Christianity 201

July 17, 2019

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

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

James 2:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 25, 2019

A Compelling God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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How the Justice and Mercy of God Point to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

Is the God we meet in the Bible a God of justice? In being gracious and merciful, does God turn a blind eye to sin and injustice, and say “I don’t care”? We often care about justice and have concern for those who experience injustice. Shouldn’t God? If a worldview or religion is to be compelling, then won’t it point to the importance of justice? Indeed a God that has no concern for justice is a God that does not love. If God is love, we will expect God to be perfect in his justice.

So is the God of the Bible a God of justice?

We are introduced to the theme of justice very early in the Bible;

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know, ” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Genesis 4:9-10 (NIV)

We can assume that the blood of Abel was crying out, metaphorically speaking, to God for justice. Not too further along in the Old Testament we hear another cry for justice;

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Exodus 2:23-25

Someone has pointed out that the Hebrew for the last part simply says “God saw the Israelites. He knew.” He knew they were experiencing injustice. Justice for Israel meant judgement for Egypt. In the plagues the Egyptians found out what it was like to be picked on. The death of the firstborn males in the final plague mirrors the deaths of the Israelite male infants at the hands of the Egyptians. One is reminded of the Biblical “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Justice is held up as important.

We also find in the Book of Exodus a concern for God’s people becoming a just society. The Book of Exodus moves at a very quick pace until the people reach Mount Sinai and everyone, and everything, comes to a stop. The fast paced action ends and suddenly we find ourselves reading about various legal matters, such as, what should happen if your ox gores someone. It is often said that as Christians, we are not under the old covenant, we are under the new covenant. This is true, but we should also point out that as Canadians we are not under the old covenant law, we are under Canadian law. So if your neighbour’s ox gores your friend, do not wave a Bible in their face, call the police! In these civic laws, given to a specific people at a specific time, God is ensuring that the people He just rescued from the injustices of Egypt can themselves become a just society. If those laws seem like a tedious read, try reading the Canadian law books! Both are important for the existence of a just society.

In many ways, the laws given to Israel signalled a step forward from other ancient societies with regards to justice. There were laws to ensure that no one goes hungry, that the vulnerable were taken care of, that foreigners were treated fairly, and that no child was sacrificed for religious purposes as was happening in surrounding societies. Indeed, the justice of God rings throughout the entire Bible.

While I originally planned on the title of this to be “Compelling Justice,” I had to go with “Compelling God” instead. Why? Because in Jesus the justice of God and the mercy of God come together in a beautiful and compelling way. Consider:

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
  But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
  We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)

For God to be considered just, sin must be punished. Sin cannot simply be wafted away as being unimportant. Yet for God to be considered merciful, our sin must be lifted from us somehow, for no one is without sin. There can be no future in God’s presence for us without mercy. In Christ, God has taken away our sin and yet punished it at the same time. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Keeping in mind that Jesus is God the Son, God Himself has been both merciful and just by bearing the punishment we deserve.

In this bringing together of justice and mercy, Christianity is unique among all the religions of the world. As Peter points out in a sermon in Acts,

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (NIV)

Salvation is found in no one else because there is no one else who could bring justice and mercy together as God has done in Christ. There is no one else who could have done for us what God Himself has done for us.

God is consistent in his justice and mercy. The Old Testament is a record of people experiencing the justice and mercy of God. The New Testament is a record of people experiencing the justice and mercy of God. God will be experienced as a God of both perfect justice and mercy in the future.

What will be the focus in your future? Will you experience the justice of a merciful God? He will not force you to spend eternity with Him if that is not something you want. He will do the right thing, the just thing. No one will say “that is not fair” when He sends those who reject Him away from His presence. Of course, God is merciful and it does not need to end that way. Will you experience the mercy of a just God? On our own merit, we do not deserve to spend eternity with God. Yet “by his bruises we are healed.” God will do a really good thing. He will show mercy, yet it will be consistent with his just nature.

Any religion that presents God as either all justice, and no mercy, or all mercy and no justice, is not compelling. Any religion that presents God as either lacking justice, or lacking mercy, is not compelling. The God we meet in the Bible, in revealing Himself supremely  in Jesus, shows Himself to be the God of perfect justice and perfect mercy. This is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


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

April 11, 2019

Compelling Grace

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

Let us first go to the Old Testament.

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

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

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

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

Second, let us consider Jesus.

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

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

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

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

Paul teaches about grace Ephesians 2:1-10;

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

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

So how does God relate to us?

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

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


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

 

February 15, 2019

Mercy in the Middle of Judgment

This is our second visit to the site, Life Walk With Marlene. Click the header below to read this at source.

Re-Discovering God’s Mercy

Exodus 9:31 (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they ripen late.)

I have read the 10 plagues more than 10 times and this reading is the first time that I noticed this verse. What does this verse imply?

I realise that even in God’s powerful sovereignty, there is still mercy. Even when the hail struck every man and beast and tree in the land (vv.24-25), the wheat and spelt were not destroyed. Spelt is an old kind of wheat with bearded ears and spikelets that each contain two narrow grains, not widely grown but favoured as a health food.

As I read through the last 6 plagues, I wonder if anyone died in the first 9. Only in the last plague was recorded that people died. Amidst all the calamities that God sent to Egypt, He was merciful to them – giving chances again and again for Pharaoh to set the people free. Even when God knew that Pharaoh would go back on his word, God still stopped the plague each time Pharaoh asked Moses to intercede for them. We often thought but it was said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – so how He could count it against Pharaoh? Did Pharaoh know that? Did he not have a choice? God knew his pride and hardened heart, yet and so God gave him 9 chances to change his mind. In all the 10 plagues, God’s purpose was to reveal himself – that you may know I am the Lord. (7:17, 9:16, 10:1-2)

I am reminded of what I learned in our Old Testament 1 class. We often let our familiarity of/with the Bible hinder us from new discoveries and lessons to learn. The 10 plagues in Exodus are so familiar that I can memorise all of them (though never tried to remember their particular order except the 1st and the last.) The professor said that when she was studying at a certain school, some of her classmates who were not as familiar with the Bible sometimes shared fresh and new perspectives from reading certain bible passages.

I have read through the entire Bible for the past few years and still there are new lessons to learn even for the same passages read many times. The Holy Spirit helps us to read and understand and apply what we read. We just need to persist and disciplined ourselves to read the Bible regularly with a desire to know God more and apply Biblical truths in our daily living. Sometimes I get lazy, I get complacent and I falter. I read for the sake of reading. Still I continue. It might be an up and down journey but God persists – He does not let me go. So dear friends, just keep reading the Bible.

When life is not easy and God is still merciful. There is something new in the old; a fresh truth to hold in the familiar trials of life. God’s mercies are new every morning.


After we’d formatted today’s devotional, we realized it was shorter than many we run, so we decided to give you a double feature from the same author. The title of this one may intrigue you. These were several days apart, but both are rooted in the book of Exodus.


Mr. Christian, A.T.L.C.

I’ve been reading from Exodus all the details of making the Tabernacle and all the things in it. Once from the instructions of the Lord for the Israelites what to give, what to do and how to do (Exo. 25-28) a second time – a narration of all the people did. (Exo. 36-40)

I wondered what is there for me to take away from all the details in the description and construction of this grand project. But one phrase kept coming up: ATLC

As the Lord commanded… as the Lord commanded Moses/him…

1) Moses was a good listener. He listened attentively and correctly to all of God’s instructions.
2) Moses was a good teacher. He passed on God’s instructions accurately for the people to execute.
3) The people were good followers. They did all that were needed as the Lord commanded.

Applications:
A good listener listens attentively but more importantly, listens with discernment and understanding from the One true source of knowledge and wisdom.

A good teacher teaches diligently making sure the instructions are carried out to the last detail. A good teacher sows not just knowledge but reaps actions and results from the application of the knowledge.

A good follower listens and does as instructed. He hears, he listens and he works with his hands.

Mr. XXX M.D.; Ms. YYY Ph.D.; Mr. ZZZ D.M.D. I always wonder what all the letters after the doctor’s name mean. I surmise that the more letters, the more degrees, the more expertise, the more accomplishments, the more prestigious.

What a different and more impactful Christian witness the world would have if Christians were to have ATLC at the end of their names… not just letters but the spirit of the letters that form the words As the Lord commanded!

How do we know then that ATLC is as what it should be?

Exodus 40
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

In the Old Testament, the cloud represents God’s presence. The glory of the Lord refers to His presence – it signifies that God is living among them – right in their midst, in their company.

God’s presence
The cloud covered… A covering that encompassed and surrounded all of my being… The cloud settled… A settling – lasting and staying presence that continuously guides my doing…

Is God present in my life? Am I aware that He sees, He hears, He listens, He covers and He settles?

God’s glory
The glory of the Lord filled… A filling that leaves no space for anything else… a filling that overflows so that nothing else occupies… no vacuum… no emptiness

Does God’s glory shine through in my being and doing? Do my words and actions point people to God?

Let me ask myself… Ms. Christian ATLC… how are you doing?

Dear Holy Spirit, help me today to be and do as the Lord commands. Amen


Previously by the same author:

January 28, 2019

God in Your Life Losses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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We’re returning today — for the 14th time — to the site, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. This has been a great source of excellent articles for us and I hope you’ve taken an opportunity to visit the page and read more. Please click the link below to read this one at source.

God Speaks Life Into Your Loss

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. (Psalm 119:150)

Scripture heals. It ministers grace to your deepest hurts, since it is the voice of the one who created and redeemed you.

In the beginning, the voice of God brought the universe into existence—brought life out of nothing. “God said” and it was so (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Now the voice of God revives your soul. The writer of Psalm 119 experienced this inner rejuvenation. In the midst of his “affliction,” the warmest comfort came from the words of God which give “life.” Earlier in the psalm, he affirmed the same:

“Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors. My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:24-25)

Loss brings sadness. In turn, sadness sometimes stalls and cracks open the door to depression. Sometimes suddenly. Most often it’s gradual, even unnoticed. Either way, you need help from God. In the middle of your thick fog you need the piercing light of divine truth to break through and speak words of grace and comfort to your hurting soul. So, you can pray something like this:

“Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.” (Psalm 119:77)

Or this:

“Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.” (Psalm 119:143)

When the trials of life drain every ounce of spiritual, physical, and emotional energy from you, God’s Word will be your strength. It ministers to your deepest agonies, and helps you gain eternal perspective.

You can receive strength by appreciating the testimony of others, like Paul: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” is a healing balm (Romans 8:18). Or, again, David: “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” is a testimony of persevering grace (Psalm 119:92).

Scripture heals because God has spoken. But Scripture still speaks. It is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). In Scripture, the living Word of God—Jesus, the Man of Sorrows—speaks. As you meditate on the Bible, the Spirit speaks life-giving words into that part of you that feels like it died along with your loss.

How about opening your Bible, and inviting the Lord to speak healing truth?

November 26, 2018

In The Eye of the Beholder

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

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

Love and Beauty

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

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

We all know the verse from John’s gospel that states; “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3:16 (KJV)] but I would like to amplify the word “world” to include; “every living person ever been born or even aborted; every weak, suffering, sickly soul, every Down’s Syndrome person, every child with cleft lip, every person regardless of age that is abandoned, abused, beaten, sexually or verbally assaulted and every soul ravaged by sin or tormented by Satan. Despite all of this, God still sees something in us because we were created in His image; “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: [Genesis 1:26 (KJV)] but it doesn’t stop there; He also says that; “You saw me before I was born…”[Psalm 139:16 (TLB)]

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

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

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

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

 

November 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.

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