Christianity 201

January 15, 2022

Once We Were Dead, Then God Granted Us a Reset

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

Changing Our Values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 20, 2021

An Inclusive Incarnation Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The IVP New Testament Commentary Series states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

November 11, 2021

The Greatest New Beginning Ever

Thinking Through Acts 1:1-5

What is the biggest new beginning the world has ever seen?

Some might point to the conclusion of WWII, ushering in a post-war era, or the the dropping of atomic bombs, ushering in the nuclear age and a nuclear arms race. Some might point to the Reformation, or the Enlightenment, or of course, the current pandemic. Has anyone in the world been immune to the changes it has brought?

Whatever we might think has been the biggest “new beginning” humanity has experienced, let me suggest that the biggest and greatest new beginning ever can be found summed up in the first few verses of the book of Acts:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven . . .

Acts 1:1-2 (NLT)

The writer, in speaking of a first book, is referring here to the Gospel of Luke in which he wrote about the birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The biggest new beginning the world has ever seen is Jesus!

You don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate how Jesus has had a great impact on world history. Yes, Christians have sometimes had a negative impact, but there can be no doubt Jesus has changed the course of world history. Of course we can also think about the impact Jesus has had in many, many individual lives.

As the book of Acts opens, we learn about how Jesus has been the greatest new beginning ever seen:

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles . . .

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

Central to this new beginning is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. There are different ways of looking at how the death and resurrection of Jesus works, of how the events of that first Easter have brought a new beginning. Though there are others, here are three keys ways:

First, Jesus took our place, suffering the consequence of our sin, so that we may have eternal life.

Second, Jesus had victory over evil, sin, and death. Though it looked like the powers of evil had won at the crucifixion, actually it turned out that God had the victory. As Bible scholar N.T. Wright often points out, Jesus is not a failed messiah, but the true king. Good triumphs over evil in the end because God triumphs, and God is good. Love wins in the end because God wins, and God is love.

Third, Jesus is the example of what love looks like. God came to us in Jesus, we killed Jesus, God loves us anyway and offers reconciliation. If everyone responded to offence the way that God responded to the offence of humanity at the cross, what a different world this would be!

When we hold these three perspectives together we see a wonderful new beginning with the expectant hope of eternal life though we have not earned it, the knowledge that Jesus is Lord though we don’t always perceive it, and the example of the better way of love though we don’t always live it. The suffering and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything.

Let us continue in Acts:

. . . and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

It was obvious to the disciples and everyone else in Jerusalem that Jesus was killed. It likely took a wee bit more convincing that he was alive. However they were convinced, not that they had seen a ghost, nor that Jesus was simply resuscitated to life in the here and now, but that Jesus was raised to new life with a new kind of body. The disciples and many others were convinced enough to change their whole perspective, and convinced enough to suffer and die for what they knew to be true. The resurrection changed the disciples. The resurrection changed everything. It was a wonderful new beginning.

Let us continue,

And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

We can take note that during the forty days between resurrection and ascension, the Kingdom of God was a special focus for Jesus as he taught his disciples. Therefore the Kingdom of God really ought to be a focus for Jesus followers today.

We may think the focus of Christianity is “how to get to heaven when I die.” We think, therefore, that the new beginning will be when we die. True, that will be a wonderful new beginning, but there is much more to it than that.

We are reminded of how Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What are we praying for when we pray that? Are we praying for the end of the world?

Here is one way to imagine “Thy kingdom come.” What do you imagine that future will look like, when we are with God in the age of resurrection?

Will there be poverty then?
No, so let us deal with poverty now.
Will there be racism then?
No, so let us deal with racism now.
Will there be abuse, sexism, discrimination, bullying, war or…?
No, so let us deal with these kinds of things now.

Will people be suffering from mental health and depression then?
No, so let us help people who suffer from these things now.
Will people battle addictions or other kinds of inner battles then?
No, so let us help people who are facing these kinds of battles now.

Will there be a concern for truth then?
Yes, so let us pursue truth now.
Will there be justice then?
Yes, so let us pursue justice now.
Will people feel free to be honest then?
Yes, so let us make space for people to be honest now.
Will there be a love for reconciliation, then?
Yes, so let us pursue reconciliation now.

Will we be a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and things like these then? (See Galatians 5:22,23)
Yes, so let us open our lives to the Holy Spirit to be nurtured in these qualities now.

Are we waiting to die before things can get better, before we experience a true new beginning? There is no need to wait, Jesus is already king, we are his kingdom people now.

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

We are not done yet,

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5 (NLT)

This new beginning brought about a new normal which persists even today; the Holy Spirit is now running rampant in the world. This new beginning, this Kingdom, is not happening without God. It is not going to happen without us either.

In Conclusion.

With Jesus came a massive new beginning for the world. In Jesus God’s kingdom is both here and near. It is a massive new beginning that God is doing in the here and now, which will lead to something bigger in the there and then. It is a massive new beginning that we are invited to participate in. It changes the world, it changes our communities, it changes us, it changes everything.

Are you ready for a new beginning?


Regular Thursday contributor and Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s message is based, click this YouTube link.

November 3, 2021

Can God’s Love Be Described as Reckless?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

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

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

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

Words do matter. What do you think?

October 23, 2021

Remembering Involves Restoration

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

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

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

Do This in Remembrance of Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2021

A Devotional Three-for-One Special!

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

The Valley of Decision

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

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

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

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

Divine Recognition

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

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

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

Love and Compassion

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

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

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


Bonus content:

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

Click these links for

July 28, 2021

Are You an Outlaw, A Lawyer, or a Lover?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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At Christianity 201, we’ve had a long relationship with Rev. Kevin Rogers, a pastor in Western Ontario, Canada whose writing appears at The Orphan Age. This is excerpts from a 4-part series. To read the introduction, where he sets up the distinction click this link. He says,

I see three categories of people when it comes to the acceptance and application of God’s law—we are all outlaws, lawyers or lovers.

To read the individual parts in full, click the headers which follow.

Outlaws

Outlaw culture is often glorified, and we all learned it early in life…So what does it mean to be an outlaw?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary says:

1 : a person excluded from the benefit or protection of the law

2a : a lawless person or a fugitive from the law

b : a person or organization under a ban or restriction

c : one that is unconventional or rebellious

Some perceived Jesus to be an outlaw based on his application of God’s Law. He and the disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath, brought healing to many on the Sabbath, did not always wash their hands before eating, association with people deemed unclean and a daily myriad of offenses drummed up by the faultfinders.

In spite of what the authorized experts had to say, Jesus was not an outlaw.

Matthew 5:

17 “Do not think I have come to get rid of what is written in the Law or in the Prophets. I have not come to do this. Instead, I have come to fulfill what is written. 18 What I’m about to tell you is true. Heaven and earth will disappear before the smallest letter disappears from the Law. Not even the smallest mark of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is completed.

It is when we determine that laws are unfair, unattainable or illegitimate that we are tempted by outlawry. It’s easy enough to find reasons to minimize or defy human laws, but what about God’s Law? There are many outlaws that choose to live in opposition or resignation to what they perceive to be an unrealistic or impossible standard.

The Greek word for sin is hamartia. It is an archery term that means your arrow did not land on the target. When we recognize that we are sinners, we admit that our arrow went astray or dropped to the ground before the ideal target that God gives us to aim for.

Jesus came to hit the bullseye and inspire us to have an improved aim. We are to learn from the ways that fall short and allow God to perfect our aim. You may have given up on basketball or piano lessons, but the reason to learn God’s ways are not trivial options. God’s ways are a matter of life and death in a very real cosmic and earthly sense.

Every outlaw must live by a code that supports their values and will be deemed heroic by those sharing those values. But you cannot love God and at the same time have a complete disregard for the things God says. To know and disregard the law of God is to be truly lawless.

1 John 3:

Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, breaking the law is sin. But you know that Christ came to take our sins away. And there is no sin in him. No one who remains joined to him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has seen him or known him.

Dear children, don’t let anyone lead you astray. The person who does what is right is holy, just as Christ is holy. The person who does what is sinful belongs to the devil. That’s because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the devil’s work.

In recognizing that your aim is off, the key remedy is remaining joined to Jesus. As we  understand what Christ is doing, we find that he is taking away our lawless instincts. He is mending our broken bow and showing us how to aim true and hit the target. It is in our mimicry and imitation of Christ’s ways that we see through the fog and shoot for the bullseye. The apostle Paul understood this implicitly when he said,

1 Corinthians 11:

Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ.

Lawyers

If the outlaw faces judgment, he is going to need a good defence lawyer. A lawyer will endeavour to prove that his client is not guilty, or at least not maliciously intent on breaking a law. The problem is that there will also be a prosecuting lawyer whose aim it is to prove that you are guilty.

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens to people trying to live up to God’s standards. If they are not rightly motivated inwardly, they will get obsessive about hacking their aim and telling others that they are the masters that can teach others how to achieve their spiritual aims.

It’s exactly the old adage that those who can’t, teach.

Matthew 23:

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. “So you must be careful to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry. Then they put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

Watch out for people that try to load you down with high expectations but don’t offer any understanding or relief for the burden they lay on you. They may be legalistic in their passion for definition, but inwardly lack the law of God. They may have the authority to wield the law, but are more interested in winning their case than being personally answerable for the consequences that ensue.

Matthew 7:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Lawyers are often great communicators and can weave a story line that will either condemn or excuse a lawbreaker.

Watch my life carefully. I may appear to be a masterful persuader and still have a lawless heart. Fortunately, you will not have to answer for me. I stand before the one true judge that can truly condemn me or save me. Don’t be naïve and do look out for the Pharisaical lawyer in me and for the one in you.

Fortunately, God has mercy for outlaws and for self-righteous lawyers. Otherwise, we would be surely doomed.

Romans 9:

30 What should we say then? Gentiles did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 The people of Israel tried to obey the law to make themselves right with God. But they didn’t reach their goal of being right with God. 32 Why not? Because they tried to do it without faith. They tried to be right with God by what they did. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall. 33 It is written,

“Look! In Zion I am laying a stone that causes people to trip.
    It is a rock that makes them fall.
    The one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Imagine that. Your faith in the goodness and mercy of God is the bullseye. Jesus died to save outlaws and lawyers and we are both.

Lovers

In essence, you become what you love. When it comes to the Law of God, are you a lover of His Law? You will not become Christlike if you do not love God.

If it’s true that we all fail to hit the target, there must be something that Jesus wants to teach us. When you are being coached in some ability, it is easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. So what will keep us in the game, so to speak? What is it about God’s Law that we can learn to keep us from becoming an outlaw or a lawyer?

That is a great question and one asked by an expert in law.

Mark 12:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.     NIRV

Your aim always improves when you love from the core of your being. Loving God means loving the wisdom and perfection of what he is teaching us. Loving your neighbour and loving yourself flows from the love you find in God.

Jesus says that all law is grounded in love. Until you know that and agree to it, you will resist the true nature of God. Jesus is the highest expression of God’s Law. He fulfills the law of God.

Are you convinced by the Holy Spirit that the ways of God are desirable? Listen to this ancient song of praise for the ways of God. Listen to effect that the love of God has on the fabric of our life.

Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
NKJV

Talk about exactly hitting the target… love will do all of these things to establish your heart, mind and soul. We are taught by perfect love and changed from outlaws and lawyers. We are lovers of God’s Law.

May 10, 2021

Identity: Being The One That Jesus Loves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are highlighting an author who is new to us. Brian writes at On The Way. He is a pastor, which we learned from his various blog posts, but without an “about” page we can’t tell you more, except to say that we really enjoyed this article — it was one of three I considered — and hope you’ll click the header which follows to read this at On The Way.

I am the one Jesus loves

…I came across a bit from the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey:

“Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words: ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’ I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as ‘the one Jesus loved.’ Manning said, ‘If John were to be asked, “What is your primary identity in life?” he would not reply, “I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,” but rather, “I am the one Jesus loves.”‘

“What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as ‘the one Jesus loves?’ How differently would I view myself at the end of the day?

“Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?”1

The promises in our reading are amazing. Jesus is talking to his disciples after the Last Supper was over and before he was arrested. This reading comes right after last week’s discussion of the vine and the branches. Jesus says, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you.” He says, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.” Jesus loves you and he chose you. How does life change if we take this point of view seriously? Would your view of yourself change if you saw yourself as Mr. Yancey suggested: “I am the one Jesus loves.” This suggests that our primary identity doesn’t come from our jobs, our families, or our achievements, but from God. You are loved by God, and are a child of God who was chosen by God. When God sees you, it’s not through your acts, good or bad, or through your eyes or anyone else’s. God sees you as a child, and sees you through the lens of Christ.

You are loved and chosen. Many of you may think you have chosen Christ. It’s easy for us to think of that choice we made for Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. But before you could even make a choice for Jesus, Jesus made a choice for you. In prevenient grace, God seeks you even before you are aware of it. And as we accept the sacrifice of Jesus we are justified in God’s grace, with our sins being nailed to the cross. The grace of God continues throughout our lives, sanctifying us in God’s love. God chose us, offered us this amazing gift and as we have journeyed with Jesus he calls us his friends. Jesus told his disciples all the Father told him. He said they are no longer servants, but friends.

This distinction as Jesus’ friends is crucial because of the cross. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” This is what Jesus did for his friends, the ones he loved, the ones he chose, you and me. This is not some romantic love or a friendly love. This is amazing love, a deeper love than we have known. This is a sacrificial love. This is not some abstract idea. This love is a verb, implying actions. The action is so deep that death can’t even destroy it.

But he doesn’t just love you and he didn’t just choose you, he loves and chose all of us. It’s not for you to decide who gets the love of Jesus; that’s Jesus’ choice. So if Jesus chooses to love everyone in this room, praise be to God, but you’ll have to deal with the fact that Jesus loves some people you may not enjoy. So what are you supposed to do with that? Harbor resentment, extreme dislike or hate for another person? No. Jesus says in verse 12, “This is my commandment: Love each other just as I have loved you.” Jesus isn’t simply asking us to pretty please with a cherry on top maybe consider thinking about loving each other sort of. No. Jesus is plainly commanding us to love each other as he has loved us.

Jesus is repeating the commandment he gave in chapter 13, where he tells the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus restates this in his prayer to God in chapter 17, just before his arrest, saying, “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

This love is what we are to be known for by those who aren’t Christians. But again, this isn’t some romantic love, some pleasant thoughts about one another. This is a love that is both feeling and action. Jesus calls for us to love one another as he loved us. How does he love us? He has walked among us, taught us, healed us, equipped us and ultimately died for us in order that we may be set free from sin and reconciled to God. Jesus’ love was one of self-sacrifice. Jesus’ love was one of servanthood. After the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told the disciples to do the same to each other. They are told to love one another and to serve one another as he has loved and served them.

Jesus says that we are his friends if we do what he commands: to love one another as he has loved us. By doing this, we can live lives of complete joy knowing who we are and our purpose: We are beloved children of God who have been chosen by God to bear fruit and love one another. In loving each other, we show our love and devotion to God and bear the light of God’s love in the darkness of the world. Our light becomes the fruit of our love.

And while loving as strong and sacrificially as Jesus does sounds like a tall order, I believe we can do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on your own power to love that much because none of us have that power. Only God has that power. In order to love like Jesus we need to let go of our anger and resentment toward others. We need to stop thinking we’re better than others, stop slandering and gossiping about others, stop making fun of others. And this is within the church walls. We need to open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit and see people as Jesus sees them, with great sacrificial love. Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. Not only are you the one Jesus loves, but so are your brothers and sisters.

It’s not just us that we have to love. Jesus commanded love for God and neighbor, even when that neighbor is your enemy. How can we have love for our enemies if we can’t love each other? Our reading from 1 John 4 last week even questions our love for God if we can’t love each other. 1 John 4:19-21 says, “We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

The church and Christians are known for a lot of things, some good and some bad. Unbelievers look at the teachings of Jesus and then look to Christianity and too often find incompatibility. How can those who profess to follow Jesus neglect this important commandment to love one another. What is with the infighting within the church that has made it split into thousands of denominations? What is it within denominations that cause people to bicker and split? What is it within churches that causes people to split? Where is the love that Christians are to be known by?

We have to get this right. Our light and our witness affects our ability to make change in this world. Christianity isn’t just about scoring your pass to heaven but about bringing the kingdom of heaven to our current reality. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about the place you’ll go when you die, but something that Jesus is calling us to right now. The key to bringing it here is by living in the power of Jesus’ love. Jesus chose you and Jesus loves you. Abide in his love. Be encouraged, inspired and empowered by this. Live like you are the one Jesus loves. But also live like others are also the ones Jesus loves. Jesus calls us friends. He has given us the command to love one another and the power to do so. Love one another, not just superficially, but truly and deeply, as Jesus loves you. Let us show the world that we are Christians by our love toward God, each other and the world.


1 Yancey, Philip. What’s so Amazing about Grace?, Zondervan, 2011.

March 3, 2021

Accepting Our Acceptance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Another day to highlight a writer here for the first time. Melissa Neeb lives in Minnesota in the U.S. and has written for a variety of publications. Her blog is Faith in the Mess where she writes about mental health, addiction, parenting and marriage. As usual, we urge you to click the header which follows to read this at source. Because this particular article was published just hours ago, we’re going to close comments here so you can leave a comment there.

Accepting Jesus May Be Easier Than Accepting Ourselves

I accepted Jesus into my heart at a very young age. I knew I was precious to Him and always had a seat at His table as His beloved child and daughter. The unconditional love and forgiveness and grace of God was a gift I could easily accept.

What took much longer to accept, decades perhaps, was myself.

I couldn’t accept my fearfulness. My over-sensitivity. How easily I was embarrassed and cried.

I couldn’t accept my shyness, or my depression and anxiety, or my body.

I couldn’t accept my inability to put on weight, or my awkwardness around guys, or my terror of public speaking.

I couldn’t accept my indecision, my passivity, or my lack of boundaries.

I couldn’t accept that the traumas I had endured had permanently left scars and changed me.

Decades after accepting Jesus into my heart, I was still having a difficult time accepting myself and all my obvious (to me) flaws. I floundered and failed, doubted and rebelled until I reached the very end of myself.

That is when God took over.

He whispered into the recesses of my desensitized heart until I started to feel Him working again and transforming me into who He created me to be. He kept working, challenging my perceptions, and reminding me who HE said I was.

I started repeating His promises to myself all day long. That I am the daughter of the King. That I was loved into being. That Jesus left the 99 to chase down and bring me back into His strong arms. That I was created with a purpose, with a divine calling on my life.

I had to learn how to accept myself and let Him use my weakness to showcase His power.

Friend, if you are unable to accept yourself, please meditate on these affirmations. Say them out loud. Write them down. Put them on your mirror. Insert your name into these verses. Start believing it.

I AM CHOSEN.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

GOD COVERS ME WITH HIS SHELTER AND PROTECTION.

He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:4 (NLT)

I AM WONDERFULLY MADE.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

GOD IS WORKING IT OUT FOR MY GOOD.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)

GOD IS FOR ME.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Romans 8:31 (NLT)

Let me remind you, precious one, of this truth. If you can accept Jesus into your heart, if you can accept Him as your Savior and Protector and Healer and Friend, if you can accept His boundless grace and mercy, then surely you can accept the being that was created in the image of God, whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is beloved beyond measure.

Yourself.

February 8, 2021

God’s Gift: At First Impractical, In Balance, What We Needed

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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NIV.Mark.14.3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. [Read the whole narrative here.]

HCSB.Mark.12.1 [Jesus:] “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug out a pit for a winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went away. At harvest time he sent a slave to the farmers to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard from the farmers. But they took him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another slave to them, and they hit him on the head and treated him shamefully. Then he sent another, and they killed that one. He also sent many others; they beat some and they killed some…” [Read the whole parable here.]

What follows has been in my files for a long time. It’s the manuscript for a sermon given in a United Church in Morrisburg, Ontario on the day before Christmas, 1989. The pastor was Donald C. Smith. Beyond that, I don’t have much information. He began with a look at the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song and how of the 12 gifts, only 3 were remotely practical. Then he looked at The Gift of the Maji, by O’Henry and how in that story what started out as practical gift was rendered impractical by the sacrifice of the other. Then he continued…

You will remember that there was a day when Jesus was a guest in the home of a Pharisee and while he was eating his meal a woman of bad reputation came and brought an alabaster flask of very precious perfume; she broke it open and anointed his feet with her tears and with the perfume. There were three distinct reactions to what happened. Some of his critics refused any contact with her. A disciple, we are told, immediately pointed out that the perfume was extremely costly and should not have been wasted in this way; it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus accepted both the woman and the gift because he realized that this was a beautiful act that does not have a price.

You may remember that Jesus spoke about an absentee landlord who had rented out his vineyard and who at harvest time sent servants to collect his share of the enterprise. One by one the servants were ill treated; some were spurned, some were beaten but all were sent away empty handed. Finally he decided to send his son with the expectation that they would have respect for him. On the contrary, they decided to kill the son. The hearers of the parable were angry and upset because they knew exactly what Jesus was saying.

The nation Israel had been given God’s good earth to tend and he had sent his messengers, the prophets, to collect his due, their love and their worship, but all had been badly treated. Finally he decided to send his son and they were on the verge of killing him. It was one of those few times that Jesus laid claim to sonship. When we celebrate Christmas we celebrate God’s rather impractical gift, but we understand that by Jesus’ coming into the world he was showing his unsearchable love.

In so many ways God’s gift was totally impractical and was not what most people were asking for. Most of the peoples of the world were not expecting anything from God because they did not know about him. The one nation that was expecting a gift was expecting a messenger with a totally different agenda from the one Jesus had. Some wanted a messiah riding on the clouds of the heavens throwing around heavenly thunderbolts to get instant obedience to God’s commands. Others wanted a military ruler to rally the troops and deal with the Roman overlords and all other conquerors. They wanted a second David to make the borders strong and extend them.

Instead God sent a baby. What possible use could that be? And he sent the baby to Bethlehem, a little town where only a few shepherds shopped. And he sent an angel choir to announce the birth to some shepherds, probably not even the owners of the sheep, probably hired men without seniority, doing the night shift. I can imagine that when God told the angels to go and sing at Bethlehem they must have thought it strange. Shouldn’t they go to Rome or Alexandria or Athens but not to Bethlehem. Surely they should go to kings or governors, not shepherds. But the baby was to grow into a man and what a man! His birth was to be a sign of the extravagant love of God.

Occasionally I find it good to say what I am not saying. I am not saying that an impractical gift is always better than a practical one. I am not saying that the gift must be more than one can afford. I am saying that the gift must be an expression of love and a demonstration that one cares about the person receiving it. God loved and gave his own son, in effect a bit of himself, because he loves his people.

I hasten to add that a great deal of gift giving falls short of this standard. Some is self serving. It is giving in order to get another person obligated to us so that some day the debt can be called and some demand can be made on the other person. A lot of criticism has been leveled at the affluent nations for giving their surpluses of food and their technical expertise to the developing nations in the third world in such a way that they will gain as much or more than the recipient gets.

Paul Tournier tells in his little book The Meaning of Gifts of a child who was promised a little money if she did a certain task but when she received it she was told she must donate it to a certain good cause which her parents had chosen. It was meant to be a learning experience whereby the child would come to learn the joy of giving, but what she learned was that people can be manipulative in their gift giving. Every family where the parents have gone through the sadness of breaking up knows something about the temptation to use gifts as a way of getting the children on the side of one the parents. The child usually learns that the gift is not an expression of love but that it is rather part of the tug of war and feels not the love that is expected but a lack of respect for the one who is being self serving.

Sometimes gifts can greatly complicate relationships, they can be divisive as well as being the means of cementing warm relationships. As a prospective grandparent, I suspect grandparents need to have a well defined statement of family policy because it is possible for them to be much too lavish in their giving. The parents may have decided that it is not safe for a small child to have a  bicycle until legs have grown long enough to reach the pedals with ease, but a grandparent can’t wait to see the child glowing with joy on finding such a gift under the tree. The parents may feel that too much at any one time can breed a materialism that does not fit with the family values but the grandparents may have their own needs to appear as lavish givers and may be more interested in meeting those needs.

I am sure gifts have even been used to express hostility as well as love. An article of clothing can be chosen with the expectation that someone with poor taste in dress will enjoy a gift that the giver feels is in good taste and dress more acceptably in the future. On such occasions the gift is given to change the person, not to make him feel loved and accepted.

What I have been trying to say is that there are faulty human ways to give and there is a divine way to give. The divine way means that the gift is an expression of love, it is a way of communicating love, and it is a way of making a deeper relationship than could otherwise exist. After all there are times when words fail. Even God does not rely on verbal communication. We cannot find a different way each day to say to the ones we cherish that we love them, so we use the non-verbal communication of gifts. God started it, we respond to his love by loving one another. His gift was in many ways extravagant and impractical and surprising, but the important thing about it was that he was self giving. God was giving his son; as the New Testament says, God was in Christ.

Receive God’s gift and respond with love to others.

December 13, 2020

Part of Love is Going ‘All In’

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Rebecca LuElla Miller is a freelance writer and editor whose blog A Christian Worldview of Fiction is actually a great source of devotional insights. This our third time with her, and she sees something in the Jacob/Joseph/Benjamin story which I had missed. Don’t let the blog title fool you. Click the header below to read at source, and then click the header at the top of her page to refresh and look at her other writing.

What It Means To Love

The Bible gives us the greatest example of love that exists:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

God gave His only Son because He loved the very people that were spitting in His face. Not literally at first, but eventually that happened too.

The thing is, the Bible also gives pictures of this love throughout the Bible. The one perhaps best known is Abraham willing to offer his son as a sacrifice, not for another person but in obedience to God as an evidence of his love for Him.

Interestingly, there’s a kind of reverse illustration, too. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob actually had twelve sons, but he loved one more than all the others. The jealous brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery, then lied to their dad to make him think the teen had been killed by a wild animal.

Years later a famine hit the land, so ten of Jacob’s sons traveled to Egypt to purchase grain because they heard in all the region hit by the famine, Egypt still had a supply of grain available.

When they arrived, they came face to face with the brother they’d sold into slavery. He recognized them, but they did not recognize him. After all, he was dressed like an Egyptian, was obviously in charge of the grain selling operation, and communicated with them through a translator.

Long story short, Joseph, the despised and forsaken brother who became a ruler, challenged his brothers—if you want to buy and sell in Egypt, bring me your other brother, the one who stayed home with his dad. That was Benjamin, Joseph’s full-blood brother.

Not sure what Joseph’s intentions were. Maybe he wanted to see if the ten had become as hateful toward Benjamin as they had been toward him. In that case, he could actually rescue Benjamin from them. Or perhaps he wanted to know if they had repented of their evil and were changed men. In which case, he’d have the chance to include his family in his life again. There is the possibility that he was toying with the idea of revenge against the ten. The point is, Scripture doesn’t tell us what he was thinking.

What we do know is that Joseph’s brothers, all except one he kept on condition of their return with the younger brother, went back to their dad, with food but without one of their number. Jacob was distraught. He’d never gotten over losing Joseph, and now one of his older boys was held captive in Egypt, and would not be released unless Benjamin went with the guys on their next trip.

So he delayed. And delayed. At some point things were becoming desperate. The famine continued and the food ran out. His sons needed to go back to Egypt to get food.

But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”

At that point Jacob didn’t love anyone but himself. He was not willing to sacrifice his son.

But he didn’t stay in that state of mind. After time, he came to realize the severity of their situation, and he gave permission for Benjamin to go.

The story ends with Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers and telling them to bring their father and their entire households to Egypt to live because there were still years left of the famine. They did, and he was reunited with his father.

Of course Jacob was not sacrificing his only son, and he wasn’t even sacrificing him. More like risking him. Sort of an “all in” decision. But I think that might be part of love. Going all in. It certainly was the way in which God showed His love for the world.

October 10, 2020

The Peace We Crave Right Now

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In the Spring of 2019 we introduced readers to MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok and her blog, Searching for Treasures. She is an Associate Pastor in a church in San Diego, CA. Today’s readings are from a series of blog posts in September, 2020 on the subject of peace. Each section can be linked from the titles which follow. (I don’t think we’ve ever borrowed a total of four devotions, but these are shorter. There are also three more linked at the bottom.)

Perfect Peace

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3-4).

There is an unseen and yet pervasive sense of pressure that we are all feeling during this pandemic.  We are weighed down as we are constantly needing to weigh the pros and cons of so many decisions.  Should we go to the store or get groceries delivered?  Can we dine at a restaurant or should we order takeout?  Should we send our kids to school or have them do online school?  These are the daily decisions that we find ourselves needing to make.  And all of it together for so many months may make us feel like the walls are closing in just a little.

It’s in times like these, when I am feeling the constant pressure, that I know I need to return to this prophetic song of promise from Isaiah.  God will keep us in perfect peace when we trust in him.  He is worthy of our trust because he is a Rock that can’t be moved.  He can’t be shaken, and so we can entrust our whole hearts and our whole lives to him.  And, as we do so, he fills us with a perfect peace that is beyond our imagination.

Like a Rainbow in the Clouds

At the kickoff of his ministry, Ezekiel has a vision of a windstorm that comes from the north, and coming with the storm clouds was a throne and the appearance of the Lord as a figure like that of a man.  And this was the description of him, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him” (Ezekiel 1:28).

Something that strikes me about this vision is the reminder that the Lord comes with the storm clouds.

Often, it’s easy for me to think that when I am in the middle of the storm, the Lord is not there. Sure, he’s aware about the storm. Sure, he’s even permitted the storm within the realm of all our human free-will, but he is not there with me in the storm. But it’s interesting that here in this moment, when the storm came, there was the Lord too! He made his appearance with the storm. It’s hard to miss the hope that the Lord brings. He is like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day. Rainbows are the great reminder that storms have beginnings but they also have endings.

We have the hope in Jesus, that no matter what storms may come, he will be with us in the storm, and he will bring us safely through to the storm’s end. We will see the rainbow after the storm. This vision gives me so much hope. May it bring you hope and encouragement today as well.

How Can God be Glorified?

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”  (John 12:27-28).

When Jesus faced the greatest trial of his life, he did not ask to be delivered from it.  Instead, he asked for God to be glorified in it.  This week, as I led the morning Bible study in John 12, I was struck by the posture that Jesus took.  When I face challenges, my default is often to ask for God to fix it and make it better right away.  But, what if, instead, I asked God how he could be glorified through this situation?  What if I asked how I could glorify him or how I could be transformed as I face these challenges?

I think that would make a huge difference, especially when the trials remain for longer than I anticipated.  Covid has lasted longer than was first predicted, and, as a result, life is full to the brim with new responsibilities to juggle. However, instead of asking God to deliver us, I am reminded today that what I really want is to press into asking God how he can be glorified in the midst of all of this.  I hope this reminder could be an encouragement for you as well today.

Not Forgotten

“I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 44:21).

There was no doubt that Israel felt forgotten when their beloved city of Jerusalem was captured and when they were all sent into exile.  While they faced famine, displacement, and death, it seemed like all the loving promises of God had been forgotten forever.  And it is in that context of suffering that God assures them that he has made them and he will not forget them.

Jesus reaffirms this reality of God’s love for us in Luke when he says that we are more valuable to God than the birds, whom God feeds and provides for every single day without fail.  He also reveals in John that the Spirit would be sent for us and will be with us forever.  God has not forgotten us.  He has not forgotten you.  What stresses and what difficulties are you facing?  What hard work have you offered that hasn’t been noticed by others?  God sees you.  He notices.  He hasn’t forgotten you. You are made by him and he loves you.  Hear God’s word for you today, “I will not forget you.”  Soak it in.  Let his words of love wrap around your soul and bring healing to you this day.

Continue reading:

There are three more articles which continue this theme at Searching for Treasures:

 

October 6, 2020

When God Ran

I’ve always felt a great deal of affinity with Jim Thornber, probably because we both have a blog called Thinking Out Loud, and both started in 2008, although his journey and mine are quite different. Since I last caught up with him, he’s faced the loss of his father and the passing of his wife on September 12th from complications arising due to Covid-19. Both are the subject of two previous pieces on his blog, which were then preceded by this one, which appears below under its original title. Our own title today is the title of a song by Benny Hester which came to mind as I was reading and appears at the end. Click the header below to read this at Jim’s site.

The God Who Runs

“And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” –Luke 15:20

I’d like to share with you a snippet of a recent conversation I had with God.

It started when I wanted to write the way Jesus portrayed God in Luke 15. After the wayward son spent his inheritance on wild living, he decides to return home. Verse 20 says the Father ran to the son, embraced him before he could deliver his well-rehearsed speech, and called for a party on his behalf. But I was missing something in the story and didn’t know how to start. I had blogger’s block. Finally (why is it always “finally’?), I settled myself down and prayed.

Me: Lord, as I think about Luke 15, how would You like me to represent You?

God: Tell people My forgiveness predates their repentance.

Me: Okay. What is the best way to do that?

God: Tell them why I ran.

I’ve been studying Luke 15 since the 1980’s when I first read Lloyd John Oglivie’s book on the parables called The Autobiography of God. The first parable Oglivie writes about is this one, which he calls, “The Prodigal God.” About the Father he says, “Rivet your attention on him. Don’t take your eyes off him,” because the spotlight is never off Him, even when He is off stage. He is the prodigal God.

That strikes most people as absurd, mostly because they think prodigal means “going away and returning.” In fact, the word “prodigal” means extravagant, lavish, unrestrained and copious. True, this describes the son in the way he lived in the far country, but it better describes the father. His love knew no limits, his joy no restraint, his forgiveness no boundaries. His forgiveness isn’t even bound by time.  The son was unrestrained with his money, but the father is unrestrained with His love.

Back to the parable. The son is now walking through town on his way to the Father’s house and Jesus says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”

Let’s pause at that word “run.” Most of us skip over it and move ahead to the embrace and the call for a new wardrobe. But if we don’t stop and consider the Father running, we miss a very important part of the story.

In his exegesis of Luke 15, Kenneth Bailey tells us as the son approaches the village, a crowd will gather. The village, well aware the son wanted the father to die so he could have his money now, will taunt the son, abusing him verbally and possibly physically. Therefore, the only way for the father to protect his son from a distance was to draw the attention of the crowd away from the son and onto himself. Therefore, the father ran.

Bailey writes, “An Oriental nobleman with flowing robes never runs anywhere. To do so is humiliating.” Aristotle wrote, “Great men never run in public.” But the father ran anyway. Why? Because he had “compassion” for his son. The only way to keep the crowd from harming his son was to distract them, so the father runs this gauntlet, drawing the attention of the away from the son in order to observe the father’s shameful behavior. Bailey writes, “The boy, having steeled his nerves for this gauntlet, now, to his utter amazement, see his father run it for him. Rather than experiencing the ruthless hostility he deserves and anticipates, the son witnesses and unexpected, visible demonstration of love in humiliation.”

This is the character of God. Not concerned for His own dignity, He does the unexpected so those who would never expect it see a side of God they least expected: love in humiliation. This is Christ the Messiah who, more concerned with our salvation than His dignity, voluntarily hangs naked from a Cross. Why? “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Heb. 12:2).

While we were disabled due to sin, Jesus disrobed, shedding both His eternity and His clothes, to enable us to live again. Like the father running in the parable, he took the shame upon Himself and drew Satan’s attention away from us, knowing His death would set us free. By the time the Accuser figured out the resurrection, Christ’s victory over sin and death had already been won.

Our Savior exchanged his majesty for mortality, His sovereignty for shame, His glory for a grave. At the best possible moment in the history of humanity upon this earth, Christ came to us. Even as a baby, Satan’s attention was riveted upon Him. Christ ran.

We’ve been created by a Father who runs toward us. In His compassionate love, He forgives us before we ask, before we can convince Him we need His presence with our well-rehearsed speech. All the Father knew was His child who once was lost is now returning home, so He ran to embrace him.

Our Father, Holy is His name, likes to run. Have you experienced His embrace?


August 5, 2020

When Things Are So Very Hateful: Don’t Lose Your Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One of the most-featured writers here over the years has been J. Lee Grady who’s blog is titled Fire in My Bones. Today’s article has been edited for length; you’re encouraged to read the entire piece at Charisma Blogs at the link below. Note: When you click through, you’ll have the option of listening to a devotional podcast At Work With God.

Don’t Let Love Grow Cold in These Hateful Times

…I’ve never known my country to be so hateful.

Anger has reached a boiling point. Passengers are being removed from planes because they started fistfights over leg room. Store customers are going ballistic because other customers aren’t wearing masks. Entitled Americans, always ready to record a cellphone video, are ready to blow the whistle on each other.

We don’t care how our words hurt people anymore. We have become a vicious culture. Jesus warned this would happen when He said that in the last days, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12, NASB)…

…The world tells us that ending a relationship is as easy as hitting the unfriend button. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see any room for outrage, resentment, intolerance or “unfriending.” Jesus calls us to love—and He gives us the supernatural power to do it.

Have you considered ending a relationship recently because of politics? Did you already walk out of a church or break a close friendship because of a disagreement? If so, examine your heart and ask these probing questions first:

  1. Am I giving up too soon? The apostle Paul told the Ephesians they should “always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially toward those who try your patience” (Eph. 4:2b, TPT). Your love will never grow unless it is stretched—and the best way to stretch your love is to show kindness when you feel like slamming a door in a person’s face.

The truth is that we often give up on relationships because we just don’t want to exert the energy to improve them. Relationships require a lot of work. When you unfriend someone just because they hurt you, you are missing an opportunity to become more like Christ.

Show some patience. Choose to love even when you don’t get anything in return.

Ephesians 4:3 (NLT) says we must “make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” The Greek word for “make every effort” means “to be diligent; to use speed; to be prompt or earnest; to labor.” That means you shouldn’t let wounds fester. Act quickly to repair the relationship before it gets worse!

  1. Would Jesus end this relationship? When you end a friendship because of an offense, you are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did for you. Ephesians 4:32 says “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” You will never understand God’s merciful love if you don’t show it to others.

Jesus doesn’t flippantly write people off. He loved us even when we were sinners, and He patiently drew us to Himself using “ropes of kindness and love” (Hos. 11:4b). Before you end a friendship, judge a pastor, storm out of a church or give someone the cold shoulder, remember how aggressively Jesus pursued a relationship with you. Let His ropes of kindness pull you out of your bad attitude.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times we are required to forgive a person, Jesus answered “seventy times seven” (see Matt. 18:22b). Taken literally, that means 490 times—but Jesus wasn’t putting a limit on forgiveness. He was using the number seven to imply infinity. Stop counting how many times you have been offended and instead thank God for all the times He has overlooked your mistakes.

  1. Am I nursing a grudge? Our divisive political climate encourages people to get up mad in the morning, fuel their anger with hot political rhetoric throughout the day and then go to bed after listening to more arguments on news broadcasts. We are literally poisoning ourselves.

Many Christians have allowed similar poison in their lives because of church drama. They are mad that a pastor slighted them. They are jealous of someone who took a position they wanted. They are angry because a Christian did something hypocritical.

Resentment is deadly. It actually makes people sick. It also makes us ugly and unpleasant. Unforgiveness puts a frown on your face, wrinkles around your eyes and a sour tone in your voice.

Don’t let today’s culture of outrage infect you. Go against the flow of toxic hate. Make a decision today to work harder at maintaining your relationships. Forgive those who hurt you so your love doesn’t grow cold.

 

 

July 17, 2020

The Gifts God Gives Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. John 10:10b CEB

I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.  John 10:10b MSG

Today we’re introducing Jenny Lee Young who lives in Randburg, South Africa and describes herself as a “former Methodist local preacher” who writes at Coffee in the Rain. Why the name? She says, “It reminds me of warmth and comfort when things are not ideal.”

As always, click the link in the title which follows to read this at source.

Enjoying Life

Two scriptures have grabbed my attention recently.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 NLT)

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. (Psalm 36:8 NIV)

These verses speak to me about enjoyment and delight. God is the creator of all good gifts and pleasures. We only need to look at the variety of delicious food He has made available to us. Imagine if we ate grass every day like cattle! Or think of the futuristic scenario where all our nutrition might be reduced to a tablet a day. How much we would miss out on!

When our grandchildren were younger, I used to agonise over buying them presents for birthdays. How disappointed I was when a specially chosen doll was never played with, or a toy was left in the toy box unenjoyed. How much it delighted me when a gift we had given got taken to bed with the three-year-old, or was played with every day by the four-year-old.

I think God is delighted when we enjoy His gifts. He loves watching us having fun, enjoying life to the full. There is such a variety of things to enjoy; art, music, ballet, good wine, great sport-matches, riveting books and all things excellent.

Let us not merely “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” but “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

My Prayer.

Lord, even in the midst of this Corona pandemic, please open my eyes to the good gifts You have given me. May I enjoy them and give You thanks and praise. Amen.



This day’s devotional also contained a link to a fundraising platform for one of our related ministries, but as the campaign reached its goal of $4,000; the information is no longer relevant.

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