Christianity 201

December 5, 2020

When Communion Sunday Meets Advent

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.  “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!
 – John 12: 25,27 NLT

As I type this, tomorrow is the second Sunday of Advent, but it’s also Communion Sunday among churches which observe the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month. So which is more important: Christmas or Easter?

The Billy Graham Association website notes:

Both are equally important, because both were an essential part of God’s plan. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter—and without Easter, Christmas wouldn’t matter.

It’s true. The birth of a baby in an inconsequential Jerusalem suburb would hardly be worth noting if were not for the events which followed. And the death of a self-proclaimed Messiah might not have earned a place in history were it not for the events which preceded it, which includes what turns out to be a somewhat miraculous birth.

As simple as that seems, I think it’s something that Christians need to own to a greater degree. I say that because in a search for the phrase, “There’s no Christmas with Easter and…” etc., all of the page one search results directed readers to a quotation by a former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormon) and some of its related websites. While the sentiment is true, I would like to have seen more mainstream Christian expressions of that truth on page one.

Or in these words, as we put it this time last year:

There’s no incarnation without atonement.
There’s no atonement without incarnation.

As I looked at that article again, I felt I should just continue where it led us a year ago:

…There are key scripture passages associated with this time of year that answer the questions as to how Christ came into the world. The incarnation is key to Christian belief, so we need to define that. There are verses that explain where Christ came into the world. There are verses that explain who was around when Christ came into the world. But we need to get past the “Linus” verses — the verses that Linus in the Peanuts television special quotes from memory to Charlie Brown — and think about why Christ came into the world.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

If you’re on social media, you know the phrase Direct Messaging. After years of speaking through the prophets, God decides it is time to send a DM, not only to his followers, but to all humankind.

John 6 gives us more details:

 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Verses 33 and 38-39 are key: Jesus comes to give life, and to see the salvation (although the word isn’t used here) of His children on the last day

…The Apostle Peter talks about how angels longed to see the day when salvation would be offered in a new way:

1Peter1.3 …It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

As Jesus calls his first disciples, he ushers in this new way, an intersection of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm

Mark 1:15 The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

and urges his disciples this is the message they are to proclaim:

Matt.10.7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

For churches where the Eucharist/Communion intersects with Advent/Christmas, the key is not to say, ‘How do I deal with this awkward placement of two very different parts of our church calendar?’ but rather to meet the convergence head on by noting that the gathering around The Lord’s Table begins with the gathering around the manger to look at the promised child; and the gathering around the baby in the manger is the beginning of the path to the gathering in the upper room where “on the night he was betrayed, he took bread and broke it and said ‘This is my body…'”

Both of which lead to a gathering around another table, a banquet table we’ve yet to experience.

 

December 25, 2019

A Devotional for those who Don’t Celebrate Christmas

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” – Isaiah 7:14

Increasingly among people with whom I come in contact, are those who, while they are committed followers of Jesus, do not celebrate Christmas in any form. After a half hour of discussing many faith related topics, one such individual reminded me, “We don’t do Christmas.”

In many ways these people have my sympathies. Let’s face it:

  • We can be almost 100% sure the date is incorrect.
  • There is no denying that many aspects of Christmas (and Easter) have their roots in pagan festivals taking place at the same time(s).
  • The commercialization of Christmas is rampant; a celebration of materialism and greed more than Jesus; something which we should all grieve.

That said however, in my personal life I find that with each passing year:

  • I am not celebrating the birth of the baby I came to know in Sunday School, but I am celebrating the notion of incarnation, the idea of God with us.
  • I am continuing to marvel at the grand story arc of scripture; a redemptive plan that was set in motion long before Adam took his first breath.
  • I am increasingly aware of God’s invitation to experience intimacy with him; that this is a God who can be known.

The story arc ends with God and mankind in absolute, unclouded, undistracted fellowship. Revelation 21:3

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.”

But eternal life with God starts now. John 1:14 states:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

In the first part of that verse, Eugene Peterson famously renders it as

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.

Biblical commentators take this one step further and say, “God pitched his tent among us” as a shepherd would among the sheep in his care. Also, the comparison here between tent and the tabernacle of the Hebrew scriptures is not to be overlooked, and the appearance of tabernacle above in the verse from Revelation.

This is amazing! Marvelous! Beyond our scope or imagination!

While this is an Old Testament quotation, I believe it expresses God’s heart throughout time, Ezekiel 37:27:

I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

There are, I suppose many ways in which Jesus might have come among us, however he chooses to live, 100% completely, the reality of human experience beginning from birth; birth in an obscure place, at an obscure time, in less than ideal conditions (in so many ways.)

While you might not do Christmas, my prayer is that each day contains reminders of the reality of God with us.

God’s revelation to humankind in the incarnation is a cause for celebration, not on December 25th, but every day of the year.


– today’s scriptures are NLT


In case you missed it from Monday: There’s no incarnation without atonement.

December 23, 2019

There’s No Christmas Without Easter

Or, if you prefer,

There’s No Incarnation Without Atonement

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)

I decided today to look at several things that were posted here during the first Christmas season of writing C201. I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service just days away. Then she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Hastily going through the files, we discovered that a short medley we’d done for 15 years prior. It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die. There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

There are key scripture passages associated with this time of year that answer the questions as to how Christ came into the world. The incarnation is key to Christian belief, so we need to define that. There are verses that explain where Christ came into the world. There are verses that explain who was around when Christ came into the world. But we need to get past what I call the “Linus” versus — the verses that Linus in the Peanuts television special quotes from memory to Charlie Brown — and think about why Christ came into the world.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

If you’re on Twitter, you know the phrase Direct Messaging. After years of speaking through the prophets, God decides it is time to send a DM, not only to his followers, but to all humankind.

John 6 gives us more details:

33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Verses 33 and 38-39 are key: Jesus comes to give life, and to see the salvation (although the word isn’t used here) of His children on the last day.

In addition to bread, the gospel of John is filled with other images. such as light:

John 3:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

The Apostle Peter talks about how angels longed to see the day when salvation would be offered in a new way:

1Peter1.3 …It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

As Jesus calls his first disciples, he ushers in this new way, an intersection of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm

Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

and urges his disciples this is the message they are to proclaim:

Matt.10.7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

Announcing the kingdom also is mentioned at the outset of Christ’s ministry, in his inaugural sermon:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

These verses should begin our thinking as to why Jesus came, but trying to encapsulate everything in a short article is impossible. So multifaceted was — and is — the ministry of Jesus Christ that our words cannot contain the whole of it.

It’s so much more than a baby’s birth, and as mentioned above, while summaries of the gospel are challenging, I want to close with Bruxy Cavey’s “Gospel in 30 words.”

Jesus is God with us, come to

• show us God’s love,
• save us from sin,
• set up God’s kingdom, and
• shut down religion,

so we can share in God’s life.


Note: We’ll continue this theme tomorrow with 15 reasons why Jesus came.

December 26, 2018

Did the Birth of Christ Commence a New Dispensation?

For today’s thoughts, we’re turning to two different articles at a site we’ve visited before, The Christian Courier. Click the individual titles to read each in full. Both articles are by Wayne Jackson.

What is the difference between Bible dispensations and the doctrine of dispensationalism?

What Is a Bible Dispensation?

The Greek word oikonomia is rendered “dispensation” several times in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col. 1:25).

Sometimes the word suggests the idea of managing a household and is rendered as “stewardship” (Lk. 16:2, 3, 4; 1 Cor. 9:17). On other occasions, the word implies a plan that has been arranged (Eph. 1:10; 3:9). The term may suggest appropriate training in divine instruction (1 Tim. 1:4).

In popular usage, the word dispensation often refers to a period of time. In Bible parlance, it frequently refers to the major epochs of time in which God has operated in implementing the plan of redemption.

The Patriarchal Dispensation

The Patriarchal Dispensation extended from the creation to the commencement of the Mosaic period, at which point God selected the Hebrews as a special people through whom he would send the Christ (Gen. 12:1ff; Dt. 7:6).

In the patriarchal age, God spoke to man through select prophets. Worship was administered by the fathers of each family (cf. Job 1).

The Mosaic Dispensation

The Mosaic Dispensation began at Sinai, when Jehovah gave the law of Moses to the Hebrews. By doing so, he separated them from the other nations of the world as his own special people. They would be a redemptive tool preliminary to the sending of his Son (Gal. 3:24-25; 4:4).

Only Israel was under this code. The balance of humanity remained under the patriarchal system. The Mosaic religion was terminated at the cross (Col. 2:14ff). It ended in a political sense with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The Christian Dispensation

The Christian Dispensation began on the day of Pentecost and will be terminated at the return of Christ (Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 2:44; Joel 2:28-30; 1 Cor. 15:24-26). At that point, the eternal order of all things will be set.

Note that the author asserts that The Christian Dispensation is beginning at Pentecost, not at Christ’s Birth.

at this point the article continues to address the issue in its title, concerning the doctrine of Dispensationalism. Since that’s not part of our discussion today, let’s look at the second article.

Are the Gospels a Part of the New Testament?

“The law and the prophets were until John …”

The New Testament is perfectly clear in its teaching that, commencing with the ministry of John the Immerser, a new era of instruction was being progressively implemented by divine authority. This time frame constituted a transitional period. During these days, certain instructions pertaining to the coming kingdom of Christ were taught by the Lord and his apostles. Of course, the formalities of the Mosaic regime were still in force technically, and would remain so until the Law was finally “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14; cf. Eph. 2:14-15).

For example, Jesus declared: “The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man enters violently into it” (Lk. 16:16)…

The New Birth: Old Testament or New Testament?

To contend that the teaching within the Gospel accounts is not applicable to those of the Christian age would reflect a manifest absurdity. Christ taught, for example, that men must satisfy the conditions of the “born again” operation in order to enter the kingdom (Jn. 3:3-5).

That this process had an after-Pentecost application is obvious from the following facts. The Lord’s kingdom did not arrive until Pentecost (Mk. 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:4), and the saints of the post-Mosaic period throughout the Middle East had undergone this “birth” procedure in obtaining their salvation (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1-2).

Hence, the “new birth” procedure taught by Christ in the “Gospels” had a post-Gospels application.

“Tell it to the church”

Then consider the following admonition from the Son of God.

“And if your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone: if he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he hears you not, take with you one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church: and if he refuses to hear the church also, let him be unto you as the Gentile and the publican (emphasis added).”

Here is a context that can have no application until the day of Pentecost and the establishment of the church. This fact alone destroys the baseless assertion that nothing in the Gospel narratives is applicable after the advent of the Christian age (unless repeated in Acts through Revelation)…

Again note the terms “progressive” and “transitional.” With the birth of Christ, something new is stirring, but it has yet to be revealed until Jesus begins his earthly ministry, and it comes to fruition at Pentecost, the birth of the Church.

 

 

September 2, 2018

A Meditation on Labor (Day Weekend)

The Message Romans 12.1 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (italics added)

This is the Labor Day Weekend in Canada and the United States. Ruth wanted to find some worship content having to do with the theology of work, only to discover that, from a worship leader’s perspective, there isn’t much out there. The second verse below, which some of you know better as, “Do everything as unto the Lord;” is a reminder that our worship life toward God is holistic. We don’t worship only on Sundays or only in song, but we can make elements of what Eugene Peterson (in the quotation above) calls our “everyday, ordinary life” an offering to God.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Labor Day is part of a weekend that historically stands to celebrate and honor workers and those who have worked to humanize working conditions. Part of that celebration, aptly enough, is a day off work. (And all God’s people said, “Woohoo!”)

And while everybody likes a day off, there’s more to work than just obligation born of necessity.

The God who created us modeled us after himself.

This is a God who imagines and designs and builds.

A God who plants and grows and provides.

Who teaches and directs and supervises.

Who looks after animals and cares for people.

And he put within us the same inclinations and capacities as exist in himself.

Whether we’re earning a wage, or just helping a neighbor in need, our work is a gift from the Father who loves us and made us to be like Him.


In the beginning, The LORD put the man in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Then God brought to the man every wild animal and every bird of the sky, so the man could give them all their own names.

In the same way, whatever work you do, do it willingly, with all your heart – working for the Lord, and not only for a human boss.

The soul of the lazy one craves everything and gets nothing…

But the wise one rises early, providing food for her household and jobs for her workers.
She studies, and invests, and makes an honest profit;
She wraps herself in strength, because her arms are strong.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She learns her trade and uses her tools.
She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out to the needy.
And when winter comes, she’s not afraid for her household.

The soul of the lazy craves everything and gets nothing…
but the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

So let the thief steal no longer, but let him do honest work with his own hands, so he has something to share with anyone in need.


O grant us, God, a little space
from our daily work set free.
To meet within this holy place
we’ve built apart for Thee.

But this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace and blessing you have sewn.

Around us rolls an endless tide –
labor and trade and care.
Today we choose to turn aside
for one brief hour of prayer.

But this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace and blessing you have sewn.

Work can be prayer, if it is wrought
as you want it to be done;
And prayer, by you inspired and taught,
can with our work be one.

For this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace
and blessing you have sewn.

– Scriptures based on Genesis 2, Colossians 3, Proverbs 13, Proverbs 31, Ephesians 4
– Hymn by John Ellerton, 1870, Edited by Ruth Wilkinson


Consecrating our work to God:

I wanted to include Take My Life and Let it Be as a conclusion to Ruth’s liturgy, but searched for a tune different from the traditional one, or the Chris Tomlin one. This one is sung in the UK, and uses the tune Nottingham by Mozart.

September 21, 2016

The Bible on Sleep

Amy Simpson is the author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (both InterVarsity Press). She posted this a few days ago at her eponymous blog where it appeared with a much longer introduction documenting “The Sleep Business.” You’re encouraged to read it all by clicking the link below.

Let’s Get Serious about the Sacred Mystery of Sleep

sleeping-cat…Sleep is big business partly because we see it as disconnected from waking life. Most of us consider it a forced interruption in our otherwise productive lives. When we’re sleepy, it’s a tempting luxury we dare not indulge in until our work is done. Yet ironically, our sleep-abstinence undermines our work. And more ironically, our failure to value sleep as a critical part of what we do makes it elusive, and therefore even more valuable.

Perhaps the supposed separation between sleeping and waking hours is somewhat false. After all, both are critical parts of a whole life. Would we offer God the work we do when we’re awake and wall off our time in sleep as unworthy of his notice? Perhaps sleep is not simply a necessary activity that fuels the work God put us on earth to do. Perhaps it is part of the work God put us here to do.

God created us not only with a need for sleep, but with an incredible capacity for it—most of us need to spend at least one-third of our life in sleep. Is all this sleep really a waste? a luxury we can’t afford? a haven for the lazy? Or is it an expression of our humanity, an act of submission to God, a celebration of his creation? Might it be valuable in its own right?

The Bible frequently portrays sleep as a reflection of our relationship with God. Sleep is…

An act of trust:

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe” (Psalm 4:8).

An act of humility:

“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones” (Psalm 127:2).

A celebration of God’s blessing:

“You can go to bed without fear; you will lie down and sleep soundly. You need not be afraid of sudden disaster or the destruction that comes upon the wicked, for the Lord is your security” (Proverbs 3:24-26).

A position of receptivity:

“After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,’ the angel said” (Matthew 2:13).

A point of distinction between us and God:

“He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps” (Psalm 121:3-4).

Sleep is not a state of non-being. It’s critical–we literally can’t live without it–and active. In sleep, we rest. We relax our muscles in forced paralysis. We dream and generate ideas. We solidify and retain memories. Our bodies restore and heal themselves and, among the young, grow. We reinforce our immunity. We give up control. We place ourselves in the hands of God for our safety and preservation. And we may do much more that we don’t yet know about–sleep is still a mysterious frontier of science.

While we may not fully understand our need for it, we can’t dismiss sleep. Instead we should view it differently. It’s a faithful act in a rhythmic life, honoring to our Creator, and part of what we were put on this planet to do. Sleep matters because, done well, it’s part of a whole life devoted to the one who never sleeps.

January 10, 2016

The Don’t Commandment That Has a Do

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The Decalogue in Exodus 20 is often referred to as the “Thou Shalt Nots.” There is of course the command to honor father and mother, which is the “command with a promise” but there is also the very long-worded command about Sabbath which takes up 4 verses.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (NIV)

(It is second only to the command about “graven images” which takes up 3 verses.)

This command however actually has a “do” among the “don’ts.”  Six days you may work and do all your tasks. (CEB).

Our friends Stephen and Brooksyne picked up this theme last week at Daily Encouragement

Today let us consider the positive element in this commandment which is found in the phrase, “do all your work”.  From the very beginning God has ordained work in some form as Adam and Eve were called to subdue and rule. Do you see your work as a blessing or a curse?

A common attitude among many in the work force is to view labor as a curse. Mondays are dreaded by many and a popular phrase for the end of the week is “TGIF” (Thank God It’s Friday) which typically is not a reverent expression of gratitude to God, who made every day for us to rejoice.

What should our attitude be toward work?  God wants us to view work as a blessing and respond accordingly. We are to live in His presence and glorify Him at all times, including our time at work.

The apostle Paul expresses this perspective in Colossians 3:23:

“Whatever you do, work at it wholeheartedly as though you were doing it for the Lord and not merely for people.”

David C. McCasland writes, “We may feel that work is secular, but view leading a Bible study as spiritual. The Bible draws no such distinction, however. When we honor God and help people, then our work and ministry blend together in pleasing service to the Lord.”

Today we urge you to begin this year with an earnest thankfulness for your job and a recognition of this provision that comes indirectly from God. Daily work done for God takes on eternal value while it also builds character and provides a good role model for others to follow.

Daily prayer: Father, help us to labor wholeheartedly according to Your command. We want to bless You with a grateful attitude and bless our workplace in regard to our productivity and loyalty. We thank You for our daily provision and blessing that comes through the work of our hands. We also thank You for our employers who help to meet our monetary needs. We pray for those who are presently seeking employment that You will provide a place of gainful employment. But until that financial door opens we pray that You will provide through unexpected means and the generosity of others. As You bless us through the work of our hands we in turn bless You by faithfully giving back a generous portion to finance Your kingdom through the local church, Christian ministries, and other worthy endeavors and needy individuals. Grant us the desire to live with less so that others can have more. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

December 9, 2015

When Peace Returns

•••click the title below to read this at Clarke Dixon‘s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

ISIS Goes Global. So Does Peace.

The term World War Three is popping up more and more these days. With ISIS extending its reach and more nations lining up to reach back the war on terror is looking more and more like a worldwide thing.  And ISIS is only one part, there is still Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and others besides. “It’s a small world after all” is feeling less and less like a feel good statement and more and more like a lament the world is too cramped. Will there ever be peace? Will we ever be able to stand together as different nations, peoples, and races?

This question in answered in the book of Revelation:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

It's a Small World After AllNotice that the people in this vision are standing together. Finally, people standing together in peace! One thing I miss about my former church in Ottawa is the diversity in our worship. There were times you could look around and see people from Canada, Jamaica, Russia, Iran, Benin, Haiti, China, England, and N. Ireland not to mention the Congo when we combined services with a  sister church. Those combined services were a special treat with different races worshipping together in English, French, Swahili, and Lingala. It felt like a foretaste of Revelation 7:9, many peoples standing together in worship.

With all the wrangling over land, resources, and ideologies, we may correctly be cynical about ever expecting peace on earth this side of heaven. But we ought not to be surprised that God has promised to bring people together in harmony. The Bible has pointing this way for a long time. Do you remember the last time we enjoyed peace on earth? Yes, it did actually happen once. There were only two people on earth at that time mind you, but there was peace on earth! This was God’s intention from the get-go: peace and harmony. We see hints and pointers to this throughout scripture.

Like the promise to Abraham:

in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Like the words of an angel announcing a birth:

see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Like the words of a whole big party of angels celebrating a birth:

and on earth peace among those whom he favors. (Luke 2:14)

Like Simeon on seeing the baby Jesus:

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:30-32)

Like John 3:16,17

16 “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. 17 “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)

Like our Lord’s Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19)

. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NRSV)

Like the Day of Pentecost:

7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. (Acts 2:7-11)

Like the day the original Jews for Jesus realized Jesus wasn’t just for Jews:

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. (Acts 10:34-36)

And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18)

All these and more are pointers to a coming reality:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

Who are these people and why are they able to stand together? 

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

Before we notice that these people are standing together we should notice that they are standing before God. This has incredible significance for it is a wonder that they should be able to stand there at all. In fact the seventh chapter of Revelation is an answer to a question raised in chapter six:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (Revelation 6:15-17)

Who is able to stand in the day of God’s judgement of sin? There is not one person who is able to raise their hand, point to their own righteousness and say “I am.” Yet here in Revelation 7 we have a multitude standing. The answer is those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) It is because of what God has done for us through Jesus at the cross that we can have peace with God, that we are able to stand in His holy presence. And it is because of God’s work in our lives that we will be able to stand together in harmony and peace.

While we cannot stand together before God on the strength of our own efforts, we are to be involved and active. Notice that the multitude are those who have done their washing! They have actively participated. They have repented. Salvation is completely the work of God in our lives through Jesus. But we are not saved to simply sit around waiting for the Prince of Peace to return and bring the Day of peace. We are saved to be peacemakers. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is the work of God in us and for us, but also in us and through us, for others.

Peace on earth might seem like an impossible dream. But when God is the One with the dream, nothing is impossible. Advent reminds us that the Prince of Peace is on His way. Despite the wars and rumours of wars all around us, we don’t just look forward to peace, we lean into it. Come Lord Jesus.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Emphases are mine.

 

June 25, 2014

How God Views Our Place in Time

clock spiralWhile researching yesterday’s article, I came across this larger article by Dr. Don Lynch and felt it worthy of its own presentation here. You are encouraged to read this at source, where it appeared under the title Generations (click to read and then look around the rest of his blog.)

To understand what God understands, we need to think like God. We don’t need to think everything God thinks – impossible! – but we need to think what God thinks. So, God reveals His thoughts to us, then He speaks to us in the same context of Divine thinking. The word used to speak of “generations is ancient and about as basic as Hebrew can get.

To understand the ancient meaning, we begin with the pictorial expressions of the letters. The first letter is a tent door. The second represents movement, in or out or back and forth. The third represents the head of a man or man himself. The combination means “the movement of man.”

The generations remain open. Purpose passes from one generation to the next. Both recompense and restoration arrive through the generations because a generation has the movement of man in it.

“After that generation died, another generation arrived who did not know the LORD or have memories of the mighty things He had done for Israel.” [Judges 2:10]

When a generation has little or no awareness of what God has done in a culture, a generation must arise to reintroduce that generation to the mighty works of God. We are that generation!

“And with many other words did He testify and exhort , saying , ‘Save yourselves from this untoward generation.’” [Acts 2:40]

The term for “untoward” here is skolios upon which we base the medical term scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. The base word is leg but the meaning is dried out like a dead tree limb, lacking life, unconnected to the tree. Hence, the basic idea is “separated from the root supply system of the tree.” The “untoward generation” cannot be the source of God’s purpose anymore, so we separate from them and expect to be a remnant who resets that purpose of God in our generation.

Jesus reset the kingdom of David. The disciples understood that He was resetting kingdom but they misunderstood the blueprint. They ask, “Will You restore the kingdom now to Israel?” That Israel didn’t have the kingdom was pretty much a given – and Jesus had received kingdom from His Father, giving kingdom to them. So, they went in search of answers He didn’t give them.

Beware of this tendency to expect or demand answers God isn’t giving you while pondering answers God has already revealed. Consider that you conclusion that you need more information before you proceed is simply disobedience you’ve relabeled “wisdom,” fear you’ve relabeled “caution,” and pride you’ve relabeled “excellence.” You just need to do it!

When a remnant generation begins a reset, they can only function by revelation because what remains of testimony has been lost to history and exaggeration. The previous moves of God didn’t mature, else a reset wouldn’t be needed! So, the reset remnant must depend upon revelation completely. Completely. Did I mention that the remnant generation must be prophetically mature? To mature the move of God we must mature prophetically.

Right now, a move of God is maturing in Brazil. Will this generation mature prophetically in order to mature the move of God, or will this generation tend toward institutionalizing that move of God in ways that short-circuit its fullness? To lead prophetically is to know the “what-God-wants” for your culture, prepare the Lord a people ready to respond in the new season, and to join the generations by the spirit and power of Elijah by turning the hearts of fathers and children toward one another. The “turning of the hearts” prepares for a “generation to generation” fullness so there can be a “generation to generation” fulfillment.

“David served God’s purpose in his own generation, then he died and was buried with his ancestors. He experienced death’s decay,” [Common English Version, Acts 13:36]

David was a reset leader, a true pioneer. Without any history or framework of experience, he introduced a kingdom that Jesus made eternal. Each step he took required him to do something for which there was no precedent in his life. He prepared to face a giant by facing bear and lion. He prepared to wield a sword by becoming expert with a sling. He moved from shepherd to warrior to general to ruler to kingship so he could move Israel into kingdom. God put something into history through David that generations delivered to Jesus. Jesus delivers that kingdom through generations to us. Here we are, right now, in kingdom.

Beware of thinking that visiting a place where a move of God began will set you up to reintroduce this move of God. That move of God is over. You can learn from it – best practices and worst atrocities – what to do and what not to do, but that move of God is over.

What you are looking for is the inheritance of that move of God. Consider how a move of God moves through the generations, not how a move of God looked, sounded, smelled, manifested, or matured in another generation.

Consider that pioneers arrive at places that are bleak, empty, covered with the dust settled upon them by centuries of neglect. No one sees what the pioneer sees in those places or people. The pioneer appears “off his rocker” to invest time, passion, money, and heart in a wilderness, but the pioneer knows something about what’s coming next that others do not. The pioneer, in his generation, inspires as a dynamic of leadership. He inspires people by prophetic revelation: “here’s what’s coming next and we need to prepare for it.”

Generations depend upon maturing God’s purposes in their season, to move people and cultures toward God’s purpose as a means of fulfilling both personal and corporate destinies.

Moves of God get sidetracked into denominations, doctrines, and darkness when they are hijacked by human imagination rather than continuing to mature the prophetic revelations that birthed them.

July 5, 2013

What is Sin?

This appeared a year ago at Thinking Out Loud, and has not been seen here before…

Let’s begin with an elementary definition. David Peach at the blog Genuine Leather Bible (love that name!) writes:

“Sin is disobedience to God, or not following God’s plan. It is breaking God’s law in some way. Often we define sin as doing something wrong or bad. The only problem with that simplistic definition of sin is that it does not explain who is the one who makes the rules. Many people in the world believe that right and wrong are defined by individual opinions and that there are no absolute rules. However, when we talk about sin, we are talking about God’s definition of right and wrong. A person should understand that their sin is a matter of breaking God’s law, not some man’s opinion.”

Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley once wrote:

“Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself”

Duke Taber writes:

“In our society, and especially in Christian circles, there is probably not one word more emotionally charged with negativity than the word sin. But what does sin really mean? What is the biblical definition of sin? It literally means missing the mark. It is a term in the Greek that comes from an archery term meaning to miss the bulls-eye. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ So please allow me to reword it just a bit. ‘All have missed the mark and didn’t get their arrow to hit the perfection of God.’”

West Breedlove writes: “The meat of this prayer came from a John Piper sermon entitled The Greatest Thing in the World . After singing How Great Is Our God, I said:

Indeed God is exceedingly great. And the only reason someone has a low view of God is because they have a low view of sin.

Sin is:

The glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The promises of God not relied upon.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.

That is sin!

The infinite, all-glorious Creator of the universe, by whom and for whom all things exist (Rom. 11:36) –– disregarded, disbelieved, disobeyed, and dishonored by everybody in the world. That is the ultimate outrage of the universe.*

And that is why we sing “How Great Thou Art!”

That is why the sweet sound of saving grace is surpassingly sweet –- The exceedingly great God has taken our exceedingly sinful sin and placed it on his Son…

This great God has taken the sins of liars, adulterers and the rest of his enemies, and has placed them on his Son; and there poured out his wrath – Jesus becoming sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God!

Lord, help us to marvel at the miracle of your glorious grace poured out on us at Calvary.”

Finally, to challenge us, here is a thought that is better to read in its full context, but I’ll highlight a section here. This is from the blog Diaknos by Frank and Steph Rue.

“Yeah, I had heard the line, ‘Have you ever lied before?’ I raised my hand at those events where someone asked that question. Of course. Everyone’s sinned—even in my emaciated definition. So when I read passages like Romans 3:23: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…’

Are you getting the point? Do you happen to relate, perhaps?

The problem with this definition of sin is that it’s wrong—completely wrong. Its inadequacy is terrible: calling sin an occasional problem for man is like calling water an occasional ingredient in the ocean.

Jesus Christ said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV).

I’ve heard this verse before. But what does it mean? If we take it for its clearest reading, we must recognize that we fail to honor a command (the greatest command) of the Lord, for no one has ever loved God with all of his heart, soul and mind for every moment of every day. At some second, every one of us has violated (and will continue to do so!) this command!

Now it doesn’t matter if we don’t lie, don’t steal, or don’t kill—for truly: all have failed to do this one, seemingly simply command—every one of us, all the time.”

Get into this topic in great detail with this post at Christianity 201 a year ago.


(For all you ’80s rockers out there, here’s a link to the song Sin Kills by Andy McCarroll and Moral Support.)

July 12, 2012

December 22, 2010

The “Why” of the Incarnation

A few days ago I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service coming up on Friday.    Then a few days ago, she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Going through some files today, we discovered that a short medley I proposed was something we’d done for Christmas in 2005.   It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die.   There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

This blog post is the reverse of this one a few days ago, which talked about Joy to the World actually being 25% about Christmas and 75% about Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. There are many verses in other hymns that we don’t think of at Christmas which begin with the birth of Christ, but move us quickly into the “why” of Jesus’ birth.

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)