Who are near?

Christ’s kingdom is near us all, whether we are heathen, infidel, profligate or not.

Here is a distinct recognition of two things to keep in mind:

  1. The varying degrees of proximity to the Kingdom found in different people, and
  2. The place or standard where you draw the line between those in the Kingdom and those outside it.

This Scribe was near, and yet not in, the kingdom, because, like so many in all ages, he had an intellectual hold of principles which he had never followed out to their intellectual issues, nor ever enthroned as, in their practical issues, the guides of his life.

How constantly we find characters of similar incompleteness among ourselves!

How many of us have true thoughts concerning God’s law and what it requires, which ought, in all reason, to have brought us to the consciousness of our own sin, and yet are untouched by one pang of penitence!

How many of us have lying in our heads, like disused furniture in a lumber-room, what we suppose to be personal beliefs, which only need to be followed out to their conclusion to refurnish with a new equipment the whole of our religious thinking!

How few of us do really take pains to bring our beliefs into clear sunlight, and to follow them wherever they lead us! There is no error more common, and no greater foe, than the hazy, lazy half-belief, of which the individual neither knows the basics nor perceives the intellectual or  practical issues.

There are multitudes who have, or have had, convictions of which the only rational outcome is practical surrender to Jesus Christ by faith and love. Such persons abound in Christian congregations and in Christian homes. They are on the verge of ‘the great surrender,’ but they do not go beyond the verge, and so they perpetrate ‘the great refusal.’ And to all such the word of our text should sound as a warning note, which has also hope in its bone. ‘Not far from’ is still ‘outside.’

II. Why they are only near.

The reason is not because of anything apart from themselves. The Christian gospel offers immediate entrance into the Kingdom, and all the gifts which its King can bestow, to all and every one who will. So that the sole cause of any man’s non-entrance lies with himself.

We have spoken of failure to follow out truths partially grasped, and that constitutes a reason which affects the intellect mainly, and plays its part in keeping men out of the Kingdom.

[This is my own addition: A vaccination is a very small dose of the disease it is intended to prevent. Many people have had just enough church, just enough preaching, or just enough religion that they have become immune to the real thing. Or to change up the analogy, they’ve stuck their big toe into the water and decided they’ve had enough of swimming.]

But there are other, perhaps more common, reasons, which intervene to prevent convictions being followed out into their properly consequent acts.

The two most familiar and fatal of these are:-

  1. Procrastination.
  2. Lingering love of the world.

III. Such people cannot continue near.

The state is necessarily transitional.

[This is my own addition] Some people are just sitting on the fence. But there’s not such thing as totally perfect balance there. You’re leaning ever so slightly one way or the other. And when the ground shakes, or the fence weakens,  you’ll fall in the direction you’re leaning. Which might be either:

  • Continuing on toward the Kingdom
  • Moving further away from the Kingdom

Christ warns here, and would stimulate to action — the need to do something — because

  1. Convictions not acted on simply die
  2. Truths not followed out simply fade
  3. Impressions resisted are difficult to be formed again
  4. Barriers and obstacles increase with time
  5. The habit of lingering, procrastinating, or being undecided strengthens over time.

IV. Unless you are in, you are finally shut out.

You’ve heard of ‘Cities of refuge.’ It was of no avail to have been near. One needed to stive to enter in.

If you know someone who is in this in-between, transitional stage; appeal to them to cross the line of faith.

September 10, 2018

Just As You Is

A few months ago we introduced you to a new source of devotional material. First 15 is designed for the first 15 minutes of your day, and can be delivered direct to your phone or tablet. The devotional’s main partners are: All Shores Wesleyan Church, First Baptist Church Universal City and Mississippi College.

Each day’s devotional is divided into six parts including a worship music video. The one that follows is kicking off a series for this week on the nearness of God and our awareness of his presence. We’re featuring just the text content, so you’re strongly encouraged to click the title below for the full experience.

God Cares About the Present

Scripture

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34

Devotional

I used to view my relationship with God as a straight line of spiritual progress. My goal in spending time in the secret place with fellow believers at church and at work was to try and make the movement across this line of spiritual growth as quickly and painlessly as possible. I would get frustrated any time I got hung up on some issue or sin and couldn’t experience freedom quickly enough. My time spent with Jesus was more about how he could change me than how deeply he already loves me.

We unfortunately live in a day and age where speed and progress is everything. We lose our patience as soon as a waiter takes too long to get us our check, a light takes an extra thirty seconds than we want it to, a driver holds us back five minutes from our destination, or a conversation interrupts the jam-packed schedule of our day. And painfully, we have allowed our culture to shape our perspective of God’s heart for us rather than allowing his word and Spirit to reveal how incredibly patient he is.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Every one of these aspects of love finds its perfect fulfillment in the heart of our Father. Our God is patient and kind. He bears our imperfections with love and grace, believes wholeheartedly in us, is filled with hope over who we are, and joyfully endures our process of sanctification.

You see, our heavenly Father cares deeply about you presently. He isn’t waiting until you get a little holier to pour out the full depths of his love and joy over you. He isn’t holding back the satisfaction he feels in simply living in relationship with you until you finally get over a certain sin. He loves and longs for unveiled communion with you right now.

If we wait until we have it all together to settle into the pace of this life, find peace, and fully enjoy God, we will never experience the wealth of abundant life available to us this side of heaven. Matthew 6:34 says, Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Have patience for yourself and others the way your heavenly Father does. Take time to receive his perfect perspective for today. Give your relationship with him all the energy you have and waste nothing on the frivolous cares of tomorrow.

Take time in guided prayer to allow your Father to overwhelm you with the love he feels for you right now, as you are. Experience today the peace and joy that can only be found when you surrender the entirety of your life, spiritual development, and future plans to your faithful Shepherd and simply follow him to green pastures and still waters. He promises there will be more green pastures tomorrow. He promises to guide you faithfully every day to the fullness of life he died to give you. Your only job as his sheep is to trust him, let him love and care for you, and follow his perfect leadership. May you drink deeply of the living waters of God’s love today as you rest in the presence of your loving Shepherd.

Prayer

1. Meditate on God’s patience and love for you in the present. Allow Scripture to guide you to a desire to encounter God fully and openly just as you are.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:31-34

2. What burden are you carrying that is grounded in the future instead of the present? What are you striving toward that is not found in the green pastures Jesus desires to lead you to today?

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5:8

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into a lifestyle of living presently. Ask him what it looks like to cast off fear over tomorrow and experience the abundant life meant for you in the present. Take time to rest in the presence of God and discover his patience over you.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:4

Go…

Your heavenly Father is most definitely molding and shaping you to look more like Jesus through a process of spiritual development. He has perfect plans for your sanctification that you might have a greater sense of his love at the end of every day. But that process is defined by daily living in the present and engaging with him fully in each moment. Leave the planning and leadership up to him, and simply follow him to green pastures and still waters every day. Seek relationship with him and allow daily, consistent encounters with him to mold and fashion you into a greater reflection of your Good Shepherd. May you find peace, joy, and patience by living in the present today.


Extended Reading: James 1

August 4, 2018

The God Who Pursues

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I wanted to spend one more day on a subject introduced yesterday, the idea of God seeking us out; searching us out…

This is our first time at a blog with a whimsical title, Through the Bible in who knows how many days. Although this article is 6 years old, the blog is still being updated. Click the title below to read at source.

Hosea 1-3 — The God who pursues us

This is definitely one of the more bizarre stories we see in scripture, God telling Hosea, one of his prophets to get married to a woman that would be unfaithful to him.

As this story takes place, Jeroboam II is still on the throne in Israel, as is Uzziah in Judah.  Hosea was primarily a prophet to Israel, but he had his words for Judah as well.

And in this time of material prosperity, there was definitely a spiritual problem.  The people were being unfaithful to God, following other idols, namely Baal.  And thus, the object lesson of Hosea to the nation.

Hosea marries this woman Gomer, and she soon bears him a son that God says to call Jezreel.  God told him to do so because of the massacre at Jezreel where Jehu went far beyond the words of God in committing bloodshed.  And so God was saying that judgment was coming upon the house of Jehu and upon Israel.

Gomer then gets pregnant twice more, but the Bible never says they were Hosea’s children.  The implication being that they were children born out of Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea.  The first is named “Lo-Ruhamah, meaning “not loved.”  The second is named “Lo-Ammi” meaning, “not my people.”

The picture couldn’t be clearer.  Hosea must have had a tough time loving these children that was not his, and could not call either child his own.

In the same way, because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, God could not call them his loved ones or his children.  Instead, he would reject them and cause them to fall as a kingdom.

And yet even in the midst of this, God makes clear that this punishment would not last forever.  That the day would come when he would call them his people and his sons once again, and would restore them.

But in chapter 2, he rebukes Israel for its unfaithfulness.  The people didn’t realize that all their blessings came not from the gods they were following, but from God.  And so God said the day was coming when he would cut off their blessings, and that he would strip them naked of every good thing.  Though they would pursue pleasure and happiness, they would not be able to find them.  The only thing they’d be able to find was shame.  And eventually, the time would come when they would be so desperate that they would have no choice but to return to God.

The amazing part of it all, is that through all of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, he would continue to pursue them.  It says,

“Therefore, I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert, and tenderly speak to her…
I will make the valley of trouble (Achor) a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’…

“I will betroth you to me forever.
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge the Lord…

I will show my love to the one I called, ‘Not my loved one’.
I will say to those called, ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people.’” (Hosea 2:14-16, 19-20, 23)

And to firmly imprint all of this in the minds of Israel, he told Hosea in chapter 3, to show his love to his wife once more, to buy her back from the one she was enslaved to, and to restore her to her position as his wife once again.

What does this mean for us?  No matter how far away we fall away from him,  God still loves us and pursues us.  He may discipline us.  He may allow bad things to happen to us as a consequence for our sin.  But his main goal is to restore us.  And all he does is out of his love and faithfulness towards us.

So as Hosea told his wife, let us not prostitute ourselves any longer to the world or the things in the world.  Rather let us return to him and be faithful to the God who is faithful to us, and who loved us enough to redeem us by Christ’s death on the cross.

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

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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.”

 

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