Christianity 201

November 10, 2018

Mercy and Judgement in Tandem

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Pam Larson at the blog Knowing God Through His Word.  Take a minute to carefully see what she’s noticed in this passage.

Amazing mercy from a faithful, covenant-keeping God!

In Ezekiel 27, the downfall of Tyre is compared to the shipwreck of a fine vessel.

    Now you are wrecked by the seas,
        in the depths of the waters;
    your merchandise and all your crew in your midst
        have sunk with you.—Ezekiel 27:34 ESV

Tyre was proud, thinking that they were perfect. But they were allied against Israel.

“Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD:

    “Because your heart is proud,
        and you have said, ‘I am a god,
    I sit in the seat of the gods,
        in the heart of the seas,’
    yet you are but a man, and no god,
        though you make your heart like the heart of a god— Ezekiel 28:2 ESV

And in verse 17:

Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
        you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
    I cast you to the ground;
        I exposed you before kings,
        to feast their eyes on you.—Ezekiel 28:17 ESV

The chapter goes on with a prophecy against Sidon, another one of Israel’s enemies.

Behold, I am against you, O Sidon,
and I will manifest my glory in your midst.
And they shall know that I am the Lord
when I execute judgments in her
and manifest my holiness in her. —Ezekiel 28:22

Notice the twist here.  In addition to judgment, the people of Sidon will get mercy in the form of God showing His glory, His holiness and they shall KNOW that He is the Lord! And for Israel? Amazing mercy from a faithful, covenant-keeping God! Here is how Ezekiel 28 ends:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God. —Ezekiel 28:25-26 ESV


Although Pam didn’t refer to it, some of you probably thought of this scripture from Luke 10:

13-14 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had happened in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.  But it will be more bearable at the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

This passage is also found in Matthew 11.

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

October 24, 2016

Freedom from What is Hurting You

Articles here are often a mixture of in-depth Bible study and personal devotions. Sometimes I think we don’t do enough of the latter. Today, we’re again returning to Proverbs 31 Ministries. This time it’s a different writer, Leah DiPascal. Click the title below to read this on their site.

When the Struggles of Life Knock You Over

“When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.” Luke 13:12-13 (NIV)

She heard His voice but couldn’t see Him clearly. The surrounding crowds had blocked her view.

Bent over at the waist and unable to stand up straight, she strained to get a good glimpse of Him. Then, unexpectedly, He’d called her forward.

I imagine her heart was racing as she slowly shuffled her way to the front of the synagogue.

Why would Jesus single her out of the crowd? Was He going to make a spectacle of her brokenness? Or expose her deepest pain and darkest secrets?

As the crowds around her murmured, each step toward Jesus felt as if she were lugging the weight of the world behind her.

For 18 years, her body had been crippled. Eighteen long, exhausting years.

She certainly had plenty of reasons not to go to the synagogue that Sabbath morning. Why subject herself to the possible harsh stares and hurtful comments? Yet she was there, listening intently to the teachings of Jesus.

She didn’t say a word. She didn’t try to get His attention. She simply stood in His presence, soaking in the life-giving statements that gave her hope in the midst of her hopeless situation.

But Jesus saw her. Jesus had compassion for her. Jesus loved and wanted to heal her. And in one swift statement, those 18 long, exhausting years came to a screeching halt.

“Woman, you are set free from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12b).

With the gentle touch of His hands, warmth flowed through her body, and she suddenly realized she was standing upright. She no longer strained to get a glimpse of Jesus … she now saw Him face to face.

With a burst of joy, bondage gave way to freedom and she exhaled in worshipful praise and adoration to her Lord. Her healer. Her bondage breaker.

Scripture doesn’t tell us her name, but I think we all can relate to this woman in one way or another. Maybe you see a small part of her story that rings true in your own life, connecting you though years separate. Could it be:

  • An ailment that physically restricts your body and makes you feel weak?
  • A spiritual battle keeping you in bondage to the enemy?
  • An unwanted flaw that draws painful attention and hurtful comments from others?
  • A heavy heart filled with shattered dreams and stinging emotions?
  • A burden you carry, causing you to shuffle through life feeling alone, unwanted or disposable?

Whatever has made your life seem long and exhausting, Jesus can repair it by His powerful presence, His comforting words and His healing touch.

He loves you. He longs to be gracious to you. He rises to show compassion so you can stand upright again.

Assured. Secure. Enveloped in His comforting embrace.

You are never lost in the crowd because you have captivated Jesus’ heart. His gaze is always fixed on you.

He sees your pain. He’s aware of your affliction. He knows your struggles.

Like the woman in the synagogue, come as you are — with all that makes you feel less than. Draw near to Jesus, soak in His life-giving Word and wait expectantly to hear Him speak freedom over your situation:

“Woman, you are set free from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12b). Jesus did it for her … and He can do it for you too!

Lord, I come to You today and lay all my burdens at Your feet. Take the emotional and mental weight I’ve been carrying so that I can stand upright again. Draw near to me. Heal me. Free me. I want to live assured, secure and continuously aware of Your loving embrace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Isaiah 30:18, “The LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (NIV)

Psalm 145:14, “The LORD supports all who fall, and lifts up all who are bent over.” (NET)

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
I would’ve loved to see Jesus miraculously heal that precious woman in the synagogue on that Sabbath day. It’s beautiful how her very first response was to praise God. How do you express gratitude for all God has done in your life? What are some things you can praise Him for today?

July 28, 2016

The Least of the Apostles, Chief of Sinners, but Blameless and Righteous

The question is first posed at the blog of Columbus Bible Church:

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”  (1Tim 1:15)

In 1 Timothy 1, Paul says that he is the chief of sinners, but in Philippians 3, Paul indicates that he was blameless concerning the righteous of the law.

“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”  (Php 3:4-6)

How can both of these be true? … [Click the above link to continue reading…]

There’s also a contrast going on between the ritual law and the moral law. Aldopho Serralta points out:

There are many Christians who do not understand correctly what Paul said in Philippians 3:4-6, so they believe he was a perfect man before he became a Christian. This is one of the times where the brothers can see the difficult way of talking of the Apostle to the Gentiles. When what Paul says seems to go against what the rest of the Bible says, we need to find its logic and not believe blindly and without due analysis what he says. In Philippians 3:3-6. Saint Paul says something that cannot be true: that he was blameless.

 4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.                                                                                         (Phil 3:4-6)

If we were to interpret what Paul says without analyzing it, we could reach the false conclusion that Paul was faithfully obedient of all of God’s law, and therefore was irreprehensible. This would happen if we don’t realize that what Paul says here goes against what the Bible says in other passages. The Bible says that there has been none righteous, not one; therefore, Paul can’t say he was blameless. We need to understand one of two things: either Paul is lying or we have to look for what it is he wants to say with the word “law“.

He says that as to the justice that is in the law, he was blameless. Evidently, Paul was not going to lie; therefore, he is talking about the ritual law, of which he was blameless, because as a Pharisee he would make every effort to comply with all the rites, traditions and ceremonies, besides tithing the rue, the dill, the cumin, the mint, etc..

We need to only slightly reason to realize that Paul cannot be talking about God’s law regarding human behavior, because in the same passage he confesses to being a persecutor of the church, like most Pharisees. They murdered Christians without a previous trial, or with rigged trials, and that is not obeying the law of God. They brought in false witnesses, as we can see in Acts 6:13-14 in Stephen’s case and that is against God’s law for human behavior.

Paul himself confesses in Acts 26:10-11 that he forced some prisoners to blaspheme. A man that acted as such could not be a faithful follower of God’s laws for human behavior, but merely a faithful follower of the ritual law. Thus when Paul speaks, and in such it seems to contradict what the rest of the Bible says, we have to analyze what he says. That is the problem with the brothers who misunderstand Paul, attributing to him the abolition of God’s law for human behavior… [you’re encouraged to continue reading…]

The question is then repeated at Bjorkbloggen (in Swedish and English; scriptures are KJV, look them up in an easier to read translation if you prefer):

Romans 7:14 But I am carnal, sold under sin

Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is DEATH 

Hmm, was Paul BOTH carnal and not carnal at the same time, or is he saying the he is carnal and therefore spiritually dead OR is he saying that he was FORMERLY carnal and sold under sin? I’d say the latter.  Paul also said:

 I Cor. 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and SIN NOT 

Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Paul is saying that if you obey sin it leads to DEATH (and naturally spiritual death since all people will die physically whether they sin or not). If Paul was the chief of sinners while writing Romans, it must mean he obeyed SIN and served two masters! The Bible is clear about that  sinning and serving two masters will send a person to hell. So Paul wasn’t saved while writing Romans? How can a person be the chief of sinners and BLAMELESS (which Paul says he is) at the same time? To me that is a Bible contradiction. Paul identified himself as a sinner but the context reveals he was talking about his life BEFORE he came to salvation.

1 Tim. 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Tim. 1:12-16).

When Paul wrote ”I was before a blasphemer and a persecutor” it shows he is writing about the time when he was unsaved in his past. He also said ”I acted ignorantly in unbelief”. Paul is not speaking of the normal Christian life and when comparing with context it’s apparent that Paul didn’t keep on doing those sinful things, as he frequently taught against.

Just a few verses later Paul warned Timoty to have a GOOD CONSCIENCE. He said ”18This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck”. If Paul was the chief of sinners also as a born again christian, then how could he possibly have a good conscience, and how could he possibly expect Timothy to have a good conscience if he fails himself? Can someone be a chief of sinners with a good conscience before God?

Acts 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

Acts. 24:16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.

Rom. 9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost

2 Cor. 1:12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

2 Tim. 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day

Hebr. 13:18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly

Would Paul exhort others to stop sinning when he himself was carnal and sold under sin? Paul says sin dwells in him (Romans 7:17, 20) and he says he is a wretched man (Romans 7:24). Can a person have sin dwelling in him at the same time as he is free of sin? Wouldn’t this be a clear contradiction? Did the chief of sinners write the major part of the NT and ask his readers to stop sinning and to not be hypocrites at the same time as HE was the biggest hypocrite? Paul’s desire is to find someone who can free him from his sins which lead to death (Rom 7:24), and he makes it clear in Rom. 8:2 that the fight he had in the flesh belonged to his former life.  Right after he describes his bondage to sin and the law before he was saved, he says, ”There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” He also said ”IF YE LIVE AFTER THE FLESH YE SHALL DIE. Based on Paul’s own words a person who sins is SPIRITUALLY DEAD, so clearly Paul could not have been the chief of sinners when saying this.

He is speaking in the present tense, but at which present time? Paul is using a mechanism of literature called, Past Perfect with Present Perfect tense. It is when you speak of past events as if it were present tense. There is a transition by first speaking of the past, transferring in present perfect tense, then shifting it back to the actual present…  [I hope you’ll click that link and continue reading…]

 

July 23, 2016

They Forgot

Do Not Forget The Works of the Lord5 He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their ancestors—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.

9 The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows,
turned back on the day of battle;
10 they did not keep God’s covenant
and refused to live by his law.
11 They forgot what he had done,
the wonders he had shown them.
12 He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors
in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and led them through;
he made the water stand up like a wall.
14 He guided them with the cloud by day
and with light from the fire all night.
15 He split the rocks in the wilderness
and gave them water as abundant as the seas;
16 he brought streams out of a rocky crag
and made water flow down like rivers.

17 But they continued to sin against him,
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.
18 They willfully put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God;
they said, “Can God really
spread a table in the wilderness?
20 True, he struck the rock,
and water gushed out,
streams flowed abundantly,
but can he also give us bread?
Can he supply meat for his people?”

In this post at RedeemerNJ.com, Tim Bowditch looks closely at some material from Tim and Kathy Keller on Psalm 78. Click the title below to read at source.

Spiritual Forgetfulness

In their devotional book on the Psalms, The Songs of Jesus, Tim and Kathy Keller serve up a helpful and thought-provoking meditation on Psalm 78. In that psalm, one of the major issues was the forgetfulness of God’s people: “They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them” (v. 11). Failure to remember God’s activity and promises is far from an “innocent” matter in the Psalms, as shown here and in many other places.

Spiritual forgetfulness, according to the Kellers, can cause our growth to stagnate. The antidote “is to have a heart constantly vitalized by deliberate remembering of the costly sacrifice of Jesus.” And is this not a primary purpose of the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper in our congregation? We do it in remembrance of Jesus and his sacrifice on behalf of his people (Luke 22:19). God has accommodated our forgetfulness by giving us this command.

The Kellers include a prayer at the end of their meditation on this portion of Psalm 78, and it’s this prayer that I’d like to elaborate on briefly, a phrase at a time.

Lord, I worry because I forget your wisdom. We know the verse in Philippians 4 about being anxious for nothing, but as often as we remind ourselves of that, the anxiety of life—financial concerns, health worries, family matters: the list is endless—presses in, disrupting our sleep, robbing us of peace, and generally making us miserable. How we need to remind ourselves that worry is caused by forgetting that God is infinitely wise, that he really does know best what we need and has promised to provide it. Worry is an implicit denial of our Father’s all-encompassing wisdom, and a taking on ourselves of a responsibility he never intended us to bear.

  • I resent because I forget your mercy. How does resentment show up for you? For me, it has to do with believing I haven’t gotten what I deserve. And it’s complicated by the observation that someone else has. In other words, God has been kinder to someone else than to me. Think of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. They resented the generosity of the vineyard owner when he paid everyone the same. They forgot that if the owner hadn’t come to them offering work, at a wage they agreed was fair, they’d have had nothing. So they grumbled, and resented. The owner corrected their perspective with these words: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” You and I belong to Jesus, and he has dealt with us better than we deserve, farbetter. We need to be thankful for his mercy, rather than resenting it when others are the recipients.
  • I covet because I forget your beauty. When I first read this, it didn’t immediately connect for me. But the more I thought about it the more sense it made. Forgetting the beauty of Jesus leads to desiring something else I think will satisfy more. If Jesus is the all-satisfying, supremely beautiful Lover of my soul, how can I think that something, or someone, else will be more satisfying or fulfilling than he? I need to continually ask the Lord to give me the heart of David in Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” How do we “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD”? By immersing ourselves in his Word, which is where we see Jesus most clearly.
  • I sin because I forget your holiness. My tendency is to trivialize the holiness of the Lord, which enables me to minimize the seriousness of my sin. I understand on some level that all sin is cosmic treason, as the theologians express it, and that even our culture regards treason as a capital offense. But that isn’t an awareness I keep in the forefront of my mind constantly, as I should. I read recently about a woman who was extremely allergic to peanuts, so much so that when her boyfriend kissed her after eating peanut butter, she actually died. Apart from the death of Jesus on my behalf any sin is punishable by my death. Such is the holiness of God. May we be more continually mindful of this sobering truth.
  • I fear because I forget your sovereignty. We are all subjects of a kingdom; that’s what sovereignty implies. If there’s one who is sovereign, he rules, and that describes God. He rules us and everyone in the world. In this kingdom, the Ruler always gets his way in the end. That’s good news for those of us who are sons and daughters of the King. Nothing happens in this kingdom that’s ultimately outside the control of the King. And he intends, he relentlessly intends, to do good to those who are in his family (Ps. 84:11; cf. Jer. 32:40-41). So fear is bound up in forgetting that our heavenly Father is the sovereign ruler of everything that exists, and ordains everything that happens, and is in it all for our good.

The last line in the Kellers’ prayer is this: “You always remember me; help me to remember you. Amen.” And may all God’s people say, Amen!

April 6, 2016

Resurrection Fact: From Sinner to Saint

•••by Clarke Dixon

Do you feel worthy of the title “saint”? You may be thinking of a saint as someone recognized as special within the Roman Catholic tradition. Or you may be thinking of the word as used of someone who is known to be a very good person. We are thinking more of the word as we find it in many English translations of the Bible where it usually translates a word meaning “holy one.” It is used to refer to every Christian. So do you feel worthy of the title? Do you feel like you fit the description of a saint, a “holy one?”

Though “Saint Clarke” has a nice ring to it, I often do not feel the title is fitting for me. This is especially true during renovations. I am not too handy but my wife thinks I am, and so I sometimes get in over my head during renovations. If you are around me when I am you will discover that I can be far from what you might call a saint. So what are we to do when the Bible calls every Christian  a “saint” but we do not feel worthy? We are not alone in being uncomfortable with a title. Watch for the apostle Paul’s discomfort with his calling and title as he describes Jesus’ resurrection appearances:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:8-9)

So how did the Apostle Paul deal with this title that did not fit comfortably? The first thing Paul does is admit the truth. Indeed, he is not worthy of the title: “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.” Paul does not point to anything about himself that would make him a fine candidate for the job. He points to Jesus: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” This was God’s choice. This was God’s grace. Paul who blew it, knew it:

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

This is far from “I was born this way, so leave me to remain what I am” that we often hear today. This is “by the grace of God I am now something I do not deserve to be and would never be able to become on my own.” When the title of “saint” feels uncomfortable, it is a reminder that  “by the grace of God I am what I am.” Though a sinner from birth, by the grace of God we become saints.

But how is that possible? Paul has already pointed out the answer:

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3,4)

“Christ died for our sins.” That is what enables us to become saints. It is our sin that makes the title of saint uncomfortable, if not impossible to wear. But “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” Which scriptures? They include the prophecies of Isaiah 53. The whole chapter is worth reading, but here is a selection to ponder:

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. . . .
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people. . .
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; . . .
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities . . . .
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors
(Selected from Isaiah 53)

Just as the apostle Paul could not point to himself for his apostleship, but only point to Jesus, so we can only point to Jesus for our sainthood. He is the One who clears away the sin standing in the way of becoming a holy one.

But since Jesus makes our sainthood possible, does this mean sin does not matter, and that we can therefore go on sinning all the while calling attention to our sainthood? First off, notice how different Paul’s activity was from before meeting Jesus to after. He went from persecuting the saints to trying to convince everyone he met that they should become one. There was a big change in Paul’s life. There was repentance.

Paul is the one we often quote when we speak of salvation being by faith and not works. And yet Paul worked hard:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10)

This is not a work to ensure salvation. This is work to ensure salvation is not in vain. This is work God called and enabled Paul to do. Even our works are a sign of God’s grace.

I have a remarkable watch. It is a Pebble smartwatch which does many things including counting steps and tracking sleep. Mind you I was surprised to find out that according to it I slept through an important meeting one day. I can take no credit for this remarkable watch. I did not think of it. I did not invent it. I did not get involved in the engineering of it. I was not involved in the manufacturing of it. I was not involved in the distribution of it. I did not even pay for it. Well I might have paid for it but I did not buy it for it was a Christmas gift. But what I do is wear it. In fact the watch is not very useful if I don’t. This is what salvation is like. We can take no credit for it. It is purely by the grace of God that we are what we are; saints. But we must wear it. We will want to wear it. And at times the clothes of salvation may seem too big for us, but as we keep going and growing in the Spirit, we will grow into them. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, but we are involved, we must wear it.

So you are a Christian and you don’t feel like a saint today? By the grace of God you are what you are, and what you are as a Christian person is a saint. By the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, you will grow into the title, just like Paul did his.

So you are not a Christian and you don’t think the title “saint” could ever apply to you? God has a history of calling the most unlikely of people to become saints. Perhaps that most unlikely person today is you?

by the grace of God


Check out Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon; today’s article is located at this link

November 7, 2015

Kindness Leads You to Repentance

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Romans 2:1 NIV You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

Today’s devotional is from the website ThisIsToday.com which is based on the Today devotional booklets, a daily resource widely circulated in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) that “helps God’s people refresh, refocus and renew their faith through Bible reading, reflection, and prayer.”

Kindness and Repentance

by Henry Kranenburg

Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? — Romans 2:4

Paul says that when I judge someone else’s actions, I am also judging myself. Judging claims to know something about truth, and if I know enough truth to judge someone else, I obviously know that truth for myself too.

That makes sense to me. It would be silly to think that I could point out the greed in someone else and then claim innocence about the greed in my own life. When I was a child, my parents taught me and my sisters to pray with our eyes closed. It took experience to understand that if I told my mom that one of my sisters had her eyes open during prayer, it was obvious that I’d had my eyes open too.

The odd thing is that, like children, we still point out others’ faults and think we can get away with it. So God closes the loophole on our tendency to ignore our own guilt while we place blame on others. God makes us look at ourselves. What God wants here is not a detailed theology of sin and guilt but an understanding that his “kindness is intended to lead [us] to repentance.”

God’s goal is not about catching us pointing fingers at others. It’s about honesty that leads to full life in Jesus. God’s motivation is to save us from destroying ourselves through our sin. God is asking, “Do you see that?”

Prayer

Father God, thank you for your kindness, forbearance, and patience. Thank you for taking me seriously in all that I am and for pointing me to Jesus. In his name, Amen.

 

 

August 22, 2015

Scripture Medley: The Grace of God

grace

Today’s post is entirely scripture, prepared using BibleHub.com, an online Bible resource.

As I slowed down to read through each verse in many different translations, I was very much aware of:

  • Who was speaking (made clear by the reference)
  • Who was the recipient of grace
  • Whether the verse was testimony, instruction, promise or warning
  • The centrality of the theme of grace in scripture

I hope you’ll take some time with this and not rush through…

But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me–and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.
 – I Cor. 15:10 NLT

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ
– I Cor 1:4 KJV

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.
– Titus 2:11 NIV

I do not misapply God’s grace, for if righteousness comes about by doing what the Law requires, then the Messiah died for nothing.
– Galatians 2:21 ISV

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.
– 2 Corinthians 6:1 NLT

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
– 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
– Hebrews 12:15 NLT

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.
– Ephesians 3:7 NIV

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you
– Ephesians 3:2 NIV

Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord;
– Acts 11:23 NASB

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
– Hebrews 2:9 ESV

The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
– Luke 2:40 NASB

We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.
– 2 Corinthians 1:12 NLT


October 8, 2014

God’s Not Fair?

Today regular contributor Clarke Dixon returns with a look at God’s fairness. To read this at source click on the title below.

How Being Fair Can Kill Your Generosity

God's justice and mercyBeing fair can kill our generosity. How so? Because being fair gives us an excuse to not be generous toward those we think do not deserve our generosity. And being ingenious people, we can always find that reason!

But isn’t being fair a good thing? In fact when we are being fair are we not being godly? Let’s take a look at a few examples of where God could have been fair:

  • At the time of the first rebellion. Had God been fair with Adam and Eve they would have not have made it out of Eden alive. Instead of being fair God acted with grace, banishing them from Eden, yes, but not fully from His presence or provision.
  • At the first murder. God could have been fair when Cain killed Abel, taking his life in return. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and made provision for Cain’s protection.
  • When violence was overwhelming the earth. God could have been fair when humanity descended into great violence ending all with a flood. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and saved Noah and family binding Himself to the flourishing of humanity with a covenant promise.
  • When violence continued to flourish despite the second chance. Though promising to not actively destroy humanity, God could have been fair and walked away from humanity allowing for their self-destruction. Instead of being fair He acted in grace and called Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, calling into existence His people who would be a light to the world.
  • When God’s people were in slavery but were really no better than their masters. We know this from the violence that Moses, and of course God, witnessed. God could have been fair and walked away. Instead of being fair He acted with grace, hearing their cries of distress, putting into action a plan of rescue.
  • When God’s people rebelled and worshipped a golden calf at Sinai. God could have been fair and left them alone to die there. Instead of being fair, He acted with grace and far from destroying the nation, He gave them the law to build them up.
  • In the days we read of in Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” instead of sticking to God’s law. God could have been fair and left them victim to the surrounding enemies . Instead of being fair, God acted with grace and anointed judges to rescue the people and get them back on track.
  • When God’s people asked for a king, thereby rejecting God as king. God could have been fair and walked away leaving them to really be like the other nations, lacking His provision and protection. Instead of being fair, God acted with grace and appointed kings, in fact graciously promising that through the line of kings, His Kingdom would come.
  • When the kings and people rebelled against God. God could have been fair, sending a plague or army to wipe the nation out. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and sent prophets to warn and to encourage.
  • When the warnings of the prophets were not heeded. God could have been fair and sent a foreign army to destroy the nation outright. They abandoned their side of the covenant, He could do the same with His. Instead of being fair He acted with grace, allowing the nation to go into exile, but with encouragement to look again for His presence, His rescue.
  • When God Himself came to us in Jesus Christ and then was rejected, mocked, whipped, tried, unjustly condemned and killed. God could have been fair and arrived to condemn. Instead of being fair, He acted with grace. Instead of grasping a sword of judgement, he offered His hands to the nails. And in the single most unfair moment in the history of the world, love reigned supreme.

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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17 NRSV

If God had been fair at any one of these moments, it would have really messed with your salvation, there might even be nothing of you in existence to save. Is God being fair in offering salvation to you? No. He could have been fair and rejected you. But instead of being fair, He acts with grace toward you and offers you life, eternal life, abundant life, reconciliation, mercy, friendship, guidance, protection, provision, and so much more. Instead of being fair, God has been generous.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life (Romans 5:6-10 NRSV emphasis mine)

Are you known as a fair person?

Lord, help us to be more like you, to be known as generous. And to do that, help us lay our zeal for what’s fair at the foot of the cross! Amen.

April 16, 2014

Trusting His Work, Not Our Works (or Lack Thereof)

Confidence in Christ

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
 – II Cor 3:4 ESV

Today I reconnected with Jerry White’s weekly devotional blog, A Disciples Notebook. (If you’ve had a stressful day, turn on your speakers and allow the tension of a busy week to turn toward God’s Spirit.) There were a number of recently posted items here including one by Thomas a Kempis; and one by Andrew Murray; but I thought I would present one here that Jerry wrote himself; though as always you’re encouraged to click through to read at source.

Confidence

A sense of unworthiness rests upon diligent believers as long as they live on earth. Additionally, sinful failures bring shame, disappointment, and disgust. The enemy uses this sense of unworthiness and awareness of sinful failures as a club to beat down God’s sincere children. How can one approach God with any confidence whenever they have these strong negative feelings about themselves?

God’s Word says, Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19, ESV). We do not enter the holy places of His presence by confidence in ourselves. Never! We must always come before our pure, holy Father because of the blood of Jesus. It is His work on the cross and His righteous worthiness given to us that make it possible for us to come before Him with utmost confidence. We should never come before the Lord based on how we feel about ourselves. We may approach Him confidently by faith in Christ and His finished work, never by faith in self and one’s behavior. On your worst day of falling short, or on what you may consider your best day of measuring up, the necessity of approaching God by the blood and name of Jesus is the same. You can come boldly through Jesus Christ.

Our great high priest, the Lord Jesus, triumphantly entered heaven in our behalf. His shed blood fully paid our sins’ debt and silences the Law’s accusations against us. His perfectly righteous life provided the gift of righteousness Holy God requires of us. He lived a completely human life like us, and was agonizingly tempted throughout His life, but He never sinned. Therefore He sympathizes (shares our feeling) with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14-15). Because of this, we can therefore with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16, ESV).

Child of God, you will never be worthy in yourself. You still fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23). You continue to stumble in many ways (James 3:2), whether it be in attitude, word, deed, or neglect. Repentance will be an ongoing necessity in your spiritual walk. Do not let this hinder your approach to your loving Father. He sees you in Christ, His beloved Son (Colossians 3:3). He looks at you with incomprehensible tenderness (John 15:9; 16:26-27). Never does He condemn you (Romans 8:1). Rejoice! You can have confidence before your Father because of who Christ is, what He accomplished for you, and the fact that you are clothed with Him.

Image: Gloria Dei ELC

December 31, 2013

Lord, You Are Forgiving and Good

Today, something totally different: Two reflections on the same verse, one from a women’s blog and one written for men. (You might want to send the link to someone who might wish to subscribe to either one.) We’ll let the women go first, this is edited from the blog Letters from the Loft, which is edited by Julie; today’s feature is by Judy.  Click here to read Asking A God Who Is Eager To Forgive.

When I read my Bible this morning, I was overwhelmed, then very teary.

Psalm 86:5
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.

I know it’s so everybody’s-heard-this-a-thousand-times, but the truth of it hit me today, and I had to visit Strong’s Bible Concordance to see what all is there. (Where Strong’s didn’t have something, I put in my own.) After I read the definitions, I reread the verse. Wow!

Psalm 86:5 Revisited

You are kind, loving, beautiful, desirable, pleasing, joyful, even merry! You are prepared, ready, eagerly waiting for us to ask You to forgive us, so You can send our sins away forever (gosh, I’m getting choked up again, just typing this), as far as the east is from the west (so cool — you can arrive at “north,” you can arrive at “south,” but you can never arrive at “east” or “west”); they’re gone and even You forget them! Your unfailing love and mercy (often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship — thank You, Jesus, for our covenant relationship!) is abundant, exceedingly huge, plenteous to all (who does that leave out?) who call on You.

…who call on You. That’s our part. Somewhere this past week I read, and I think it was in Psalms or Proverbs, that there is a difference between just wailing and actually asking God to help you. Anyone can just wail into space, but only someone who believes or hopes that there is a listening God out there will actually ask Him for help.

This goes for us Christians, too. Sometimes I just wail instead of, with my words, asking Him. By asking, too, it helps by clarifying in my own mind what the problem is and what I want Him to do. If I listen for how to pray, sometimes that in itself helps to solve the problem, usually by changing me!

Then His answer will draw us to Him. This is His heart, and I’m finding it all over the Bible. “Draw near to me and I will draw near to you.” This is what He wants — His kids tucked into Him, trusting, asking, rejoicing in Him. And He wants to take care of us and fix us and make us new and free and abundantly joyful, because He loves us so much!!

Our men’s look at today’s key verse is a devotional sample from the Christianity Today blog, Men of Integrity. Today’s post is an excerpt from a book by Tony Evans.  Click here to read Hope at Halftime.

Key Bible Verse: O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. (Psalm 86:5)

Dig Deeper: Psalm 86

Halftime [in football] is a time to evaluate how things have been going and to decide what adjustments need to be made for the rest of the game.

The first half of any football game is important, but it is not determinative. Numerous teams over the years were ahead at halftime only to eventually lose the game. And numerous teams were losing at halftime, but by the time the game ended, they had turned things around. Until the final whistle is blown, the game is still up for grabs.

The same is true in life. You might be in your first or second quarter or heading into halftime, but if you are still here, the game of life is not over. Your clock is still ticking. There is plenty of life yet to live. Not only that, but your first half doesn’t have to determine the outcome of the game.

Maybe you’ve made mistakes and poor decisions; perhaps you’ve experienced many disappointments and failures. But you are still here. And as long as you’re still here, the whistle has not blown and it is not too late for God to take you straight to the plan he has for you.

—Tony Evans in God’s Unlikely Path to Success

My Response: What hopeful and encouraging message does today’s reading have for me? For my family? For a struggling friend or coworker?


And that wraps up 2013 here at Christianity 201. There is a wealth of devotional material compiled here and I hope you take time to go through past articles, and click through, and then click again to see what those writers have been up to lately.  Your prayers for this online project are both always needed and always appreciated.  Best wishes for 2014.  ~ Paul.

December 6, 2013

Temptation Always Follows a Predictable Pattern

Our blog discovery today was one very similar to what we do here at C201.  Thoughts about God provides two thoughts for the day; based on the links in the right margin, and the pieces I looked at, one is male-authored and the other is female-authored. This is a unique devotional premise, don’t you think?  (I wish I’d thought of it !!)

This one appeared first today, and is by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church.

Change the Way You Think
We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:5 (NCV)

Here’s the secret to temptation: Don’t fight it. Just refocus. Whatever you resist persists.

Did you know that in the Bible, not once are you told to resist temptation? We are told to resist the Devil, and that’s a whole different issue. But the key to overcoming temptation is not to push back. It’s to change your focus.

Whatever gets your attention gets you. The battle for sin always starts in the mind. That’s why the Bible says in Psalm 119:6, “Thinking about your commands will keep me from doing some foolish thing” (CEV). Why? Because if you’re thinking about God’s truth, you’re not thinking about the dumb stuff you could be doing.

Have you ever looked over a cliff and felt like you were being drawn to jump off? Not like a temptation, but like there was this force that was pulling you. It’s because whatever you focus on pulls you.

It’s true in every single area of life — good or bad. If you focus on godly things, it’s going to pull you that direction. If you focus on the stuff that’s at the movies and in magazines, it’s going to pull you that direction. Whatever you focus on gets your attention. Whatever gets your attention is going to get you.

The key is to just change your mind.

Temptation always follows a predictable pattern: attention, arousal, and action. Your mind gets hooked, your mind kicks in, and then you act on it.

So you don’t fight a temptation; you just turn your mind to something else. “We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NCV).

The thing is, we’re not very good at capturing every thought and turning it to Christ, because it takes lots of practice. You can’t always control your circumstances, and you can’t even always control the way you feel. But you can control what you think about. That’s always your choice. And if you change the way you think, it changes the way you feel, and that will change the way you act.

Talk It Over
– What do you spend your time thinking about? Where does your mind wander when you’re not focused on something specific?
– How can you train yourself so that it is more natural for you to focus on God’s Word and truths instead of the things of this world?

You can comment on this devotional online at:
http://thoughts-about-god.com/blog/2013/12/06/rw_change-the-way-you-think/

Their women’s voice for the day was Claire Colvin:

God Will Not Waste Your Life
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” 1 Peter 1:3-4

What strikes me about this verse is the phrase “a living hope.” It’s not a future hope; it’s a hope that is with us right now. We were utterly lost, condemned to die, and through Jesus we’re reborn to hope and life eternal.

I lose sight of that sometimes. In the midst of an ordinary day I forget that I have this incredible hope. When I feel weak, forgotten, worn out or left behind it’s often because I’ve taken my eyes off of the hope that Jesus bought for me on the cross.

I love the chorus in Chris Tomlin’s version of “Amazing Grace.”

My chains are gone,
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace.”

What a picture of hope! This is a big part of the “life to the full” that Jesus talks about in John 10:10. It’s not a life we just hope might somehow count for something. It’s life as a forgiven child of God, fashioned for a purpose. It’s the assurance that God will not waste your life. How will you live in this hope today?

Thank you God for giving me a living hope. Whatever has happened in the past, whatever might lie ahead in the future, Your hope will be there to redeem and renew. You are the reason for the joy that I have. You are my peace and my portion and my shield forever. Help me to cling to Your hope and not to my own understanding. In Your name I pray, amen.

Take Action: Take a close look at the thoughts that are running through your head today. Are they thoughts of hope or worry? comfort or sadness? Take these thoughts to God. Thank Him for ransoming you and ask Him to focus your mind on the living hope that is yours today.

You can comment on this devotional online at:
http://thoughts-about-god.com/blog/2013/12/06/cc_god-will-not-waste-your-life/

May 31, 2013

When Grace is Given Selectively

To paraphrase a popular saying, “All people in the church are given grace equally, but some grace is more equal than others.” Do you ever feel that way? That certain issues are elevated while discussion of others is suppressed? Mark at the blog Attempts at Honesty deals with this in a blog post titled Selective grace in the church

Grace is a word that Christians frequently use, too often glibly and without proper thought. For example, I have been in several churches with Grace in their titles who offered very little of it to the people who attend.

We all want grace, but sometimes struggle to give it when it is most needed. Perhaps this is why Jesus placed such an emphasis upon forgiveness, going so far as to say that He will not forgive those who refuse to forgive others (Matthew 6:15). Offering grace must be intentional and is sometimes difficult because it goes against our natural inclination.

What is even more bothersome to me is that in some churches, selective grace is offered. Selective grace is in operation when some people receive grace and others do not. Often this is due to the background of the person who needs grace.

In a denomination that I formerly attended many of the pastors would often refer to their drug abuse in their “B.C.” days. They would use their former behavior as an illustration of God’s grace, and rightly so. They did indeed receive grace and despite their past failures God uses them in ministry.

The problem comes in when some other sins are less likely to receive grace. In some churches, those who have experienced divorce, those who struggle with same sex attraction, those with mental illness and those who might disagree on minor points of doctrine receive anything but grace. Even in that denomination with the formerly drug addled pastors, selective grace was a struggle and some people were treated in a manner inconsistent with grace.

Let’s be honest and admit that sometimes we encounter Christians who make us uncomfortable. If we do not make a conscious effort to build bridges with those who make us feel uncomfortable, then we are likely to withhold grace from them.

Some make us uncomfortable because of their background or lifestyle. It is as if we want everyone cleaned up completely after becoming a believer. The problem is that we are all in the process of being cleaned up, yet sometimes we hold others to a standard we can not meet.

I have been in churches where those who came out of a “sinful” lifestyle continued to be suspect, no matter how they progressed in their relationship with Jesus or their understanding of Scripture. Sexual sins in particular seem to put people on the suspect list. I have also known of churches where divorce was treated as if it was the unpardonable sin.

Perhaps even worse than this is to withhold grace over a difference in belief or practice. Examples of some issues over which we might withhold grace are these:

  • How the gifts of the spirit are manifested
  • How prophetic portions of Scripture are to be interpreted
  • Whether a person is liberal or conservative in their politics
  • The preference or abhorrence of liturgy in the worship service

This is not an exhaustive list, we could find many more issues over which Christians have divided.

We cannot be selective in how we demonstrate the grace of God in our lives. We need to follow the example of Jesus in the way he was gracious to everyone, including the Pharisees. Ephesians 2:8-9 is often quoted as indicating that we are saved by grace, yet the verses preceding verse 8 set the correct context.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:1–9, ESV)

Apart from Christ, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. In other words, we crossed boundaries that should not be crossed and we fell short of the standard we know was in place. Yet, God gave us grace, the very grace that saves us.

How can we do anything less than offer that same grace to others? We must put an end to selective grace.

Read more at Attempts at Honesty: What Nehemiah Can Teach Us About Apologetics.

May 19, 2013

We’re Not Saved by Works, But Works Happen

The biggest myth that Christ followers need to combat is the idea that by doing things for God, we merit or earn eternal life. Even among people who have spent a lifetime immersed in churches where the message of grace is preached, there are people who, if you ask them, will tell you that they will spend eternity with God because of what they did.

Ephesians 2 contains two verses familiar to many of us:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV)

But someone will say, “But what about James 2:24?” That’s the verse many of us memorized as “Faith without works is dead.” The variety of translations we usually utilize here doesn’t clear this verse up because a good translation won’t interfere with what the original text actually says. Clarification of difficult passages is for footnotes, commentaries and Bible handbooks. But the CEV tries to provide us with the verse in a way that doesn’t trip us up vis-a-vis the Ephesians passage.

24 You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe.

Or moving from the CEV to the CEB:

24 So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone.

which is almost word-for-word the same as the NLT.

But the other translations use words like “justified,” or “made right,” which implies a works based salvation.

It must be difficult to be a Bible translator — trying to stay loyal to the reading of a particular Greek section — but knowing the whole compendium of scripture and, in this case, knowing that salvation is a work of grace.  Here’s how the NCV approaches an earlier verse (italics added):

22 So you see that Abraham’s faith and the things he did worked together. His faith was made perfect by what he did.

The Reformation Study Bible notes:

None of our deeds are worthy of ultimate justification in the sight of God. Only the merit of Christ avails for that kind of justification. Only by trusting in Christ alone can we be made righteous in the sight of God. Here James attacks all forms of antinomianism that seek to have Jesus as Savior without embracing Him as Lord.

…I think a good passage to bring into this discussion is one that isn’t usually considered in this context, the story of the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and washes his feet with her hair in Luke 7: 36-50.  I’m going to assume that most people reading this know that story, but if not, click the link.

A parable about a debtor is taught within the narration of this story, the point of which is to show to Simon, the host of the party, as to how grace plays out in the real world. The conclusion is:

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (NLT)

47 This woman has been forgiven much, and she is showing much love. But the person who has shown little love shows how little forgiveness he has received. (The Voice)

Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.” (The Message)

Works flow naturally, organically out of the overflow of the heart. Works are response to what we already received by grace, by faith. If a person isn’t finding some area of response to God, I think we’re safe in questioning the authenticity of their faith experience. 

Is your Christian service a laborious exercise done out of obligation, or is it a joy-filled response of a recipient of a level of grace that you know you could never deserve?

March 21, 2013

The Vulnerability of God

The Parable of the Lost Son – Luke 15 (NIV)

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.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living….

…17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ ,,,

…“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.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate…

Today’s reading is an excerpt from a sermon by a radical Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Radical is a bit of an understatement; you can read more about her and watch a video of her speaking to a youth rally at this Thinking Out Loud article from last July.   Nadia blogs at The Sarcastic Lutheran, where you can not only read today’s full text, but also listen to this brief sermon (about ten minutes) on audio. To do both, click here.  Nadia begins with a story of a time she thought her child was missing; and continues…

…[I]t’s vulnerable to have a child.  To create or adopt a child is to leave yourself vulnerable to a broken heart in the way nothing else can.  Which is why I started wondering this week about the vulnerability of God.

There is much talk out there about the strength of God and the mightiness of God and the awesomeness of God.  But what of the vulnerability of God?

That God would breath into dust and create us in God’s own image….that God would bring humanity into being as God’s own beloved children was to leave God’s self vulnerable to a broken heart in a way nothing else could have. What a risk God took creating us. Giving us enough freedom to be creators and destroyers.  Giving us enough freedom for us to make a mess of everything and act as our own Gods and to also trust in God and love each other…

…I’ve always heard this parable, one of the most famous stories in the Gospel, titled the Parable of the Prodigal son.  But out of everything we could say this story is about – why do we say it’s about the wasteful extravagance of the younger son? Why is that the focus when it’s not even that interesting?

I mean, It’s actually common for young people to leave home, waste their lives and their money for awhile until they have no other option but to come home to the parents they didn’t treat very well when they were leaving in the first place. Maybe we make this a story about the wasteful stupidity of the younger son because it’s a story we are more familiar with than the alternative, which is this: if the word prodigal means wasteful extravagance, then isn’t it really the story of the prodigal father?

Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the Father to give his children so much freedom?  Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the Father to discard his dignity and run into the street toward a foolish and immature son who squandered their fortune? Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the father to throw such a raging party for this kind of wayward son?

But, see, I love that kind of grace.

I personally love that Jesus tells this story of the prodigal father in response the to Pharisee’s indignation that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and prostitutes because, when it comes down to it, give me a church filled with awful sinners over a church filled with pious Pharisees any time.

Some of us might find the grace the father shows to the younger son to boarder on offensive, but the thing that really gets me in this story is how wastefully extravagant the Father is toward the older son.  The kid who never left him.  The one who has always done everything right.  The kid who is clean cut and went to college right out of high school and came back to work in his father’s business.  The kid who always signs up to do jobs at synagogue but resentfully notices all the slackers who show up and never help at all.  The kid who feels entitled. The kid who can’t stomach going into a party to celebrate the return of his screw-up of a brother.  I can’t stand that older brother even as I cringe at the ways I may be a little bit like him.  You know what’s wastefully extravagant in my book?: the fact that the Father says to that kid “all that is mine is yours”.

What risk God takes on us. Children who waste everything in dissolute living.  Children who begrudge grace being extended to people who so clearly don’t deserve it. But this is a risk born of love. God risks so much by loving us which is why, tonight anyway,  I prefer calling this the Parable of the Prodigal Father.

Because it is here we see that your relationship to God is simply not defined by your really bad decisions or your squandering of resources.  But also your relationship to God is not determined by your virtue.  It is not determined by being nice, or being good or even, and I struggle with this, but it’s not even determined by how much you do at church.  Your relationship to God is simply determined by the wastefully extravagant love of God.  A God who takes no account of risk but runs toward you no matter what saying all that is mine is yours. Amen.

Related posts at C201:

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