Christianity 201

March 25, 2019

Everyone Had a Different Perspective on Joseph

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him.” – Acts 7:9

But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. – Genesis 37:4

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. – Genesis 39: 2-5

By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. – Hebrews 11:22

Occasionally, I will read the name of a popular Christian author, and then check to see if they a blog from which could glean some material to highlight here. Today for the first time we’re featuring Darlene Sala, whose entire career has been built on writing devotional material, including the books: Encouraging Words for Women, Journey into Grace, You are Here, You Are His, You Are Blessed, You Are Loved and You Are Chosen. (Clearly the type of author our female readers here would want to get to know!)

She writes regularly at EncouragingWords.Today (love the blog’s domain name!) and you can read this there by clicking the header below.

How God Sees You

Bernard Kipsangut, a friend of mine in Kenya, is not only a pastor but also the chaplain of the Kitale Men’s Prison. He posted thoughts on his Facebook page that I found inspiring. I never was able to find the original author, so I will give credit to that famous writer, “Author Unknown.” Anyway, here it is–based on that Old Testament favorite, Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob.

Jacob looked at Joseph and saw a good son.
The ten brothers looked at Joseph and saw a useless dreamer.
The travelers looked at Joseph and saw a slave.
Potiphar looked at Joseph and saw a fine servant.
Potiphar’s wife looked at Joseph and saw a potential boyfriend.
The prison officers saw in Joseph a prisoner.
How wrong were all of them!
God looked at Joseph and saw a Prime Minister of Egypt in waiting!

Don’t be discouraged by what people see in you!! Be encouraged by what God sees in you!! Never underrate the person next to you because you never know what the Lord has deposited in that person. It doesn’t matter how people see us; it matters how God sees us.

How quick we are to evaluate ourselves and those around us! The apostle Paul wrote, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master than he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). We are all servants of God. He is our master, and all that really matters is what He thinks of us.

Remember that the next time you feel like you have failed in living up to someone’s expectations, including your own. God sees our true potential. And He isn’t finished working on us yet. He wants to make us a blessing to those around us and use us to accomplish His purpose. Just you wait and see!

What has God recently told you, who you are because of His love?


This rather obscure classic CCM song, is a reminder that:

He sees us
Not as we are but as we shall be…

The song appeared on a live Noel Paul Stookey album, but this one is a solo by Karla Thibodeau.

It’s based on 1 John 3:2, which is rendered this way in the Passion Translation:

Beloved, we are God’s children right now; however, it is not yet apparent what we will become. But we do know that when it is finally made visible, we will be just like him, for we will see him as he truly is.


Today’s opening scripture selections all ESV

 

March 19, 2019

Your Disappointment with God Doesn’t Offend Him

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Matthew 6:5*

Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully! (GNT)

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[a]
    for they will be satisfied. (NLT)

How enriched you are when you crave righteousness![a] For you will be surrounded with fruitfulness (TPT)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s approval. They will be satisfied. (NOG)

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. (MSG)

We return today for another visit with Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. Amy devotes her ministry to the study of mental health issues.  Her new book is Blessed are the Unsatisfied: Finding Freedom in an Imperfect World (InterVarsity) and you can still read chapter one from the book for free at this link. (Look around her blog for chapters two and three as well!) To read today’s post there, along with some reader’s comments, click the title below.

Your Disappointment Doesn’t Scare God

At some point, as it has for many of us, life probably has confronted you with the devastating truth that it was not going to live up to your visions and dreams. You had plans for the way your daily life would look, expectations of what your church life would be, and assumptions about the trajectory your family’s life would follow. And in some way—or perhaps many ways, big and small—your life is not what you imagined it would be. It’s not what you hoped for and still long for.

Me neither. Until my mother’s schizophrenia finally reached a point where my family could no longer ignore or hide it, I thought people who follow Christ were supposed to be deeply and joyfully satisfied, no longer needing anything but a connection with God’s presence in this life. I thought Christians would go through “hard times” but without the kind of lament or loss that plagues other people.

Boy, was I wrong. In a family altered by severe mental illness, not a single day is untouched by lament, loss, and disappointment. My mother’s schizophrenia didn’t change my satisfying life into an unsatisfying one; it brought me to a place of honesty with myself and before God, where I could not overlook the fact that life was going to fall short no matter what.

You live with your own reasons for disappointment. Have you been forced into that place of honesty? Are you lonely there? Do you get the feeling that many Christians are terrified by the ways your life has not lived up to expectations? by your disappointment? your anger? Like me, perhaps you feel that many would like to keep their distance from you and your stubbornly unfixable circumstances.

You probably aren’t imagining things. Many people haven’t yet been placed in a position that irreparably undermines their illusions. And most of us put up at least a little resistance to evidence that contradicts what we really want to believe. Many people are desperate to believe life always makes sense, everything happens for a reason, and every cloud comes with a silver lining. If you acknowledge you live with not only gratitude and a gentleness born of suffering, but actual disappointment as well, you are likely to threaten someone’s carefully constructed convictions about what we should expect from life as followers of Christ.

So let me say this: It’s OK with me, and with God, if you admit you’re disappointed.

I say this on my own behalf because I’m right there with you. That’s why I wrote a book on this: for people like you and me.

There are two reasons I make this claim on behalf of God.

First, God wants your honesty more than all the good attitude, positive thinking, and false expressions of gratitude you could ever muster.

Second, an unsatisfied life is exactly what God wants for you—for all of us.

I don’t mean that God put you in difficult circumstances for fun or wants you to live in frustration. God hasn’t singled you out for a special “character-building experience” to keep you in line or punish you. God has allowed you, like everyone else, to live with both the heady delights of human freedom and the terrible consequences of using our freedom to reject and resist God. All suffering comes down to that painful bottom line.

What I do mean is that God wants more than this for you, just as you do. He wants better. He wants total and complete restoration of health, wholeness, and goodness in your life and in the world around you. He wants it so much, he bought it with his own life. And every moment in human history is bringing us closer to the time when his righteousness, justice, and powers of creation will usher us into the world we were meant for.

Every time we acknowledge just how desperately our lives and our world fall short of the one God created, we agree with God. Each time we get angry, or sad, or wrecked at seeing someone in pain, our hearts beat in time with God’s. And every single time we whisper a prayer of longing for the people and places we love to be whole and flourishing, we catch a glimpse of God’s grand vision for his creation.

There is grace in your disappointment. You have been given a tangible expression of the longing that lives in your heart and mine. And God wants you to stay with it.

In Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus teaches about the counter-intuitive ways God blesses people, in the passage known as The Beatitudes. In Verse 6 he says God blesses people with a promise of satisfaction, and it’s not the ones who have everything; it’s the people who live with a gnawing hunger and thirst for righteousness. In other words, Blessed Are the Unsatisfied.

This verse pronounces blessing on people who are longing not only to be righteous themselves, but to see God’s righteousness reign. They are longing for the better world we were all made for—a longing that will not be satisfied in this life.

Jesus did not trivialize our hunger and thirst any more than he trivialized the pain of mourning, purity of heart, or the work of peacemaking. He declared we are blessed if we stay hungry and thirsty—desperate for his kingdom, which is the only kingdom where we and all we love can possibly be restored.

God isn’t afraid of your disappointment. He wants you to live in awareness of the gap between your current circumstances and the ones he is leading you toward. But disappointment isn’t your only choice, and he doesn’t want to leave you there. He wants to turn your disappointment to anticipation.

Chronic disappointment is one path to dissatisfaction. Anticipation, on the other hand, comes from being temporarily unsatisfied. You can choose to be unsatisfied rather than dissatisfied.

What’s the difference?

Dissatisfied people believe God owes them something and isn’t delivering. Unsatisfied people know God has promised something he will deliver. Dissatisfied people learn to expect life to let them down. Unsatisfied people learn to live with long-term expectations. Dissatisfied people try to quell their desires with spiritual and emotional junk food, while unsatisfied people keep the coming feast in view and keep their appetites sharp for the real thing.

As I wrote in my book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied, “While dissatisfaction implies either rejection or frustrated pursuit of satisfaction, unsatisfaction is something more like acceptance combined with anticipation. It is acknowledgment of desire without the demand that it be satisfied. It is a kind of openness that doesn’t ask for closure. It is a kind of desire that can live with deferral. It is an embrace of the God-shaped vacuum in us and a commitment to stop trying to make it full. It is a healthy hunger that is content to wait for the feast.”,

God is not put off by your recognition that life is not what you want it to be. He is in it with you, more than you can know. The good news is, he is in the business of redemption, restoration, and re-creation. His good plans will far exceed your wishes. So live in grief for what you have lost, and live in anticipation for what will be. You are blessed.


*Translations: GNT = Good News Translation; TPT = The Passion Translation; NOG = Names of God Bible

December 13, 2018

Is the Story of Christmas Believable?

by Clarke Dixon

Can you blame Joseph for doubting Mary? If a woman said she was pregnant and no man was involved in any way, would you believe her? Sometimes a person’s claim may be surprising, but believable. At other times they go beyond surprising to being unbelievable.

We are not explicitly told what Mary said to Joseph, but it is unimaginable that she would not have shared about the angel visitation we read about in the Gospel of Luke. We do learn how Joseph responds to the surprising pregnancy:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. Matthew 1:18-19

Joseph was a righteous man, and the right thing to do was get out of the betrothal. Joseph was also a good man, and the good thing to do was to get out of the betrothal quietly so that Mary would not be exposed to scorn and disgrace. Joseph is also a reasonable man, and the reasonable thing to think is that Mary is covering up a lack of faithfulness with an angel story. That is the most reasonable explanation. At least until an angel shows up:

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

So Joseph believes the surprising news, with some help. But what about us? Why would we trust this one account of a virgin conception, and no other? Joseph, so we are told, had the evidence of an angel to help him believe. Is there anything that will help us know that the Christmas story does not cross the line from surprising to unbelievable?

History helps us believe the Christmas miracle is true and reasonable.

Can anything make the surprising story of Christmas believable in our scientific age?
Doesn’t science tell us that belief in such a conception is unreasonable? First, we should recognize that science is limited in its subject matter to what can be seen and observed in some way. Therefore, there are two kinds of facts not available to science; spiritual and historical. You will never be able to “see” God out in space no matter how powerful your telescope. God simply is not in our realm that we should see Him. Also, you cannot “observe” events that have already happened. When we want to know about history we turn to historians, not scientists.

Knowing that science does not specialize in spiritual or historical facts, let us now consider the Bible. The Bible primarily speaks not about science, but about spiritual and historical truths.

The Bible records for us historical events that speak about the relationship of God with people. Now let us consider that history very briefly. God created a world of great order and beauty. God created humanity for relationship. Humanity fell out of relationship with God having rebelled against Him. However, God did not give up on a relationship with humanity, rather He made loving promises which we find throughout the Old Testament. The only way God could keep those promises was through dealing with the sin that separates us from Him. The only way to deal with sin while maintaining both perfect justice and grace, is through becoming the suitable sacrifice Himself.  The only way to become that sacrifice is for God to be “killable,” to be “crucifiable.” The only way to do that is to become incarnate:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (emphasis added)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6 (emphasis added)

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

This is what we celebrate at Christmas. God Himself was “born in human likeness,” “born of a woman,” through God the Son, Jesus. When you follow the history of humanity’s relationship with God, then of course there would be a virgin conception. How else could  the events of Easter be effective in reconciling us to God except by the event of Christmas? And of course, such historical events, both Christmas and Easter, would only happen once. So yes, virgins do not conceive, and dead men are not raised from the dead (yet). But these things did happen this one time. The history between God and humanity, as recorded by many different people, over many centuries, leads us to consider that the virgin conception is not just believable, it is not even that surprising!

Jesus helps us believe the Christmas miracle is true and reasonable.

Look at the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is all unique. Look at the impact of Jesus on the world and individual lives. He is unique. He is widely held to be the greatest figure in history. If your Mum told you one day that that you were conceived without a man, is there anything about you or your life that would make you believe her? Are you unique in some way, or in many ways, that such an announcement would suddenly make sense of everything else about you? Of course not! But ask the same question about Jesus.

Consider what the apostles were saying about Jesus following the events of Easter. To give a summary, “Jesus rose from the dead, we knew him, we heard his teaching, we saw his miracles, we experienced him as being someone, or rather Someone unique. He is both the promised Messiah and Lord.” They were not going around talking primarily about the virgin both, and oh, by the way, he also died and rose again. Rather, he, as the impressive and unique figure that we experienced him to be, died and rose again, oh, and as you might expect, even his birth was unique. Too many people dismiss the story of Christmas without really considering the whole story of Jesus.

What makes a unique conception believable is the fact that Jesus himself is unique in every way. What makes Jesus believable, is the fact that he fits with what God had promised to do. The good news of Jesus, though surprising in some ways, fits the fact that “God is love.” Therefore the Christmas story is not only believable, it is not that surprising after all.

For Joseph the news of the baby was surprising, even unbelievable. But Joseph, with some help, trusted and good things happened. When we trust God good things happen. We might not have an angel appearance in a dream, but we do have history and Jesus as evidence that the story of Christmas is reasonable and true.



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

March 10, 2018

Encouraged and Satisfied

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Elsie Montgomery is one of the most faithful devotional writers I encounter when preparing these articles to share with you. She’s now in her 12th year of writing and this is her 14th article here at C201. Click the title below and read it at her blog, Practical Faith.

Content with God’s plan?

God arranges devotional readings to fit whatever is going on in my life. I don’t know how He does that but am so thankful for it. Some days I need correction or a rebuke. He knows and does it. Some days I need something new to challenge me. He does that too. Some days I need to be encouraged and He always knows what to say, both from the Scriptures and from A.W. Tozer’s refreshing perspectives.

My main function in the Body of Christ is prayer. I used to teach and be more involved with other people. Now I am still with people, yet my role has changed from talking and teaching to observation and intercession. God is teaching me to pray as I listen to the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful thing, yet at times I feel disconnected. I sometimes wonder if this is all He wants.

Tozer says that many ordinary folks may have nothing to recommend them but a deep devotion to the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit which they unconsciously display. The Lord says to me, “This is where you fit.”

Then Tozer goes on. He says the church could not carry on without these people. Some of them are the first to come forward when work is required. My health spoils this, but then he says some are the last to go home when there is prayer needed. The way I see it, prayer is always needed. Tozer says I might not be known outside of the local church because faithfulness and goodness are rarely newsworthy, but people like this are a benediction wherever they go.

I am encouraged. Being great might produce admiration in carnal people but God helps me be content to walk with Him in the fullness of His Spirit that I might pray His will and be satisfied that this is a relatively hidden ministry. He also encourages me in small ways that far out-weigh any accolades. For instance, in the past month He put on the hearts of three children, a three-year-old girl, a boy of about six and a girl of about four to make cards for me. One said, “We hope you are feeling better. I love you.” The boy’s said, “I pray that you are not afraid because God is with you.” Last week, I was blessed by a card with hearts and handprints. Her mother said it was totally the child’s idea to make it for me.

Today’s verses are about what comes from the heart. The children’s cards tell me of their openness to the Holy Spirit and as a result are blessing others. The devotional does that too. Those verses begin with Jesus’ rebuke to the hypocrisy of religious leaders:

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34–37)

Those children leave a fragrance of Christ that lingers in my heart. I want to be like them. God assures me that in praying for them and for others, this role in His kingdom has great value. He hears my heart, puts blessing into the hearts that listen to Him, even the hearts of “the least of these” so that they become a blessing to others, even to me. There is great joy in being loved by little people who hardly know me. Imagine the joy in the heart of Jesus when those who know Him express their love by obedience and by loving others.

^^^^^^^^^
Dear Lord Jesus, Tozer ends with this: “Come unto God, unite yourself to God, and the doing power you have is infinite!” You have encouraged me. Prayer is sometimes a delight, yet also at times very hard work. It is spiritual warfare for the enemy wants to stop me, but also is an unimaginable link to You — and it sometimes results in great surprises.

January 31, 2017

As Moses Lifted up the Serpent

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is one of my favorite Old Testament passages and one which I think is strongly tied to New Testament salvation. We’ve discussed it before here in the context of the idea of an invisible transaction; that there’s nothing tangible or quantifiable that one does at the moment of crossing the line of faith. Today’s thoughts are more directed to the source of our salvation.

We’re paying a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Please click the link below and read this at source.

4 Lessons from the Bronze Serpent

The book of Numbers contains the account of a strange event which took place during Israel’s time of wandering in the wilderness. It is most often referred to as Moses and the bronze serpent. Let’s take a few minutes to think about this unusual biblical story, see its significance to Israel, and then learn from Jesus’ interpretation and application in the Gospel of John. First, read the original account.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

There are four truths God wants us to understand and embrace.

Saving faith realizes the guilt of one’s sin and the justice of God to punish the sinner (Num. 21:7a).

Just as personal admission of one’s sickness is a prerequisite to being helped by a physician, personal admission of sin is a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness from God. Before the sinning people could be forgiven they had to admit “we have sinned.” The snake bites brought them to the place of personal conviction and then they were ready to make a plea for forgiveness.

One of the two guilty thieves hanging next to Jesus had a similar response. While one thief joined the crowd in launching accusations at Jesus, the other realized his sinfulness—he knew he deserved to die for his sin. So, before he died he looked to Jesus with the look of faith (Luke 23:39-42). As a result, he joined Jesus in Paradise that very same day. When we honestly face our sin and guilt then, and only then, our heart is prepared to confess to God and look to the Savior for mercy.

Saving faith recognizes the need for an intercessor between the guilty sinner and God (Num. 21:7b).

When the people realized the guilt of their sin they immediately turned to Moses saying, “Pray for us.” Instinctively, every guilty sinner knows he cannot simply waltz into God’s presence on his own. He must have a representative, an intercessor, a mediator. The sacrificial laws and prescribed rituals found in the book of Leviticus made this clear to God’s people.

Thankfully, God has provided the one and only perfect priest to intercede for us, to reconcile us back to Himself. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6). When we confess our sins to God, while at the same time looking to Jesus, we have an advocate with the Father (1 John 1:8-2:1).

Saving faith looks to God alone to provide the necessary remedy (Num. 21:8-9).

The bronze serpent could not save the people. Only God could provide the remedy. In looking to the brazen serpent on a pole their eyes of faith looked to God. Sadly, the bronze serpent eventually became an idol that was worshiped during the time of Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:4). But true saving faith does not look to religion, statues, or human priests. It looks to God as the only one who can rescue us. We are desperate sinners who cannot save ourselves; we must be saved by God’s grace, as the apostle makes clear in Romans 5:6-10.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Saving faith looks to Jesus to be the Mediator, propitiation for sin, and the entrance into eternal life (John 3:14-18).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it crystal clear that the bronze serpent was a type of Himself. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “as” indicates that Jesus was making a comparison. As God provided the means whereby the bitten people could be healed through faith, so He has provided the only means by which our souls may find healing and restoration—through faith. When we turn in faith to look to Jesus, as the only one who can intercede for us before a holy God, we are redeemed from sin and receive the gift of eternal life.

Saving faith looks to God alone. It does not look to self. It does not look to any goodness in one’s own heart, nor to the works of religion. There is only one way for the soul to find its healing—and that is in its return to God. To be reconciled to God we must first see our sin for what it really is—an offense to God’s holiness. Because our sin is offensive, God must punish it. But thanks be to God that He has already punished His sinless Son in our place. Are you looking to Jesus to save you?

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Cleveland, OH, Look to Jesus]


Related: Story in Numbers Foreshadows the Crucifixion

August 8, 2015

The True Lord’s Prayers – Part One

This is the first of a three-part, original C201 devotional study.

It’s easy to see why some people insist on calling the prayer example that Jesus gives in The Sermon on the Mount “The Disciples Prayer” or “The Model Prayer.” Using that text from Matthew 6, I can’t picture Jesus asking the Father to forgive his trespasses, or lead him not into temptation, or be delivered from evil.

But there are a number of examples of what I would say are truly “The Lord’s Prayer.” One is Matthew 11:25-26

25At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. (paralleled in Luke 10:21)

This passage is more complex than what initially meets the eye. Some commentaries online linked this to predestination, but I especially like this short comment on a Yahoo forum:

In addition to having an open mind one must have the proper motive in studying God’s Word. Certain Jews of Jesus’ day were quite studious and yet Jesus said to them: “You are searching the Scriptures, because you think that by means of them you will have everlasting life.” There is nothing wrong with desiring everlasting life. It is a proper hope, but if the gaining of it is our sole motive in “searching the Scriptures,” then we are not going to gain the knowledge that leads to everlasting life. Just after his above statement Jesus pointed to the proper motivation that those Jewish people lacked: “I well know that you do not have the love of God in you.” (John 5:39, 42) We must love God in order to receive this personal gift of accurate knowledge.

Something else that is essential to receiving this priceless gift from God is referred to in the psalm: “He will cause the meek ones to walk in his judicial decision, and he will teach the meek ones his way.” (Ps. 25:9) So, a person who is proud and haughty cannot expect to get this knowledge until he changes his attitude. We need to “become as young children,” with open, teachable minds and hearts, to understand God’s Word. (Matt. 18:3) This helps us to appreciate why many men who have made an analytical study of the Bible still may not understand such basic things as God’s purpose for this earth. They may know the original Bible languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, but often they have let their knowledge ‘puff them up.’ It is as Jesus said: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes.” (Matt. 11:25) The proper viewpoint in regard to any knowledge we may have is expressed by Paul under inspiration: “If anyone thinks he has acquired knowledge of something, he does not yet know it just as he ought to know it.” (1 Cor. 8:2) Humility and reliance on God’s help through his spirit are essential to gaining accurate knowledge of the Bible.—1 Cor. 8:1; Jas. 1:5.

Another “Lord’s Prayer” is John 12-27-28

27“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour ‘? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28“Father, glorify Your name.”

The first part of verse 28 is definitely Father-focused, but one could argue that the preceding verse, 27, is a hypothetical prayer. But it becomes a real prayer in Matthew 26: 39:

39And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.

Verses of this nature have been used to illustrate various themes, including the bravery of the incarnate Christ in facing his destiny of dying, to a discussion of the dynamics of the doctrine of the trinity.

At the website JesusCentral.com we read,

We cannot know specifically if Jesus was afraid to die. We do know that, as God, He knew what was going to happen to Him. He knew He’d suffer a painful death and that He`d also be resurrected after. But, since Jesus was also a man (God chose to become a man), then He could have experienced similar thoughts and feelings to those we would feel in this situation.

Since Jesus knew the future, it is unlikely He would have been afraid of death itself because He knew He would go to be with His Father in Heaven. But, more likely, He could have apprehended the pain (especially since His death would be one of the most painful deaths a human being could go through).  He probably felt the same kind of fears that we all feel when confronted with the thought of pain…

The central theme in both of these examples is that Jesus is communing with the Father in terms of the master plan of which he is now the central figure. The first prayer talks about the revelation of the plan to us, the second the manner in which the plan was to be carried out.

He commiserates with the Father even as he is in the middle of the drama.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at two more types of “Lord’s Prayers” that are more specifically about us. Feel free to leave comments on today’s as we only scratched the surface.

April 21, 2013

What is Progressive Revelation?

No specific scripture today. Out of about a hundred questions in a 1969 booklet I’ve been reading, Bible Questions Answered by John I. Paton, this one really struck me.

What is meant by the expression “progressive revelation”?

That all depends on who is using it.  The attitude of Bible critics of the last century or so has been that man gradually evolved in a spiritual understanding of God.  According to them early men believed in many gods but after a long period of time some came to see that there is only one God.  This approach to progressive revelation makes the Bible out to be a record of man’s progressive discovery of God.

This is far from what the Bible means with regard to progressive revelation.  In Hebrews 1:1 we learn that bit by bit and in many different ways, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets. All of this revelation and information was truth.  None of it was ever withdrawn.  God added to the body of truth from time to time, speaking finally in His Son (v. 2).  Just before He went to the cross our Lord promised that after His resurrection and ascension the Spirit of truth would come and He would guide God’s people into all truth (John 16:13).  It was not many years after that that the New Testament writings were finished.  God’s revelation of Himself and His will is presented fully to man in the Bible.

Perhaps the following example of progressive revelation will serve to illustrate how God gradually revealed His truth.  He first gave a basic element concerning a truth and then added to it as the Bible proceeded to its completion.

We learn from Genesis 4 that Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock” (v 4.), sacrificing a lamb to the Lord.  This was a “by faith” offering (Heb. 111:4).  Later on in Genesis we learn through Abraham’s preparation to offer up Isaac that “God will provide himself a lamb” (22:8).  God, not Abraham, would furnish a lamb.  At still a later time, in Exodus 12:7, we are told that after slaying the Passover lamb, its blood had to be applied.  According to Leviticus 16:5 Aaron was to take two kids of the goats for a sin offering, one to die and the other to be sent away from the camp of Israel.  Finally, in John’s Gospel we learn that the Lamb is a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ (1:29).  He is provided by God for us.  It is through the application of His shed blood by faith that we are saved from the wrath of God against sin.  We are justified in God’s sight through Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 4:25).

In Abel’s sacrifice we see a lamb provided for an individual.  In Egypt the lamb was needed for a family.  Then when the Passover Sacrifice was fully constituted, the Passover lamb was slain for the nation.  But God’s Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, was slain on Calvary, not only for an individual, not only for a nation, but also for the whole lost world. (John 3:16).


Bonus item today:

Head over to Thinking Out Loud and watch a 5-minute video on different ways of interpreting the book of Revelation.

December 10, 2012

The Word of God Is Not Imprisoned

The Apostle Paul saw his imprisonment not as a problem, but an opportunity. We can learn so much from this. Today’s post appeared originally at the blog The Cripplegate. I encourage you to click through to read this, and then explore the rest of the blog which features a variety of authors. Today’s piece is by Los Angeles pastor Mike Riccardi.

Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippians against the backdrop of the church’s concern for Paul as he awaited his trial before Nero in his first Roman imprisonment. How was Paul holding up? Was this imprisonment discouraging him? Would he be released? Could he return to Philippi to help them with their lack of unity (cf. Phil 4:2) and to strengthen them amidst the threats of persecution and false teaching (cf. 1:28–30; 3:2)? Or would he die in Rome, and their sweet partnership in the ministry die with him? And perhaps most importantly of all: How has this loss of freedom affected the spread of the Gospel? Have Paul’s adverse circumstances in prison dealt a blow to his ministry of the Gospel to Gentiles?

After his customary thanksgiving (Phil 1:3–8), and prayer (Phil 1:9–11) Paul begins the body of his letter, in verses 12 to 18, by reassuring them—right off the bat—that far from being a hindrance to the Gospel, this opposition, this imprisonment, has actually served to advance the Gospel.

How? I’m glad you asked.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.

The praetorian guard was a company of 9,000 elite soldiers that were particularly tasked to protect the emperor and his interests. And it seems that this subversive preacher Paul was a high priority case for Nero, because he was being guarded around the clock by the imperial elite. The “chain” he wore (cf. Acts 28:20; Eph 6:20) was an 18-inch long chain that attached at one end to a handcuff on Paul’s wrist and at the other end to a handcuff on the wrist of the Roman guard. There wasn’t an hour of the day when Paul wasn’t 18 inches away from a Roman soldier of the imperial guard.

linksBut it wasn’t the same guard all day every day. The soldiers took shifts of six hours at a time. That means that for nearly two years, Paul had come into contact with four different imperial soldiers each day, and had them at his disposal for six hours at a time. Talk about a captive audience!

So what do you think Paul talked about? Do you think he said things like,

  • “This isn’t fair!”
  • “What injustice!”
  • “I’ve been waiting two years!”
  • “This is not a quick and speedy trial!”
  • “I’m a Roman citizen!”

How would you have reacted? Would you have complained about the lack of privacy? Would you have blamed God for your unjust imprisonment? Paul didn’t do any of those things. Paul knew a captive audience when he saw one, and he saw this as an opportunity to preach the Gospel.

The Conversation

And that’s exactly what he did. You could imagine the guard would ask, “So what are you in for?” And Paul would respond: “I am in these chains because I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the One, True and Living God—God made flesh in the person of a Jewish Carpenter. And in further humility and obedience to the will of God, He died for sinners on a Roman cross under Roman authority in Israel 30 years ago.

He was buried and laid in a tomb with Roman soldiers keeping it secure. But three days later He rose from that grave, demonstrating His triumph over death. After remaining with His disciples for 40 days, He ascended into Heaven right before their eyes and is, this very moment, enthroned in power at the right hand of God as the Lord of the whole world.

“Not long after His ascension, while I was persecuting His followers for corrupting the Jewish religion—putting them into chains like these, and even approving of their murder—this resurrected Jesus Himself appeared to me in a blazing light! He knocked me to the ground and struck me blind, and told me that I was to be His messenger, to preach His Gospel and strengthen the church that I once tried to destroy! And since that day I have given every waking moment of my life to preaching the Good News that because of His life, death, and resurrection, those who simply turn from their own self-righteousness and trust in Him can be forgiven of their sins, can escape the punishment of God, and can be reconciled to Him. And one day soon, this same Jesus is going to break through the clouds, return to the earth, and set up His kingdom over all nations!”

And as they spoke with him, and heard this Gospel, and observed his character, they learned that he was not in prison as a criminal, but because he was faithfully preaching the Lordship of Jesus.

This is the word that spread throughout the whole guard. They would talk with each other, and wonder with each other, “This man hasn’t broken any laws. All he has to do to be released is to recant his teachings about this Jesus of Nazareth, and he’d be free to go. But he won’t do it! He’d rather lose his head than stop preaching this message!”

And as they heard this Gospel, and observed the virtue and consistent devotion of Paul’s life—that his behavior matched his message—they began to believe. God began to grant them repentance and faith in the Gospel, one by one. So much so that Paul could close the letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 22, by saying: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Four different guards, six hours at a time, every day, for the last two years, all hearing the Gospel. The messenger might have been in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9). And the result, by God’s sovereign, providential work, was that many in the household of Caesar himself were beciming more sincere followers of Jesus than they ever were of Nero.

What Can We Learn?

The Lord used circumstances that anyone would have supposed would have hindered Paul’s ministry to further it. And in such circumstances of adversity, his response was not to complain, to blame God, or to sink into discontentment and depression.

Instead, he rejoiced (Phi 1:18). In what? In pleasant circumstances, an easy life, or a good reputation? No. Paul’s joy was found in the advance of the Gospel. He could endure opposition from both friends and enemies, he could decrease into insignificance and obscurity, he could suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:3)—because his ministry wasn’t driven by a thirst for prominence, but by the advance of the Gospel.

We need to learn to receive life’s trials from the hand of God Himself—as opportunities sent directly from Him to advance the Gospel. We shouldn’t try to cut the legs out from under the sovereignty of God by suggesting that God just passively allows our trials, or makes the best out of a bad situation. When confronted with suffering, we should see that the Sovereign Lord is purposefully giving us an opportunity to make much of Him and His Gospel by responding in a way that makes plain that comfort, freedom from conflict, and an easy life are not what we love most, but that Christ is.

We also need to take advantage of our captive audiences. We may not be chained to a Roman soldier, but we each have our obligations that keep us “captive.” Maybe you’re chained to a desk in the workplace. Maybe you’re chained to a kitchen sink and a couple of young children. Maybe you’re chained to a hospital bed, unable to move about freely. You need to see each of these “chains” as an opportunity to proclaim Christ from exactly where you are. You can be a witness to your co-workers, to your kids, or to your nurse and doctors. The messenger might be in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9).

August 31, 2012

A Frowning Providence

Is it just me or is the body of Christ wrestling more deeply these days with the issues of hard times, suffering, disappointment, unanswered prayer, adverse circumstances? Here’s another perspective on the subject from Kevin White at the blog Mere Orthodoxy, where it appeared under the title,  A Loving Father and Difficult Gifts.  As always you’re encouraged to click the link and read at source; C201 readers will enjoy this particular blog.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” — Matthew 7:7-11

The power of this passage is the very perversity of the image it draws. How strangely cruel would a man have to be to give a destructive non sequitur instead of life-giving food? “Ha! That isn’t a rock-hard crust on that bread; it’s a ROCK!”

But I think Jesus means to press us into a corner here. He is encouraging us to pray, to seek from God what we need and to trust his provision. Trusting in the Father’s provision is one of Jesus’ great themes. It is why he has just called our attention to the birds and the lilies, and commands us not to worry about how our needs will be met. But this passage comes in the same discourse in which Jesus promises his followers great suffering and grief. Far from being an overlooked reality that undermines Jesus’ point in the passage, I suspect Jesus intends to push us into the tension between the promise of God’s goodness and the rocky and snakish things he sends our way.

God can seem alien to us at times, even cruel. His understanding exceeds our own far more than a human father’s exceeds that of the youngest child. His ways are infinitely more unsearchable than that of a dad who holds his kid down to receive a shot. Indeed, we would know hardly a thing about God unless he revealed it to us.

So sometimes, it is hard to see the goodness in what Cowper described as “a frowning Providence.” And yet, a key part of God’s self-revelation is that he watches his people, neither slumbering nor sleeping. Like a nesting hen, sheltering the hatchlings. He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. And yet the world is full of snakes.

This difficulty is made worse when we just don’t understand what is happening. When friends and family suffer. When natural goods, rightly desired, are placed out of reach. When we see that one of the greatest impediments to our flourishing is staring at us in the mirror. It is hard to see how a loving Father can be watching over all of that.

Instead, it is easy to covet, easy to resent. It is easy to say that it is all wrong, and should not be happening. Not in the sense of, “it is a fallen world and I long for paradise,” but in the sense of “what kind of God could allow this?” Or to wonder if our concerns are too small for God to notice. For the Christian, that attitude is doubly false, since Jesus Christ himself, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” says that God pays mind even to the fall of a sparrow.

And yet, there is an odd thing about invoking God’s providence in difficult times. It is a classic piece of bad comforting to simply tell someone, “God is in control.” Even so, recognizing, resting in, and/or wrestling with God’s control over circumstances can be a powerful form of reassurance. Why the disconnect?

I think it is because the trite statement is a shortcut. In some ways, it merely restates part of the presenting problem. How is this bread and not a stone? Too easily, it skips all the messy business of “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who are mourning.” It skips straight to the pithy takeaway and moves on.

Part of the answer is that we live in a sinful and fallen world. The restoration of all things is not here yet. All accounts will be settled, but we have at best a foretaste of that reality. Some of our suffering comes from our own bad decisions, or from our own weakness and limitation. And much more comes with living in a world that is systemically corrupted and distorted by sin and the curse that it brought.

But short of blind, questionably pious, fideistic leaps, how can we trust that God does work all things for good, for those who love him? In part, because of that very apostolic word I have just paraphrased.

In larger part, because in the whole sweep of Scripture we see, again and again, God’s way of using bewildering events, evil deeds, and questionable human motives to advance his good and graceful plan for history. It is easier to name the major, storied heroes of the Bible who weren’t born to grieving, childless parents. God used wicked nations to chastise and purify his people. In short, we see the beginning and middle of God’s story of the world, with hints and previews of the story’s end and the glorious sequel to come.

But more fundamentally, we can trust the Father because the Father sent the Son. God is no longer simply a distant, alien presence, unsearchable and unknowable. God became one of us. The Son of God suffered scorn and loss and frustration. He even, at the critical moment, wrestled with the Father’s will. And submitted to death, a death he had the power to prevent and the love to endure. He stared down an unjust and horrible death, foreseeing it as God and quivering before it as a man, and said, “not my will, but Yours be done.” For his ultimate glorification, and to ransom us as his prize. To give us the gift of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus called an even greater comforter than himself! And on the last day, to raise us back to glorious life in a renewed world.

And so we can trust, because God claimed the worst portion. We can cry desperately like the Psalmists, we can wrestle like Jacob, we can weep like Jeremiah, but trust as Jesus did. Trust in a good Father, even if we cannot understand what gifts we are being given, or why.

Because God is a loving Father, and even his difficult gifts are perfect.

May 28, 2012

His Own Received Him Not

Back at Easter, C. Baxter Kruger posted two consecutive pieces dealing with the rejection of Jesus.  The first was titled Who Rejected Jesus? (You are encouraged to click the link and read this at source.)

“Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45). 
 
“For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). 
 
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and will deliver him up to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify him…” (Matthew 20:18).
The inherent legalism of the Western Church trains our eyes to see Jesus’ suffering as the judgment of God upon our sin, and virtually blinds us to the more obvious point that Jesus suffered from the wickedness of humanity. It was the human race, not the Father, who rejected his beloved Son and killed him.  The wrath poured out on Calvary’s hill did not originate in the Father’s heart, but in ours.  The humiliation that Jesus bore, the torment that he suffered, was not divine but human. We mocked him; we detested him; we judged him. We ridiculed him, tortured him, and turned our face from him. It was not the Father or the Holy Spirit who abandoned Jesus and banished him to the abyss of shame; it was the human race. We cursed him.
Either the Father, Son, and Spirit were caught off guard by our corporate rejection of Jesus, or there is a redemptive genius at work here that is too beautiful for words. Was the Jewish and Roman rejection of Jesus not foreseen by the triune God? Was the Father surprised when we killed the solution? Was Jesus bewildered and the Holy Spirit shocked when things went south and the crowds turned against him? No, of course not. The animosity of the human race towards the Father’s Son was anticipated, and indeed counted on, and literally incorporated (See Acts 2:23) as the critical part in bringing about our real relationship. Here is amazing grace. In breathtaking love, the Lord’s way of relationship and reconciliation involves the shocking acceptance of our cruelty. The Incarnation involves the inconceivable submission of the Trinity to our bizarre darkness and its bitter judgment.
And the point of such shocking grace is to find us, to meet us, to relate to us and to embrace us as we really are as broken, deceived, wounded, terror-filled, and rebellious creatures.  Here is the heart of the grace of the blessed Trinity.  Jesus bowed to suffer from our loathsome enmity.  He took a dagger to the heart.  He willfully and astonishingly submitted himself to us in our profound darkness—and we damned him—and in submitting himself to us he embraced us at our very worst.
What does this mean?  It means that Jesus took our treachery, our betrayal, our murder and turned them into the way of his Father’s embrace and into the Holy Spirit’s anointing.  We killed him.  Jesus is saying to us on Good Friday: “I can take your murder, and I can let it happen, and in so doing I am accepting you as you are, and I am bringing my relationship with my Father, and my anointing with the Holy Spirit into your murderous darkness.  I use your murder to be the way I bring you into real relationship with my Father and the Holy Spirit.
Our contribution to our adoption was to pour our wrath out upon Jesus.  And on this day we did.  Jesus took it, and drew us in all our anger and brokenness and sin into his Father’s arms.  Shocking, stunning, beautiful grace. It is not ‘dark’ Friday, but ‘good’ Friday.
The second post was titled The House of His Father. (You are encouraged to click the link and read at source.)
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (2COR 8:9).
In the genius of the blessed Trinity, our cruel rejection of Jesus became the way of our adoption; our bitter abuse became the way of the Father’s embrace and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. For how could our unfaithfulness and contempt and treachery, or the enslaving lie of the evil one, or death itself break the love and oneness and life of the blessed Trinity?  In dying at our hands, Jesus brought his life into our death, his relationship with his Father into our gnarled pathology, his anointing by the Holy Spirit into our twisted darkness. Out of his boundless love “he was dishonored that he might glorify us,” (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, I.5.) “he endured our insolence that we might inherit immortality”( Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, §54). Suffering our abuse to give us grace, he met our cruelty with his kindness, our rejection with his merciful acceptance, and our dead and despairing religion with his joy.  By accepting us at our very worst, by submitting himself to us in our great darkness, he entered into our world with his, thus transforming the shack of Adam’s horrid fall into the house of his Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In a variation on St. Paul’s great statement we might say, “For you know the stunning grace of the Father’s Son: that though he was rich in the shared life of the blessed Trinity, yet for our sake he became poor, suffering our wrath to meet us, and that now through his suffering we who were so poor have been included in Jesus’ own rich relationship with his Father in the Spirit.”

April 13, 2012

Potpourri

Sometimes you are in a place where no worship song, no Christian book, no preacher or not even a close friend or relative can help you. Aren’t you glad that there is a ‘very present help in time of need?’. There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother! His name is Jesus! His presence is the most satisfying thing on earth! One moment with Him can change your life forever!

Matthew Murray
(www.shakethenations.com)

via Living4Christ


I’m struck again by the strangeness of the ending of Mark’s gospel. No angels. No visitations. No Emmaus. No breakfast. Just silence .

And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid
Mark 16: 8

Jesus is alive – the best news ever! But Mark gives us no account of the risen Jesus, just the fear and silence of his followers. I know that there are alternative endings to Mark – at least two of them. But I’m certain that Mark intended to end in this strange way. And I’m glad he did – it’s a great comfort to me.

Though Jesus followers fail him even at the resurrection, still the gospel goes on. Despite the silence of those followers, the message gets out. Jesus is alive!

We sometimes talk as though the ’success’ of the gospel depends on us. If only we would follow this program, use that prayer scheme, read the Bible in such a way, worship in a particular style – then God would bless us and all would be well. But the message of Mark is that at best the followers of Jesus are only ever playing ‘catch up’ with him. If a tomb could not contain him, then the failure of his followers will not constrain him either.

I find that curiously reassuring.

Richard Hall at Connexions


This past Sunday morning – I received a text from a friend that included five of the most powerful and encouraging words ever.  The text said: “Praying for you this morning.”

I cannot tell you how that lifted my spirits and encouraged me to preach with even greater passion.  I know that many people are praying for me weekly, but this text was so encouraging because there’s nothing I need more than your prayer.

In fact, if you want your Pastor to study well, to prepare well and to preach well – you need to pray well for your Pastor.

~B. J. Rutledge, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas


“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9).

In the genius of the blessed Trinity, our cruel rejection of Jesus became the way of our adoption; our bitter abuse became the way of the Father’s embrace and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. For how could our unfaithfulness and contempt and treachery, or the enslaving lie of the evil one, or death itself break the love and oneness and life of the blessed Trinity?  In dying at our hands, Jesus brought his life into our death, his relationship with his Father into our gnarled pathology, his anointing by the Holy Spirit into our twisted darkness. Out of his boundless love “he was dishonored that he might glorify us,” (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, I.5.) “he endured our insolence that we might inherit immortality”(Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, §54). Suffering our abuse to give us grace, he met our cruelty with his kindness, our rejection with his merciful acceptance, and our dead and despairing religion with his joy.  By accepting us at our very worst, by submitting himself to us in our great darkness, he entered into our world with his, thus transforming the shack of Adam’s horrid fall into the house of his Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In a variation on St. Paul’s great statement we might say, “For you know the stunning grace of the Father’s Son: that though he was rich in the shared life of the blessed Trinity, yet for our sake he became poor, suffering our wrath to meet us, and that now through his suffering we who were so poor have been included in Jesus’ own rich relationship with his Father in the Spirit.”

~Baxter Kruger, The House of His Father

Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere.  An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives.  The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

April 4, 2012

God Doesn’t Hand You His Will, He Wants You To Find It

I really enjoy the writing of Charlotte, NC pastor Steven Furtick.  Unfortunately, his blog has been reconfigured and is now a collection of video clips from current and past sermons. Perhaps we’ll include some here soon, but in the meanwhile, here is one of his last written blog entries from last month, titled His Will Isn’t The Point.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.
Proverbs 25:2

There’s a reason God’s will in specific situations is so difficult to know sometimes. There’s a reason that not everything is black and white. It can be difficult to discern God’s will for a lot of situations.

Who to date.
Where to go to college.
Who to marry.
Where to move.
What job to take.

And it’s not because you’re not praying. You’re probably praying a lot. It’s not because you don’t want to know His will. You probably aren’t lacking that desire.

But according to this verse in Proverbs, it’s because God conceals.
But why? After all, that seems counterintuitive to God’s purposes and using you in them.

The reason isn’t because God doesn’t want you to know His will. He wants you to know it more than you want to know it. God has something so much greater for you instead.

Him.

God’s not up in heaven hiding His will, hoping you’ll never be able to find it. But He does play hide and seek. He doesn’t just want us to find His will, He wants us to find Him in the process. Because if His will was in plain view, we would seek it instead of seeking Him.

That’s why he conceals it. That’s why it’s so hard.

The point isn’t for God to make His will plain. His will isn’t the main objective. He is the main objective. He wants you to discover Him above all else.

As you run after God and his good, pleasing, and perfect will, remember these two truths:

God isn’t the shortcut to your best life. He is your best life.
God doesn’t want to give you the guide for your life. He wants to be your Guide.

The scariest possibility for your life isn’t getting God’s will wrong. It’s getting God’s will right but barely coming to know God in the process.

You could love the right woman but lose your first love.
You could find the right career but then make it your god.

That’s why He doesn’t just write His will for you in the clouds. At the end of the process, He wants you to know something far greater than what you should do next with your life.

He wants you to know who He is.

~Steven Furtick

March 20, 2012

Trusting in God’s Plan

Microblogging consists of posting very short thoughts and quotations and usually many, many  pictures.  There are a number of Christian microbloggers who use the Tumblr blog platform. Today’s thoughts and graphics are from Spiritual Inspiration. I encourage you to bookmark the blog for when you need a quick spiritual lift. Each one of the graphics and text that follows is independent of the others, but these seemed to form a common theme.

“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13, NKJV)

We all go through disappointments, setbacks and things that we don’t understand. Maybe you prayed for a loved one, but they didn’t get well. Or maybe you worked hard for a promotion, but you didn’t get it. You stood in faith for a relationship, but it didn’t work out. One of the best things you can do is release it. Let it go. Don’t dwell on it anymore. If you go around wondering why things didn’t work out, all that’s going to do is lead to bitterness, resentment and self-pity. Before long, you’ll be blaming others, blaming yourself, or even God. You may not have understood what happened. It may not have been fair. But when you release it, it’s an act of your faith. You’re saying, “God, I trust You. I know You’re in control. And even though it didn’t work out my way, You said, ‘All things are going to work together for my good.’ So I believe You still have something good in my future.”

There is power in letting go of the past and the frustration of trying to figure everything out. When you release your questions, you are saying, “God, You are in control. I trust You.” And when you put your hope in God, that’s when He can heal your heart and lead you forward into His path of blessing.

“Then the LORD said: ‘I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you’ ” (Exodus 34:10, NIV)
If you’re going to reach your highest potential in the natural, you will need to have supernatural doors open for you that you cannot open on your own. You’re going to need promotion, good breaks, divine connections and God’s favor greater than what you’ve seen in the past.

God said in Exodus, “I will perform great wonders that I have not done anywhere before in all the world. People will see what great things I can do because of the awesome things I’m about to do for you.” Think about that for a moment and let it take root in your spirit. God is saying, “I’m going to do something awesome in your life.” “Awesome” means “astounding, remarkable, overwhelming, breathtaking.” The key is found in the very next verse; it says, “Obey what I have commanded.” God’s ready to do His part, and we have to do ours. When we do things God’s way, we get God’s results. When we follow His Word, He promises to bless us with life, health, peace and joy. He promises to do what has never been done before!

“With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” (2 Chronicles 32:8, NKJ)
In scripture, the enemy was coming against Hezekiah, causing him all kinds of trouble, trying to keep him from his destiny. But Hezekiah didn’t get all upset. He just kept abiding, being faithful and putting God first. In Second Kings 19, God said, “Hezekiah, I myself will come against this enemy. He will receive word that he is needed at home, and I will cause him to want to return and he will be defeated.”

Notice that when you abide in Him, the Creator of the universe says, “I myself will come against your enemies. I myself will come against that sickness. I myself will come against those who oppose you.” It says God is the one who caused Hezekiah’s enemy to turn around. That means God can cause that unfair boss to take an early retirement. God can cause that neighbor that’s giving you so much trouble to decide to pack up and move. God can cause that classmate to be transferred to another school.

Today, no matter what’s coming against you, keep pressing into God. Put His Word first place in your life. Honor Him in all that you do. Let Him fight your battles and bring you into the land of victory He has prepared for you!

all pictures and text:  Spiritual Inspiration

February 28, 2012

Success of Significance?

I’ve always said I would rather be effective than be successful. But I’ve never heard anyone else express this sentiment until I came across Counting My Blessings, the blog of Deb Wolf, where this appeared just a few days ago as Would You Rather Be Successful or Significant?

Successful is defined as – having attained wealth, position, honors, or the like.

Significant is defined as – important or of consequence.

So, would you rather be successful or significant? 

This question came to mind as I read Ecclesiastes 4:4 –

Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

I used to think the Book of Ecclesiastes was majorly depressing. Solomon stating again and again that, “it’s all meaningless – like chasing the wind.”

But then I read the end of the book, Ecclesiastes 12:13 –

 After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God, and obey His commands, because this is all that we were created for.

Accomplishing that for which we were created is success. Certainly not the world’s definition of success, not even the dictionary’s definition but I believe the best definition.

What are God’s commands? When Jesus was asked to name the most important commandments He replied:

 “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:27-29

Loving God. Loving others. Success and Significance. 

Not what is normally thought of as success or significance, but for those of who follow Christ the best definition of both.

That’s what I’m thinking about. What do you think?

~Deb Wolf

January 18, 2012

Confessions of a Recovering Legalist: Ten Things Jesus Never Said

Ever heard of “Christian karma?”  Some people think God works that way; that some things that come into our life journey are ‘payback’ for choices we made, and things we did in the past.

Yesterday we dug up a classic interview clip from 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s daily Christian talk show, produced by Crossroads Christian Communications.  Can you handle a video clip two days in a row?  We decided to see who Moira Brown has been interviewing lately, and we found this one, with author with Will Davis, Jr., author of Pray Big and the new Ten Things Jesus Never Said.

Note: The link takes you (sometimes)  to the 2:30 mark in the video where the discussion of this book begins; you can go back to watch the intro if you wish.  If it doesn’t you can jump to 2:30.  You can also look at ALL the interviews from the television program at this link.

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