Christianity 201

July 17, 2019

Judgement will be Merciless to the One Who Has Shown No Mercy

Today our blog tour takes us back to Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog. Click the title below to read at source. Then look around, there are some other great articles there.

James 2:13

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. -James 2:13

The Greek reads with more force than is presented here. It more rightly says, “For the judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy.” It is a precept which permeates Scripture in various ways. Solomon says this in Proverbs –

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 21:13

James’ words also remind the reader of the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus shows there that mercy in us is something that is evaluated by God in our own judgment. David’s words in 2 Samuel acknowledge this precept as well. There he says, “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful.”

The reason for this is that mercy is an attribute of the Lord. It is a part of His very nature. In Exodus 34, when revealing His glory before Moses, the Lord proclaimed

“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6,7

Later in Numbers, when the people of Israel sinned against the Lord, Moses appealed to Him for them. In his appeal, he said,

“And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken.”

After that, he repeated the very words of the Lord from Exodus 34 as the prime example of how the Lord would most effectively reveal His great power

“‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” Numbers 14:18, 19

Astonishingly, Moses saw the power of the Lord most fully demonstrated in His mercy and forgiveness. This is what the Lord had declared concerning Himself, and Moses grasped onto it, knowing that the Lord is unchangeable in His Being. As this is so, he appealed to that truth.

Moses is considered Israel’s great lawgiver. A law demands justice leading to punishment for transgression. But Moses saw the strength of the Lord in withholding that, and in its place granting mercy. Does that not sound like God working in Christ? The greatest demonstration of all of God’s power is found in the giving of His Son for sinful man. It is the very heart of the gospel, and the gospel is the very heart and purpose of all Scripture in regards to salvation. Paul says as much in Romans 1:16

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

The law and its penalties could not compare to the mercies of the Lord. And the Dispensation of Law was but a dark moment in redemptive history as it led to the gloriously revealed light of the Dispensation of Grace. Moses, understanding this precept above all else, then spoke out his petition to the Lord, and the Lord pardoned according to his plea.

This is why the judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy. It is because in not showing mercy, we cast off one of the principle attributes of God, in whose image we are created. But in being merciful, we too will find mercy. As James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” God who is merciful will look upon us in mercy when we reflect His nature and demonstrate mercy.

Life application: James indicates that mercy is a powerful tool for good in our lives and for our eternal destiny. A good way to remember the meaning of mercy is to remember it along with the meaning of grace. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve; grace is getting what you do not deserve.

As Jesus speaks of this so poignantly in Matthew 18, take time today to read the entire parable and see how this confirms what James says. However, remember to take the entire subject of forgiveness in context. When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, all our sins are forgiven. Therefore, in the context of the Christian’s life, being unmerciful will result in loss of rewards, not condemnation. Either way, being merciful will keep us from a greater judgment because we are acting as our Heavenly Father does when we stray.

Lord Jesus, it is not always easy to be merciful, but it reflects Your divine character when we are. Because of this, please grant us the ability to be more merciful to others so that we might be pleasing to You. May Your words sink into our lives and become our very nature – to Your glory! Amen.

June 16, 2019

God’s Picture of Father Love

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Six years ago, for Father’s Day our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

At church that Sunday, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross…

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

May 19, 2019

Entering the Place Where the Lord Dwells

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

Click the link below to read at source.

City of the Living God

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

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

– Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

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

Can you picture it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The encounter ends.

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

 

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

April 11, 2019

Compelling Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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How the Love of God Points to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

Is the manner in which God relates to us compelling? That is, does the relationship offered by God make us go “wow, that makes sense and is is consistent with a good creator God.” Is it consistent with what the Bible teaches about God, namely that “God is love” (1 John 4:8)?

Many would answer, no. Their impression of Christianity is that you try to keep the rules, then you go to hell when you die because you couldn’t. If that is it, then no, it is not compelling! However, that is not it! Many religions are based on performance, that is, your relationship with God is dependent upon how well you keep the rules. Many people, including many Christians, think that Christianity is based on performance. That, however, is not Christianity.

What does Christianity teach? What does the Bible teach as to how God relates to us?

Let us first go to the Old Testament.

We might be quick to point to all the rules of the old covenant law and assume that relationship with God was, and is, based on performance. However, look closer. Long before the law was given at Sinai, God continued in relationship with humanity. Adam and Eve sinned, which introduced death and separation from God. However, God stayed in relationship with Adam and Eve, and with humanity. Israel was called to be a different kind of people, a people who followed God’s lead. They often stumbled, and yes, bore the consequences. However, despite their poor performance, God stayed in relationship with stumbling Israel, and with stumbling humanity.

In the Bible we have a long record of relationship between God and humanity. Within this, to use literary language by way of analogy, the old covenant is a sub-plot which is essential to the unfolding of the main story. Yes, in the sub-plot Israel’s performance was tied to Israel’s future. If they rebelled against God, they would be exiled. They did rebel. They were exiled. But God stood by them anyway! Through Israel God was working out his plan for relationship with all of us. That plan was not dependent on anyone’s performance, but on God’s grace.

The old covenant law was not the main story, even of the Old Testament. The main story, from Genesis to Revelation, is God’s relationship with humanity, not through our performance, but by His grace.

. . . . God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,  but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:8-10 (NRSV) 

Second, let us consider Jesus.

How do you begin your prayers? Is it “O all seeing, all knowing judge, who is ready to pounce on me for every sin”? Jesus, in teaching us to pray, taught us to begin with “Our Father.” The Lord’s prayer begins in away which reminds us that we belong. We begin prayer with a reminder that when we are praying in the presence of God, we are exactly where we ought to be. We belong, even when we are aware that belonging is not what we deserve. In teaching us to pray, Jesus reminds us that we relate to God, not through our performance, but by God’s grace.

Consider too, how Jesus related to people in the Gospels. We have Jesus being gracious to all, being known as a “friend of sinners” (see Matthew 11:19). Jesus did have harsh words, but he reserved his harshest criticism for the religious perfectionists who harped on performance of the law. Jesus modelled a grace-filled life. God relates to us in the same way people related to Jesus, not by our performance, but by his grace.

Consider too, the cross. We sinned; he died. He rose; we live. That is all grace. Eternal life is a gift made possible only by the grace of God.

Third, let us consider Paul, as an example of what the apostles taught.

Paul teaches about grace Ephesians 2:1-10;

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,   so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Though we were in a mess, God rescued us. Paul himself, is an example of grace, since he messed up terribly in persecuting God’s people. If God’s grace can reach Paul, it can reach anyone.

So how does God relate to us?

The Bible teaches that God’s relationship with us is marked, not by the performance of perfect people, but by God’s grace for imperfect people. This is a compelling aspect of Christianity.

Grace provides a great atmosphere for our relationship with God. When a relationship is based on performance, it can be like sailing in a thunderstorm, scary. When a relationship is based on grace, it is like sailing with a good breeze on a sunny day. There can be adventure, enjoyment, and progress. Grace provides an atmosphere perfect for flourishing and growth. When we receive God’s grace, we do not come before Him like a distrusted employee before a cruel boss, or a hated criminal before a harsh judge. The Christian comes before God as a child welcomed into the presence of a good, good father. The Christian experience of grace is therefore consistent with how God would relate to us if “God is love.” The manner in which God relates to us is consistent with a good and loving God. Grace points to the reality of the God we meet in Jesus, God as revealed in the Bible.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

 

April 4, 2019

Compelling Evil

Compelling Evil: How Suffering Points to a Loving God

by Clarke Dixon

If the Bible is correct about God, that God is, and God is love, then why is the world in a mess? Why is there suffering? Yes, the Bible teaches that God is love, but the Bible also teaches that the world is, indeed, in a mess. First of, notice that humanity’s relationship with God is destroyed by sin. Adam and Eve were free to enjoy the Garden of Eden, except that there was one thing they ought not do:

“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17 (NLT)

Of course they did that one thing and death became an eventuality. Sin separates us from God. However, the Bible tells us that human sin affects more than just humanity:

And to the man he said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
Genesis 3:17 (NLT)

Adam is affected by his own sin, he will die, but so too is the ground affected. Sin messes up everything. We see this theme carried on in the very next story:

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. Genesis 4:6-8 (NLT emphasis added)

Sin was “eager to control” Cain, but Abel, and Adam, and Eve, were the ones to suffer. Before there was ever a death by the natural consequence of one’s own sin, there was violent death from another’s. Sin makes a mess of everything! It still does. Consider a particularly cruel and selfish man whose attitudes and actions make life miserable for his family. He spreads the misery into his workplace like a bad virus. He then either gets fired, or his business runs down. Soon the money runs out, and the house falls into ruin also. Sin messes everything up for everyone and everything, not just the person who sins.

The Bible teaches that sin even makes a mess of creation:

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse [as a result of the sin of humanity]. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. Romans 8:19-21 (NLT)

Creation is not waiting for God to wipe out humanity, so it can flourish on its own, but to rescue humanity. Brokenness in all creation is tied to human sinfulness. Restoration of creation is tied to the healing of humanity’s sin problem.

So if the Bible is accurate, then we should expect to live in a world where relationship with God is destroyed, where death is the expected and normal end, and where everything is messed up. This is the world we live in! There is suffering because there is evil & sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. It turns out that the world is exactly as we would expect if God is love. Therefore the presence of evil and suffering lends support to the Bible being accurate about the way things are.

But if God is love, would we not expect God to rescue us from evil and suffering? Indeed. The Bible teaches, from Genesis through to Revelation, that God is not content to leave humanity in a mess. God continued to work with humans. He did not just walk away.

God rescued a particular people from a messy situation, then gave them the law so that they would learn to not make a big mess of everything. For example, the Israelites were forbidden from practicing child-sacrifice. If they kept that law, there would be less evil and suffering in the world, for that practice was too common in that day. The law was given to lead God’s particular people out of evil so they could be an example to the other nations. However, they kept tripping on the way out.

All of this was part of a bigger plan for a bigger rescue. God sent his Son and Spirit to rescue us from sin. The two problems of sin are solved. First, we are personally, and individually, reconciled to God. Death, and separation from God is no longer our final end. Second, when it comes to sin making a mess of everything, we are enabled to be part of Spirit-led solutions rather than part of sin-wrecked problems.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

Just think of how much less suffering and evil there would be in the world if all lives were marked by these “fruit” of the Holy Spirit! As people participate in God’s great rescue, our dark world gets brighter.

God’s rescue is not limited to the possibility of individuals being reconciled to God and making less mess along the way. God will rescue all of creation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
  I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”  And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.   All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. Revelation 21:1-7 (NLT)

Christianity provides a reasonable accounting of why evil and suffering exist in a world created by a loving God. There is suffering because there is sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. Our sin messes up everything. God knows, and since God is love, He has a rescue underway. Christianity speaks of God’s revealed love solution to evil and suffering in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a future with God. The presence of evil and suffering in the world does not prove God does not exist or does not care. It confirms what the Bible teaches. People sin, God is, and God is love.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

March 17, 2019

God and the Human Race

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we feature a first-time writer here. Nick Fisher has been writing at Fuel for Faith since January, 2011. Click the header below to read this at source.

What God Wants

Watching the news; observing people and the affairs of humanity; looking in the mirror and thinking of what I’ve done with my own life, I had to ask my God why He would care at all about the human race…

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).

Those of us who are Bible believers know that we’re not worthy of God’s love: He gives it because He wants to. He did, after all, send His son to die for us while we were in our fallen state. But why? What could he, an infinite, omnipotent, incredible, beautiful God possibly want that we have or that we are?

I have to say that the answer, humanly speaking, is beyond me. If I were God I would probably just give up on the world and start all over. But as I thought the matter over this morning, for the umpteenth time, what came to mind quite apart from some relevant scriptural statements, were the few souls I’ve known in my life who were genuinely wonderful people-people who were consistently different to everyone else in a good way.

I realized that these people all had certain things in common. They were humble, warm, selfless, kind, loving and thoughtful, and lived a life of service. While no human “deserves” God’s love, humans were designed and made in His image. And perhaps in those divine qualities which a few somehow manage to exhibit there’s a glimpse of that image of God, and a strong indicator of what God through his son Jesus Christ seeks to foster in us, and to fill his heaven with for all eternity.

Worship doesn’t just consist of singing or raising hands, it’s more to do with how we live our lives:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2).

Yes, we’re saved by faith in the son of God, because of God’s mercy and grace. But it’s when we consciously live out our faith in truth and genuine love and praise, that we please our Creator, and become the kind of people He wants in his kingdom. How many of us are studying the will of our Father in our lives? Jesus said:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks(John 4:23 NIV).




Today is also St. Patrick’s Day.

If you would like to read the Prayer of St. Patrick which we featured here in 2013,

click this link

To learn about ten other Irish saints you should know,

click this link.

March 2, 2019

The God of All Comfort

Last year at this time we introduced a new devotional source. 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 also part of a series of articles on God’s Promises. The first time we featured just the text content, but this time around we’re going to give you a fuller experience of how each day is formatted; however please click the link and read there in order to visit other content on the website.

God Promises His Comfort

Scripture

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3

Worship

You Hold It All Together | All Sons & Daughters   (see below)

Devotional

2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us of a wonderful aspect of God’s character, that he is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” In a world wrought with depression and hurt, we have a Father who is the source of all comfort. We serve the God of compassion and love. Let’s allow the truth of God’s comfort to fill us today. Let’s rest in the goodness of God’s presence and let him minister to any areas in which we feel hurt or depressed.

David tells us in Psalm 34:18, The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34 comes in the context of David fleeing from Saul’s persecution. David, in this season of his life, knew all too well what it’s like to need comfort. His circumstances were anything but peaceful. But in this moment, God faithfully delivered him again from the hands of Saul. David writes, This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:6-10). David took refuge in his faithful God and found comfort. He placed his trust in the Father of all comfort and found deliverance.

It really is true that those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. The same God of David is your God. You are his child. Seek him today that you might taste and see that the Lord is good! All of us are broken. All of us are hurting. All of us need the love of our heavenly Father. Where in your life today do you feel hurt? Big or small, God cares about whatever pain you might be going through. Your Father longs to heal whatever is holding you back from fullness of life in him.

Deuteronomy 33:12 says, The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders. You are God’s beloved. You were bought at an incredible price. He’s opening up his arms to you today, asking you to simply come and find refuge from all the hurt and pain of the world in him. He desires to hold your heart today and speak his healing love over any part of you wounded by the things of the world. Spend time in his presence today allowing the Spirit of God to mend you. Allow God to cry with you, hold you, speak to you, and draw you into his process of inner healing. God’s promised you his comfort, and he’s always faithful to deliver on his promises. All that he asks of you is to make space in your heart for him and receive. Spend time today talking with the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort,” and experience the power of being wrapped up in the powerful and loving arms of God.

Prayer

1. Ask God to make his nearness known to you today. Receive his presence and experience his profound, limitless peace.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

2. Open to God any part of your heart that is wounded or needs comfort. It could be the wound of a parent, spouse, friend, colleague, etc. Whatever you feel hurt by today, talk to your loving heavenly Father about it.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

3. Receive God’s comfort. So often healing comes simply by the compassionate love of God. As our Father, God suffers as we suffer. He hurts when we hurt. Let his nearness and love comfort you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3

Go

Healing takes time, but it is time well worth spending. We are not meant to go without the love and comfort of our heavenly Father. Seek out his presence. Spend time at length simply being loved by him. Make space for God to work and find out how willing and able he is to bind up and heal any area of your heart that feels broken.

Extended Reading: Psalm 34

March 1, 2019

Pity vs. Compassion: What’s the Difference?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is actually our fifth time featuring resources from Seedbed, but each of the previous ones was the videos in their Seven Minute Seminary series. This time we join them in print for an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt.

On the Difference Between Pity and Compassion

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

CONSIDER THIS

Jesus went to a town called Nain. Jesus was not just wandering around the countryside. Every step he made held significance beyond our ability to even comprehend. Everything he did had profound theological significance and yet it all was insanely practical. He turned water into wine, a mystery whose theological meaning we are still discerning. All the while he was solving a major problem at a wedding celebration– the wine ran out. Watch as this same dynamic unfolds in today’s text.

So why Nain? Nain was a small town about six miles south of Nazareth in Galilee. We are about to see the clashing of movements. Jesus is followed by his disciples and a large crowd of people as they near the city gate. Just as they arrive, a funeral procession is leaving the city with a large crowd following a widow with her deceased and only son. The movement of Life is meeting up with the movement of death. Imagine the contrast between the joyfully astonished throng following Jesus and the mournfully broken crowd following the widow and the dead son. We are in for a cosmic confrontation.

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Far from easy sympathy, Jesus had compassion on this woman. I’ve heard charity described as giving someone the shirt you no longer want and compassion as giving someone the shirt off of your back. I love this translation. “His heart went out to her.” When I say, in response to some tragedy, “My heart goes out to them,” what I mean is I feel sorry for them. That’s about it. With Jesus, it’s more like his heart actually leaves his body and enters into the body of another person. This is precisely what God has done in Jesus and continues to do through Jesus in the strength of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means for one person to “be with” another person; to enter into their reality and experience so deeply that their presence cannot be distinguished from your own. In the midst of two large crowds converging at the narrow place of a city gate, Jesus “saw her.” God seeks out the brokenhearted. We know “his heart went out to her” not because he said something nice but because he made a bee line straight to her. He was not at this funeral. He didn’t know these people. He was doing something else entirely, but he went straight to her.

So many times I have been in a hospital to see a particular person. As I approach their room I walk past and see so many other people, most of whom are all alone. Something in me says just knock on their door and ask if you can help them, pray for them, get them some water. Too often, though, I reason to myself that I don’t know them, that they have “people”, that it would be an unwanted intrusion to do this and I just go on about my business. In retrospect, I think the Holy Spirit was bursting at the seams to release the heart of God in those hospital rooms but was coming up short on Jesus types to actually do it. Lesson learned.

It’s so rare for someone to “be with” us like this. It requires the kind of attention of which only Divine Love is capable and this is the amazing thing about Jesus. He naturalizes Divine Love as a fully human expression. This is how he wants us to “be with” each other and particularly the broken and hurting among us. This is who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does: He naturalizes and normalizes Divine Love in and through our ordinary lives in all our dealings with one another. It’s all at once miraculous and ordinary. And Daily Text readers, this is not just the pastor’s job. This is all of our shared privilege together. I would love to tell you a story about Brother Buddy Ratliff who does this as well as I’ve ever seen it done, and I’d love to tell you a story about a community of Africans who taught me what this kind of “being with others” looks like in the wake of tragic loss.

I need to close for the day. Jesus tells her not to cry and then he shows us all why. He walks over to the dead son and talks to him. Yes, he speaks to a corpse:

“Young man, I say to you, get up!”

And lo and behold the MIRACLE happened!

The dead man sat up and began to talk,

The life movement won out over the death movement. Sooner or later, it always does. You want to know the real miracle here? It’s in this last bit:

and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

You see, this widow had not only lost her son, she had essentially lost her life. She was completely disconnected from the community with no source of status or sustenance. She had truly joined the ranks of “the poor.” This act of Jesus giving the boy back to his mother was a profound Gospel move, restoring not only her son but her life as well. Profoundly theological. Insanely practical.

The people were awestruck. I love that they said this:

“God has come to help his people.”

That’s what we want to be said in the wake of our being with others in the midst of hardship, struggle, loss and pain: “God has come to help his people.”

Tomorrow, we’ve been invited to join Jesus for a meal in the home of a Pharisee. It will be interesting. Prepare yourself.

P.S. Some of you may have felt a little deja vu in today’s text. That wasn’t a glitch in the matrix. Jesus doesn’t miss a trick. To see what I’m talking about check out this Elijah story.

THE PRAYER

Father God, thank you for showing us what it looks like when the movement of Life overcomes the movement of Death. It’s who you are. Lord, I want to be in that number; part of that movement. Open my eyes and my heart and my faith to this awakening movement today. IN Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

What stands out to you about this story today? Why do you think it stands out to you? What does it awaken in you?


Get J. D. Walt’s latest book, THE FIRST REAL CHRISTIAN, or his new church-wide Lenten Study, LISTEN TO HIM. Subscribe to get devotionals like this in your email inbox here.

November 26, 2018

In The Eye of the Beholder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new author. Ron Harris is the author of Not Dressed for the Occasion (Word Alive Press, 2018) and has given us permission to use a couple of excerpts from the book which he describes as having “no specific beginning or end but is a string of observations birthed out of my walk with God. It delves into the deeply personal failures of life and honest confession of sins, as well as explores the wonderful experiences and potential we have in God. Though the book exposes the present world view that contradicts the traditional six thousand years of proven moral lessons, it also deals with the daily experiences that challenge our faith and intimacy with God, the most common thread being God Himself and the incredible revelation we enjoy because of the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.” 

Not Dressed for the Occasion may be ordered wherever you purchase Christian books.

Love and Beauty

It has been said of some new born babies that they are so ugly “only a mother could love them.” That term has become a way of describing many things that appear to be ugly in the eyes of the beholder, particularly human beings. Because my profession is to attempt to create beautiful environments, it is difficult for me to see beauty in things that I know from training and experience is intrinsically ugly.

We tend to judge the choices of others stating, “Love is blind” or “I can’t understand what he or she sees in her or him,” while still others say they are deaf, dumb, and stupid. We say the mother is blind because she loves an ugly baby, but I have come to understand that WE ARE THE BLIND ONES because the mother sees a beauty that can only be observed through THE EYES OF LOVE. Love sees with eyes that the natural man cannot understand and can therefore enjoy what others reject as ugly. Because we live in a society that is obsessed with “beauty,” we are blinded to the splendors that only love can see.

We all know the verse from John’s gospel that states; “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3:16 (KJV)] but 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; “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: [Genesis 1:26 (KJV)] but it doesn’t stop there; He also says that; “You saw me before I was born…”[Psalm 139:16 (TLB)]

…I was at an annual conference of the Apostolic Church and a person with a Prophetic ministry came up to me, put both hands either side of my face, stared compassionately into my eyes and said, “God wants you know that He really loves you.” With that he removed his hands and walked away.

That encounter changed my view on both God and myself. Like all of us when we look at our lives and see our sins and failures we often despair at ourselves and wonder how could God love us with such faults and failures? Now I know that theologically we can say God sees us through the eyes of Christ because; “God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ”=[Philippians 3:9 (J.B. PHILLIPS)] but I believe “He really does love us” even with all our quirky personalities. There are no “ugly babies” in God’s eyes because He sees beyond the obvious, loving us just as we are and because He loves us so much He will not leave us in our failure and sin. He sees so much incredible potential in us all, that He will move “heaven and earth” to bring us to the place of change for our full destiny in Him.

So, will this love that God has for us motivate us to be changed or will we continue to follow our own ways and never discover the full potential and destiny for our lives? One of the scariest powers we possess is the freedom to choose. We can spit in the face of God, even deny His existence but we do this to our own terrible eternal loss, breaking the heart of a God who has given everything possible to win us with His love. Yes, He will give strength and Grace to change those ugly things of sin in our lives and because He loves us so much He sees beauty where others only see ugliness.

If God then shows such love, we can, we must show this same type of love for each other for He has promised; “…God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” [Romans 5:5 (NIV)] As we choose to take that step of faith of loving each other, God’s Spirit is released in us. We can then start to see beauty in each other that the natural eye cannot see. We are not like the scripture that states; “Having eyes do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?”[Mark 8:18 (NASB)] We are not the blind ones; we now have eyes that see the beauty that only love can see.

 

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.

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