Christianity 201

August 22, 2017

“For God So Loved the World”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 23, 2017

Paradoxes in the Upside Down Kingdom

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

The Upside To Down Times

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

The New Testament is full of paradoxes:

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

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

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

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

Amazing!

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

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

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

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

 

May 20, 2017

Who is God?

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

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

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

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

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

Of this passage, Matthew Henry wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

bold face emphasis added

John Wesley’s commentary on this passage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

April 8, 2017

Psalm 130

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

Psalm 130 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Devotional Reflections from the Bible we read:

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

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

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

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

 

February 23, 2017

Little Power and Great Affirmation in Philadephia: Revelation 3

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

Here is what Jesus says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know your works.” (Revelation 3:8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am coming soon;” (Revelation 3:11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 All Scripture references are from the NRSV

 Original Source: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

February 4, 2017

Discipline Hurts But We Should Embrace It

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

3 Reasons to Love Discipline from the Lord

Discipline is painful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 19, 2017

Lost Love: The Letter of Revelation to Ephesus

gnbnby Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can leave our first love in two ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus shows the way:

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

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

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted


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

November 28, 2016

The Shortest Path to Reconciliation

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

The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

September 10, 2016

God is not the Author of Hurt and Pain

Today we pay a return visit to the blog of Justin Petrick Ministries. Although he doesn’t seem to be writing frequently at present, there are some great articles there on file. As always, don’t read the posts here, click the title below to read at the author’s website or blog.

God Doesn’t Author Hurt and Pain

I do not know about you, but it can be easy for me to attribute hurtful and painful past experiences to the hand of God. Why do you think that is? Why do we blame God for our hurts and pains? Why is it easy for us to derive a perverted sense of peace when something happens to us that causes us hurt and pain, by saying that God is the author of it or even that He has ‘allowed’ it?

When we look back at God’s original design, the Garden of Eden, it is perfection. The Garden of Eden, also the place of perfect relationship with God, was not only a garden of perfect provision, but physical, emotional, and mental stability, or peace. Why would we think that God deviated from this plan of His or reverted to a plan B, when man chose to sin rather than to stay in perfect communion with Him?

I don’t think He did. And being that God’s original design was perfection, I do not believe that God orchestrates pain and hurt for us to experience or to grow and mature us. There is a drastic difference in our hurts and pains turning out for our good or God using hurts and pains to grow and mature us (Romans 8:28) compared to believing He is the author of hurts and pains. Let us look at this Biblically:

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

Harm is emotional, mental, or physical distress, so to speak. God would never put you into a position to harm you mentally, physically, or emotionally. It is not His original plan of perfect love, nor is it in His perfect, loving nature for He is a God of love (1 John 4:8).

raThe Hebrew word for ‘harm’ in Jeremiah 29:11, is ‘ra`’ (רַע), and means “bad, malignant, unpleasant, displeasing, worse than, sad, unhappy, hurtful, wicked, misery, calamity, distress, adversity, injury, wrong, etc.”.  To many of us, these characteristics fit experiences that we believe God orchestrated or allowed to happen.

But what is interesting, is that this word “harm” comes from the root word ‘ra`a`’ (רָעַע), which means “evil”. And we know in James 1:13 that God will not test or tempt us with evil, or with ‘ra`’ (רַע) (experiences characterized as bad, malignant, unpleasant, displeasing, worse than, sad, unhappy, hurtful, wicked, misery, calamity, distress, adversity, injury, wrong, etc.).

Evil is the absence of a loving God, it is the absence of love; a void of love. Being that God is love (1 John 4:8), evil is the absence of God or His presence, ability, character, or nature. Evil is the absence of His plan. There is no hurt and pain in God’s love nor in His plan for you. It is not in His nature. He is not the author of evil. He is the restorer. He is the rescuer, the shelter, the rock. He builds up what has been broken down. He takes our hurt and pain and turns it into wholeness and victory, confidence, wisdom, and knowledge.

The things in our life that bring us hurt and pain are characterized by the plan of Satan, not God:

John 10:10 (NIV): The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Satan comes to steal health, marriages, families, jobs, security, stability, etc. He wants you to doubt God, doubt the power and design of His love for you and your life. He wants to steal the Truth and the Life, the Word, from your heart. In fact, he wants to speak lies into you about God’s nature, His very heart.

Another reason we know God does not orchestrate hurts and pains, is because He is moved by our hurts and pains, or infirmities.

Hebrews 4:15 (KJV): For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

God is moved by how you feel. When you feel hurt, manipulated, lied to, cheated on, let down, bailed on, forgotten, etc., it moves the heart of God! He feels your pain!

In fact, God is so moved by our iniquities that it is what killed the body of Jesus. Jesus died of a broken heart. One of the greatest verses that gives us physiological, medical insight into the death of Jesus is John 19:34:

John 19:34 (KJV): “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.”

When you think about someone being stabbed, one would expect to only see blood come out similar to a deep cut, just more of it.  John obviously thought it was important to mention that not only blood flowed from when the solider speared Jesus, but water as well.  And he was correct.  This small piece of information is very important.

We know that when blood sits, the red blood cells naturally separate from the plasma, which looks like water or is the watery part of your blood, giving the appearance of blood and water flowing as John stated. So, where was this blood and water able to sit? The heart, which is what the solider punctured when he speared Jesus.

There is a membrane that surrounds the heart called the pericaridal sac.  When a heart ruptures, blood leaks from the heart and fills the pericardial sac and while it sits, blood will separate from the plasma.  Jesus did not die of asphyxiation, but of a broken heart when He took the sins and sickness of the entire world on Him (John 1:29).

Isaiah 53:4 (KJV): Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

This is how much Jesus loves you, to willingly take on so much sin and pain that it literally broke His heart.  This is why He is moved by the feelings of your infirmities. He bore what you are going through today when He was crucified on the cross. This is the nature and love of Jesus Christ.  He has literally sacrificed His body and heart that we might have life with Him for eternity.

This is the magnitude of His love, and it blows my mind when I really think about it, about how much pain and agony is in the world that was placed in Him, all for the simple reason of Him justifying us through this selfless act of love, that we might be conquerors over everything that caused Him to die of a broken heart.  This is how much He loves YOU.

God is not the one that orchestrates pain and hurt. He is the one that gives you the ability to overcome hurts and pains so that you may live life in His fullness and joy (Psalm 16:11).

 

August 5, 2016

To the One Who Holds the Stars

Occasionally we run a devotional here, and then include a related song at the end. Today, we’re running the song first, and then the story behind it. This appeared in a longer form at New Release Tuesday. Click the link below to read in its entirety including a full transcript of the lyrics.


#744 – “Stars” by Skillet

interview with John Cooper

Please tell me the personal story behind this song.

… The message of the song is that God is in control of all the huge stuff and He is in control of the small stuff in your life. He is listening when you are having a bad day. Sometimes we think that the world is going to keep going, the sun is going to rise and set every day but God doesn’t care about the small things in your life. The Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible teaches the opposite.

God does care about us and even the sparrows have food to eat. That’s the idea of the song. The thing I was most proud of in writing the song is my wife, Korey, said we should write in the verses to not just write about things God has created like the oceans and the stars in the sky, but also provide a little more detail, as that’s the point. God didn’t just create the big things, but also the small details like how God gave the oceans their borders. God told the oceans where to start and where to stop.

Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?

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

Psalm 124:8 (VOICE):Our help has come in the name of the Eternal, the Maker of heaven and earth!

Psalm 139:13-14 (NKJV):For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.

Psalm 139:17-18 (NKJV):How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You.

1 John 4:8 (NKJV):He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:16 (NKJV): And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:18-19 (NKJV):There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.

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

What is the takeaway message?

We included some details of God’s creation in the verses and some references from the Bible such as my favorite passage of Scripture in the second verse: “Can’t separate me, can’t keep me from Your sight,” which is based on Romans 8:38-39. No matter where you run or try to hide, there is nowhere you can hide from God’s presence. Those are some cool aspects of the song and hopefully people can realize that if God cares about the details of His creation, He cares about the details of our lives.

Skillet has a lot of different kinds of fans. Some of our songs have double meanings, and a lot of this album and part of why we call the album “Unleashed” is about not being afraid. There are a lot of songs about that, like “Feel Invincible,” and “Lions.”

I was going through some hard times in my life the past few years, and part of the minutia of that is we struggle with fears and insecurities or something terrible, like broken and abusive homes. The spectrum is wide of what people are fearing, and in all of those situations, God can make you brave and not afraid. You don’t have to fear because God is with you. The theological aspect of not being afraid is that I have become more and more comfortable that God called me and I chose Him because He chose me without getting into a deep theological discussion. He first loved us.

If He first loved me, and called me, and He knows my name, then I don’t have to fear all these things or falling away from Him or losing His Holy Spirit. He has me so securely. That has really impacted me and I’ve gotten a deeper and deeper understanding of how amazing God’s grace really is in my life.

God, our Creator, created us in His image and likeness. He adores us immensely, and sent Jesus to die for us to show us the definition of love. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8 (NIV). God created the stars in the sky and knows the numbers of hairs on our heads. He’s right here. If you’ve put all of your hope and trust in Jesus, there is nothing that can separate you from His love. God sees us as He sees His Son. He knows our names and He loves us so much that He came to die for us.

If you don’t know how to word your prayers of thankfulness for what Jesus has done for you, just sing along with this incredible song of faith. It’s okay to not be okay and bring your thoughts to the Lord no matter what you are thinking. Just like you don’t have to wash your hands before you take a shower, just get into a relationship with the Lord and then profess that relationship to Him.

There are several truths we can cling to as believers in this song: “If You can calm the raging sea, You can calm the storm in me,” and recognizing that we are never too far from His love or His reach. God is omnipresent and always with us. The song also sings about not being afraid of the storm, “Your love has called my name. What do I have to fear?” The Lord tells us all throughout His Word to not be afraid or worry. He knows we suffer from that attack from the enemy who wants to rob us of our joy in God. By reading the Bible every day, God wants us to have a daily reminder not to be afraid.

This song is a great celebratory anthem about what it means to have hope in Christ. Sometimes it is hard to believe that God loves us so much that He knows us intimately and He wants to fill our hearts with love. We don’t have to be pretend, or hide, or strive or stand on our tiptoes to meet some mark. He knows our brokenness inside and out, and because of what Jesus did on the Cross, He sees us as righteous. God sees us as He sees His Son. It’s not our righteousness, or appearance or talent or gifting, it is just Jesus. That’s cause to celebrate and sing out to Him: “You’re never too far away, You never show up too late, So here I am lifting up my heart, To the One who holds the stars, You’re the One who holds the stars.” Amen to that!

June 1, 2016

Ending Well With Difficult People

•••by Clarke Dixon

How do your encounters with difficult people end up? Is there a fitting conclusion to such encounters? By difficult people we mean the kind of people that stress you out, or have wounded you in some way. And by an encounter we don’t even need to think of actually meeting the person, it may be an online encounter, or even just an encounter in our imagination. In fact if the truth be told, don’t the difficult people in our lives end up taking up too much space in our heads? We give them so much time and mental resources and they may not even know it! So is there a fitting way to conclude every such encounter?

If there is a group of Christians that could earn the title “difficult people” for the apostle Paul, it would have to be the Corinthians. From reading Paul’s two letters to Corinth we learn of the divisions he must address, the false notions he must put right, the crooked practices he must straighten out, and the fact that some of them evidently thought Paul himself was not worth listening to. And so with that in mind, listen to his last words to the Corinthians:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

First, notice what’s at the last; “be with all of you.” Not just “the people I like”, not just “the people who like me”, not just “the people who are good to me”, not just “the people who are mature”, but “all of you.” Even the difficult people. Here is a fitting conclusion for every encounter with all the people of our lives, even the difficult people. Whether we say it or pray it, we can desire it. Let’s dig a little deeper into Paul’s desire.

Paul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace is undeserved favor and the greatest symbol of grace is the cross where the Greatest ever died on behalf of the least. Notice Paul does not just say the grace of Jesus. Jesus is Lord, that is, the One who has the power and authority to condemn. Yet He is the One who stood on trial, innocent, but condemned. That is grace. Jesus is also the Christ, or in another language, the Messiah. He is the focus of God’s plan of salvation revealed through the events and pages of the Old Testament. That is grace. Paul knows first hand that he does not deserve that grace. So when he thinks of those difficult people in Corinth who do not deserve that grace, he is reminded of himself. When we think of the difficult people in our lives who do not deserve favor, do we remember that we are difficult people who have not deserved God’s favor? Having experienced the amazing grace of Jesus, how could we not desire it for everyone and anyone?

Dealing with Difficult PeoplePaul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “love of God.” God is love. And Paul has a good understanding of that love. It is not the warm-and-fuzzy-feeling kind of love that we may think of. Neither is it just being nice. The Hebrew term for God’s love includes the notion of loyalty and faithfulness. God’s love is more a “faithful in marriage” than “smitten in dating” kind of love. The Greek word for God’s love is marked with overtones of commitment and choice. It is not “how could I dance with another, when I saw her standing there” kind of love, which can end up being a selfish kind of love. It is more “I will ask her to dance because I care for her and a dance would be good for her.” When we say that God loves you, it is not because you are amazing, it is because He is amazing in His capacity to love. Paul knows that he himself is not amazing. Paul knows that he is in exactly the same boat as the difficult people in Corinth who are not amazing. Do you know God’s love as the difficult person you can be? Can you desire that the difficult people in your life know it also?

Paul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “communion of the Holy Spirit.” This can be interpreted either that they will enjoy good relationships with one another as the Holy Spirit makes possible, or that they will each experience the Holy Spirit personally. Perhaps we should take it as meaning both since an experience of the fruit of the Spirit in your life will come along with better relationships. This desire for the Holy Spirit can help us get over two speed bumps we might come across as we desire something really good for those people we may consider to be really unworthy.

  • Speed Bump #1 — Thinking: “This person has always been difficult and always will be difficult.” But not if the Holy Spirit takes control of their lives! Think of the most shady characters throughout history. Now think of the benefit for many, many, many people had the Holy Spirit taken control of their lives. How would history have been different if they had the communion of the Holy Spirit so that their lives would show the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV) To pray for difficult people to experience communion with the Holy Spirit is to pray “Thy Kingdom come.” It is to pray for good things, not just for the person experiencing communion with the Holy Spirit, but for everyone who experiences the person experiencing the Holy Spirit!
  • Speed Bump #2 Saying: “I just can’t do it – I just can’t desire good things for a certain person in my life.” You can’t or you won’t? Remember the communion of the Holy Spirit is available to you also, God is working a transformation in you also. In fact it is the difficult people in our lives that God uses to change us into the likeness of His Son who bore the cross for difficult people. God does not stretch your forgiveness and grace muscles through perfect people. Difficult people can be the heavy weights of a good muscle developing workout.

So how do your encounters with difficult people end up? With awkwardness, bitterness, or grudges? Paul’s conclusion in his second letter to the Corinthians provides us with a great conclusion to every encounter with the difficult people of our lives.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

Even if we do not say it, we can pray it, we can desire it. It won’t just change their lives. It will change ours.

 

March 16, 2016

The Gospel of John and the Religion Salesman

•••by Clarke Dixon

(read this on Clarke’s blog at this link)

How do we know that John, the writer of the Gospel of John, is not a “religion salesman?” People in sales have a very important function but we all have experience of someone who has tried very hard to sell us something we do not need, or something that does not even work. How do we know that John isn’t that kind of salesman? How do we know he is not trying to sell us on some new fabricated-from-thin-air religion? After all, there is a plethora of books and blogs written by “Jesus experts” who would tell us that indeed Christianity and the Jesus of Christianity is a human invention.

John’s sales pitch starts early. The Gospel of John begins with what is probably the most startling introduction in all of literature:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4,14)

John 1The startling nature of these verses may be lost on the Christian reader who has come to love these words and the Lord they point to. But imagine you are one of the early readers of this book, you have heard something about Jesus and have picked up John’s Gospel in order to be introduced more fully to him. John tells us that you start, not with the birth of Jesus, but long before, in fact before Creation. Right from the get go you may well find all this to be blasphemous if you are Jewish, or utter foolishness if you are not. As you read John’s Gospel the claims John makes about Jesus, what he said and did, do not get any less extraordinary. There is no doubt that John is seeking to introduce us to someone who is extraordinary. In fact he is introducing us to God the Son who is risen from the dead. But why should we buy it? Why should we believe John? How do we know he is genuine in his testimony about Jesus and not some religion salesman selling a bogus product?

Those of us who are Christian will appeal to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture. God is not going to reveal Himself in Jesus to one generation only for the memory of Jesus to be distorted for the generations to come. But even those of us who are not Christian have good reason to weigh carefully the words of John before trashing him as a mere salesman of religion. Take, for example, these words of John:

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

There is so much theology presented in this verse that we often fail to notice a simple truth: “we have seen his glory.” We, as in, “I, John, have seen personally and am an eyewitness to the things I am writing,” and we, as in, “I am not the only one, there are other eyewitnesses that you can check what I am saying with.” This is eyewitness testimony. Further, the final words of the book:

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them . . . This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:20-25)

These reinforce that the writer was someone who was right in the middle of the life and ministry of Jesus, someone seeing and hearing all that is going on, someone who was close to Jesus. This friend of Jesus is identified in early Christian records as being John the apostle, the same John that wrote the following:

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

While the Christian can appeal to the work of the Holy Spirit, both in the writing and the reading of Scripture, we can also appeal to historical documents. The Biblical Gospels were not written long after the events they describe by people far from them in time and place as many people erroneously believe. Two of them were written by men who rubbed shoulders constantly with eyewitnesses, Mark being a companion to Peter, and Luke often being a companion of, and mixing in many of the same circles as, Paul. The other two Gospels were written by eyewitnesses themselves, Matthew Levi the tax collector, and John the “beloved disciple.” Though taking different perspectives and emphasizing different things, all four agree as to who Jesus is. But did these men make up a new religion to sell to anyone who would hear?

It has been said (I think by J. Warner Wallace) that people who tell lies, who engage in fraudulent activity, are doing so in order to get a) money, b) sex, or c) power. The Gospel writers were not getting rich, but getting into danger. Being Christ followers the Gospel writers would have kept to the strict sexual ethics they record Jesus as affirming, so sex would not be a motivating factor. As for power, persecution was more the norm. These were men willing to die for the truth of what they were sharing about Jesus. These men were willing to pick up a cross and follow. No salesman trying to sell a product he knows is bogus will do that.

Who would you rather listen to? The “Jesus experts” of our day, the people who 2000 years after the events would like you to buy their books? Or John, who was right in the middle of the events he relates, who was an intimate friend of Jesus whom he describes, who devoted his life and was willing to give his life for the truth he was sharing? Who is the religion salesman here really?

What do liberal minded authors want you to know about Jesus? All manner of quite diverse theories, but what they hold in common is that you do not need to care about Jesus. What does John want you to know about Jesus? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) John wants you to know that Jesus cares about you.

(All references are taken from the NRSV. All emphasis are mine)

 

January 18, 2016

Understanding God’s Love When Your Earthly Father is Less Than Perfect

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The Voice, Gal. 4:4 When the right time arrived, God sent His Son into this world (born of a woman, subject to the law) to free those who, just like Him, were subject to the law. Ultimately He wanted us all to be adopted as sons and daughters. Because you are now part of God’s family, He sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts; and the Spirit calls out, “Abba, Father.”

I wrote the title for today’s devotional five different ways before settling on what you see above. I know this is an issue that many wrestle with and if you’re in the category of people whose earthly father provided a great analogy to your heavenly Father, please know that this is not true for everyone. Truthfully, the image of God as father is something that can be a barrier to some embracing the Good News. It’s something that apologists need to know how to work around when counseling someone who is blocked by a mental picture they can’t overcome. The article below only begins to initiate our thinking on this topic; feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Today’s devotional is actually a sample of an online devotional app for a variety of devices, Beyond Bible Devotion, which I believe is produced by Salem Media.

Beyond Bible Devotion

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)
 
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

I hear about and know of children who honestly think their fathers are the epitome of perfection. As far these children are concerned, their fathers are invincible heroes and they either want to be exactly like them, or marry someone just like them. The thought of this warms my heart, yet at the same time stings a little, too. Even looking back as far as I can remember, there was never a time in my life that I saw my (earthly) father this way. Please let me preface this by saying I mean no disrespect in what I share regarding my father. I love him almost to the point of it hurting. Despite all the dysfunction, I have NEVER doubted his love for me, not in the slightest. But the truth is, his destructive drinking wrecked havoc on just about every aspect of our family and cost my siblings and me any chance of experiencing a carefree childhood. Out of his warped perception of parenting, my dad never set appropriate boundaries, much less disciplined us in a way children need. And I don’t know what was worse, his drinking or the fact that he showed more respect to strangers than he did to my mom.

Despite all that, we knew he loved us and continues to love us with every bit of his broken heart. There was nothing of himself he wouldn’t have sacrificed on our behalf. No question about it. Yet what baffles me is how I can be so confident of my very imperfect earthly father’s love for me; but continue to have such a skewed perception of my perfect Heavenly Father’s love, when He Himself is the embodiment of love?

Assurance of the Lord’s unconditional love is the most significant determining factor in our relationship with Christ. It sets the pace for every aspect of this journey of faith. How we see ourselves; the manner in which we treat others; the decisions we make; the passion with which we live…just to name a few. This is only a personal conjecture, but I wonder if it’s because it’s easier for a flawed person to believe she is loved by another flawed person. After all, what business would a perfect person have loving someone who is horribly imperfect? It’s almost like a woman who has only known a life of drugs, abuse and prostitution, to hear that she is being pursued by a royal prince. Are you kidding? Even if it was true, she wouldn’t know the first thing about how to conduct herself with someone so seemingly perfect. It would be much easier and less nerve-racking to stay with her deadbeat boyfriend because compared to him, she’s practically a saint.

I don’t know. Is it possible that the Lord could understand how and why we constantly have such a hard time believing He really loves us? I can’t wrap my mind around it. It’s easier for me to think He took me in because He felt sorry for me, not because He wanted to make me His bride. But that’s not the case, and it possibly even diminishes the value of His sacrifice.

Heavenly Father, I realize that my lack of faith in Your love for me stands as the biggest obstacle in this relationship with You. You know me, Father. Nothing is a surprise to You. You know that my faith here is shaky, but I so want to believe. Like the man who was desperate for Christ to heal his demon-possessed child, I, too, cry out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).


Related: C201, August 2011: Adopting Wrong Views of God

September 30, 2015

Paid in Full

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Allan Connor is a retired missionary who has also authored two books and produces a series of devotional studies under the title Trail Mix. Allan is part of Clarke Dixon’s church; Clarke returns next week.

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 26:36-29 and Luke 22:39-44

tetelastaiPaid In Full

Jesus and his eleven disciples emerged from a house in Jerusalem, crossed the Kidron Valley to the east and entered a garden on the thickly wooded slopes of a long limestone ridge named the Mount of Olives. This walled enclosure was called “Gethsemane” from the Aramaic word meaning “oil press.” It was about to become a place of great crushing.

The Master took three of his intimate friends and moved off a short distance from the rest. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he confided in them. “Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther he knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel came to his help, strengthening him. But he prayed more earnestly, in great anguish, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

What is happening here? Why this convulsive struggle? What is the cup? Jesus knew he would soon die on a cross but even death by crucifixion could not create such torment of soul. Here is the strong and mighty Son of God in an astonishing state of overwhelming agony!

Jesus, the sinless Savior, is about to die on the cross, taking on himself the world’s sin, breaking his oneness with the Father, facing the blackness of hell, drinking the cup of God’s wrath. “And his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Christ is being crushed beyond endurance in Gethsemane’s press; he will drink the cup until not a drop remains.

Next morning Roman soldiers fasten him to a crude wooden cross, the fiendish instrument of torture used by the Romans to punish and execute slaves and the worst type of criminals. At noon darkness descends over the land for three hours. Then Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone runs to get him a drink. Then his last words, “It is finished.” He bows his head and gives up his Spirit.

“It is finished.” Three English words are used here to translate a single Greek word, “tetelastai,” a word written across tax receipts of the time that meant, “Paid in Full.” Through his shed blood Jesus has become the supreme sacrifice required to pay our debt completely, to grant us full and complete salvation.

If Christ was willing to endure the horror of Gethsemane, the physical pain of crucifixion and the unthinkable separation from the Father as he bore my sin on the cross, there is a message here that I must breathe into my soul: God is the great Lover. As such he has an urgent need to be loved in return; that need requires our response.

John the apostle, one of the three disciples Jesus drew aside in the garden, put it this way: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16, TM).

So I take my stand: I will endeavor, with the help of his Holy Spirit, to love the Lord with all my heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30). For that is his desire.

September 20, 2015

Did God Need Our Love, or Have Extra Love to Spend?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
 -Revelation 4:11 NIV

Today’s devotional is going to be uncharacteristically short, but I hope the question it poses will stay with you. In some ways it continues where we left off yesterday.

I was skimming a back issue (May/Jun 2011) of Every Day With Jesus by Selwyn Hughes and I ran into a question that I’ve heard asked in different ways, but never this succinctly:

“Theologians often debate the question: Did God create us that we might love Him or that He might love us?”

In other words, you could ask if God’s creation of mankind came out of a need or out of an overflow; because of a dirth or because of a glut.

Hughes answer was,

“The proper answer to that question is, I think, that primarily God made us to be loved by Him. We were made to be the subject of His benevolence, and His great desire for us is that we might become the sons and daughters in whom He is well pleased.”

He then quoted the KJV version of Revelation 4:11 (above) “thou has created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

“To some that might sound as if God is interested only His pleasure, but it is in pleasing Him that we reach our highest potential. His pleasure is our pleasure.”

I believe that for Hughes, this isn’t a conclusion drawn from a single verse or proof text, but through a lifetime of study out of which has emerged an understanding of the character and ways of God.

I also believe that a fuller understanding of what we call the Godhead, a more overt way of expressing the idea of God as a self-contained community of Creator, Word, Spirit (or Father, Son, Spirit) reveals to us that there is already love of the Father for the Son and the Spirit, and the Son for the Father and Spirit; the Spirit’s work being pleasing to both Father and Son.

In other words, God’s creation of us reflects a surplus of love, not a shortage.

All other implications of God’s love for us stem from such an understanding. Rather than starting a list here, let me leave it open: What areas of the Christian life are affected by knowing this principle?


Enjoy listening to this Maranatha! Music version of The Love of God (4-min. audio only; the play button should appear in the center of the image; otherwise double-click):

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