Christianity 201

May 28, 2020

What Do You Have to Have, to Have a Church?

Readers: This week you’re getting a double dose of Clarke Dixon’s writing. This was an extra item he posted on his blog, and then tomorrow, we’ll pick up where Clarke left us working our way through Matthew 7.

by Clarke Dixon

When I wrote this back in 2016 I did not realize that in 2020 we would not have what we normally have. Thank the Lord we still have what we have to have to have a church!

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork … or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

What does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

There are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Scripture references today are taken from the NRSV.

 

 

March 31, 2020

Connecting With God’s Presence

Two years ago this month we introduced you to the devotional First 15 — for the first 15 minutes of your day — from Seedbed. Today we’re back with them again. Click the header below to read this at source, where it appears along with the music video for the day or with the option of hearing an audio version of today’s reading.

  • lee esto en español: Read today’s devotional in Spanish

The Reality of God’s Presence

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139:7-8

It’s a troubling truth in Christianity today that many believers don’t know about or aren’t experiencing continual encounter with the real, manifest presence of God. The Bible contains story after story of life-changing, world-altering encounters with the reality of God’s presence. From Moses and the tent of meeting to the disciples at Pentecost, we continually read about God supernaturally encountering his people in real, transformative ways. Jesus died so that we might walk in communion with our heavenly Father not only in heaven, but here on this earth. Biblical characters modeled what it was to experience God consistently in both the New and Old Testaments. God, in his desire to have restored relationship with you, has made the reality of his presence fully available to you. Through the death of Christ there is nothing separating you from him. Before we dive into different stories of God’s manifest presence on the earth, let’s take time to focus on the biblical basis for encountering God. Open your heart and mind to the truth about God’s nearness and allow your faith to be stirred for all the ways your heavenly Father would transform your life through encounter with him.

Psalm 139:7-8 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Acts 17:26-28 says,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Scripture is clear that God is omnipresent and his presence can be tangible to us. David describes God’s presence this way: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

The sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 84:1-2, How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Then in verses 10-12 they declare,

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

There is no doubt in looking at Scripture that God’s presence is real, good, and available to us. Rest in the truth of that for a moment. You can consistently enter into the tangible presence of your heavenly Father anywhere and anytime. Have faith today that God created you to experience him. Encountering his presence is made possible entirely by his grace, so it is available apart from any good or bad thing you do. But, know that God will never force his presence on you. He only fills up what is open and ready to receive. He sweetly calls you to meet with him and waits for you to make space in your life to receive what he longs to give.

There is no more life-giving pursuit you can embark on than the pursuit of God’s presence. Spending time resting in him is meant to be the satisfaction that lays a foundation for you to live the life of abundance made available to you through Jesus. Your role in encountering God is simply seeking him. If you will make time to encounter him, open your heart, and have faith in his word, then you will discover the wellspring of life, joy, love, and transformation that is the presence of our heavenly Father.

Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “You will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Seek and find the presence of the living God today as you meditate on his word and pray.

Prayer:

1. Meditate on the availability of God’s presence. Allow your faith to be stirred up in response to God’s word.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139:7-8

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” Acts 17:26-28

2. Now meditate on the goodness of God’s presence. Allow your desires to be stirred as you read about the wonders of encountering the living God.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84:1-2

3. Open your heart to receive his presence. Ask the Spirit to make known God’s nearness. Seek his presence and have faith in his word that when you seek him you will find him.

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6


That wraps up ten years of Christianity 201. Tomorrow we begin year eleven!

January 30, 2020

Are We the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World?

You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:13-14 (NLT)

by Clarke Dixon

Are salt and light good descriptions of Christians in our Western world today? Salt is helpful. What would McDonald’s fries be without it? Light is also helpful. Don’t drive without some! Salt is also essential. Salt was used extensively as a preservative in the days of Jesus. Additionally, our bodies need a certain amount of salt to survive. Light, of course, is also essential for life. Are we essential?

Does anyone consider the Church to be essential in today’s society? Would people notice if our church closed, or indeed all churches closed? Would anyone notice if Christians kept their Christianity to themselves? There are those who would prefer that be the case. Christians are non-essential in their eyes.

Jesus followers were not considered to be essential when Jesus first spoke those words “you are the salt of the earth, . . .  you are light of the world.” “You,” as in “As for you, who are persecuted on my account” from a previous verse. Jesus followers in the early days were considered to be disposable, even dangerous by the authorities. To such maligned and disposable people Jesus says “you are salt, you are light.” You are essential.

However, though essential, there is a danger of becoming tasteless salt, or perhaps a better way of putting it, foolish salt:

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? . . . Matthew 5:13 (NLT)

The Greek word behind “lost its flavour” is a word used in antiquity for “being foolish.” Indeed, it seems that only here in this verse might it mean “tasteless.” Perhaps, therefore, we should not lose the original meaning behind the word as we hear the words of Jesus. Something like, “You are the salt of the earth, but you can be foolish salt.” Indeed, Jesus would go on to talk about doing something foolish:

No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:15-16 (NLT)

The religious authorities in Jesus day could certainly be described as “foolish salt”, their deeds were not shining in a way that would bring glory to God. They tried to make Jesus out to be the one who was a fool. After all, Jesus did terrible nasty things like heal people on a Sabbath:

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) Matthew 12:9-10 (NLT)

Jesus then made it plain who the fools were.

And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. Matthew 12:11-14 (NLT)

The religious authorities were supposed to be salt and light, but they were being foolish by being lawyers instead of lovers. They were often full of condemnation rather than being helpful. Though they would condemn Jesus for breaking a law on a Sabbath, they were plotting, on that very same Sabbath day, to kill. How foolish! In the religious leaders the salt had lost its taste, it had become foolish.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. Matthew 5:13 (NRSV)

Jesus asks how salt that has lost its saltiness can be made salty again. Technically, salt can not lose its saltiness and that is the point. It should be an impossible thing, such a foolish thing, for the people of God, having been called to be God’s people, having been rescued from Egypt, having been brought into a land they could call home, having been given the law to give them a better way, and having been given the privilege of walking with God Who remained faithful despite their failings – it should be impossible for them to not be salt and light. Why then, are the religious leaders, who should be leading the way in being salt and light, so filled with spite and condemnation when they are the people of God who have experienced such love and grace? That should be impossible.

It should be impossible for us, who are Christ followers, who benefit from the example and teaching of Jesus, who benefit from the death and resurrection of Jesus, who benefit from gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God’s Word, who have experienced forgiveness, who have experienced the love and grace of God – it should be impossible for us to not live love filled, grace filled lives. It should be impossible for us to not be good salt and shining light.

So what does it look like to be good salt and shining light? Jesus will go on tell us in the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. There we will learn what it looks like to let our  “good deeds shine out for all to see” (verse 16). As we look to the Sermon on the Mount in the weeks to come, it is important that we recognize that we are put in a right relationship with God, not by our own efforts to be salty enough salt, or bright enough lights, but by the grace of God. But as salt and light, we can become ineffective, we can be foolish. In the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, we will learn, not what followers of Jesus must do to impress God, but what followers of Jesus look like when God uses them to make an impression on the world.

Society may think that Jesus followers are not essential. But Jesus does! Society may say that Jesus followers are disposable, perhaps even dangerous. Jesus says we are salt and light, we are essential. If people don’t agree with Jesus on that, perhaps we are either being foolish salt, or we are stuck in the saltshaker.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 16, 2019

God Focus Defeats Discouragement and Distraction

Today we’re again back at the website Live as If (part of StudyLight.org) This time around the writer is Sandy Shaw who we’ve featured before. Click the header below to visit the article, and check the link at the bottom for his personal site, Word from Scotland.

What Can We Do If We Feel Like Giving Up?

We have been reading in Nehemiah of the challenges he faced when leading that team of workers as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah made a few changes. He reorganized what was not working well.

Nehemiah 4 verse 13“So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows.”

He did not give up on the goal – he simply reorganised how they were working.

That can apply to being out of shape – budget – being over-committed and we need to reorganise our time – or dealing with the clutter and the rubble which needs cleaned out.

Nehemiah made sure those working had support – that is crucial.

Hebrews 4 verse 25“Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting with other believers, but we must not do that. Instead, we should keep on encouraging each other . . .” If people fall away from worship and fellowship and commitment to Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ, all kinds of difficulties can arise and appear. This can happen if people move out of God’s will for their lives.

Do not give up – just look at things differently.

Nehemiah refocused on GOD.

Nehemiah 4 verse 14 – “Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the leaders and the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious.”

It was as if some were so busy working for GOD that they forgot GOD! Do you think that may continue to happen today?

“When I had lost all hope I turned my thoughts once again to the Lord.” Jonah Chapter 2 verse 7. Yes, even Jonah took his eyes and thoughts off God – as did Peter when Jesus called him to step out of the boat and walk on the water.

Remember God’s presence with you in the past. Remember God’s available closeness to you now in the present – and the promises and power of Jesus Christ for the future.

Resist the discouragement – if that is possible – and I am sure it is if you are called by Jesus Christ.

Nehemiah 4 verse 14 (Then I told them) “. . . Fight for your brothers, and your sons and your daughters, and wives and homes!”

Nehemiah was at war. We are at war. We must not dare give up without a fight.

We face battles every day – “the enemy is the accuser of the brethren” – the enemy uses weapons of distraction and discouragement – to get you away from your post – or to get you to give up your post.

Nehemiah was a man who did not know how to give up. There are not many around. Nehemiah knew how to keep going – and Nehemiah teaches us important and profound lessons, as we face whatever might be going on around us.

Nehemiah knew how to focus upon God – and resist the distraction or discouragement of the enemy.

We too can apply these very practical lessons as we serve the risen and living Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Almighty Father – for Your faithfulness down through the years, we praise You and worship You, because of Jesus – and His love and sacrifice on the cross. Whatever we may be facing, reassure us this day that you will be with us and will never leave us – according to the Scriptures and the promises of Christ our Saviour. Amen.”


Word from Scotland‘ Copyright 2019 © Sandy Shaw; used by permission.

More devotions like this at Live As If.

Alexander “Sandy” Shaw is pastor of Nairn Christian Fellowship in Nairn, Scotland. Nairn is 17 miles east of Inverness – on the Moray Firth Coast – not far from the Loch Ness Monster! Gifted as a Biblical teacher, Sandy is firmly committed to making sure that his teachings are firmly grounded in the Word. Sandy has a weekly radio talk which can be heard via the Internet on Saturday at 11:40am, New Orleans time, at wsho.com.

May 25, 2019

After the Righteous Die

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One writer we’ve borrowed from extensively over the years is Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. This article reminds us that Christ’s resurrection foreshadows our own resurrection some day.  We sleep, but we will wake up.

As always, click the header below and send some blog traffic to Elsie (and all our writers).

What happens after death?

Someone close to us recently experienced the death of a loved one without having any assurance about life after death. Their traditional hope is reincarnation, yet this seems to give little comfort. I’d never met the person who died but am deeply grieving the lack of assurance in this other person’s life.

It is true that the instant we are born we start to die. Most push this enemy out of mind unless sickness or old age insist it be given consideration. The Christians in Thessalonica had lost some of their number to death. They once worshiped idols and for them the afterlife was a place of fear and darkness. They needed to know what God said about this final enemy so Paul wrote to them good news:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14)

For Christians, ‘sleep’ is a suitable euphemism for death. We will wake up. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s full demonstration of His power over death and of the eternal future of those who put their faith in Him. While there is a bit of controversy of how this will happen (Will we rise out of the grave? Do we go directly to heaven? Does the soul sleep? Etc.?) the answer is in Jesus. He died and He rose again.

Paul uses a negative approach to this issue in another of his epistles . . .

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12–19)

Paul goes on to explain what will happen, revealing that death is no longer an unknown and that our faith has an incredible reward. Because Christ defeated death, we who live by the power of Christ will also defeat death. It cannot overpower the eternal life of Christ that is in us.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:21–27)

People hold all sorts of ideas about death. Some think that it is simply the end. Others hope their life will return in another form. There are a few reports from people who supposedly died, went to heaven then returned, but the Word of God is silent on most of this. It says only that we die once and that after death there is judgment. We only know the report from the only One who came back to life. Paul told the church at Thessalonica and He tells me to trust Jesus. He is my living Savior.

Prayer: Jesus, I am happy to trust You. Not only are You alive, You are alive in me. I am aware of Your presence and Your voice, also that You love me with an everlasting love. You are my hope. No idol nor ideology has ever done that for me. I’m grateful for the grace of God that brought me to this place of faith and peace. While I might not relish the idea of leaving this life right this minute, should it happen I do not fear death. You defeated it and Your victory is also mine! Amen!

April 25, 2019

A Compelling God

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

April 14, 2019

Immersive Worship

Six months ago we introduced you to The Serener Bright. Ian Graham describes himself as “a pastor, church planter, musician, songwriter, reader, and writer.” His church, Ecclesia, is located in West Trenton, New Jersey. Although the blog has not been very active, I wanted to share this one (which followed the one we shared here earlier by only a few days and was included then as a bonus link) as it fits well with our Sunday theme.

Psalm 27: Worldly Hope

Fearless Trust

Psalm 27 invites us to a glimpse of a well-worn, mature faith. These words are not those of one freshly afoot on the road of life with God. These words are the embodiment of the image of the tree in Psalm 1, a life firmly rooted in God, watered by past experiences of God’s salvation, by the promises and hope of what the Lord has said. David writes as one well-schooled in the art of trusting God.

Perhaps most striking about David’s assurance is that chaos seems to be the vantage point from which he prays. He describes his circumstances with images of vandal hordes descending and all hell breaking loose (vv.2-3). David’s increased depth of trust and hope in God has not resulted in a diminishing of the very real threats that plague him. But David’s trust has reframed everything. In the midst of this anarchy, David is “calm as a baby, collected and cool” (vv.2-3).

There is something so radically this-worldly about the shape the hope Psalm 27 invites us into. The pain and the danger are real but so is the reality that God is inviting us into counter-rhythms that syncopate the cadences of chaos with order and beauty. Two important practices stand out within the context of the psalm. He writes in vv.4-5:

I’m asking God for one thing,
only one thing:
To live with him in his house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet.

1. Contemplative Prayer

First, David invites us to the disciplines of contemplative prayer, silence and solitude. David’s world much, much like our own, moves at a frenzied pace. We are constantly being discipled by the antichrist rhythms of noise, notifications, news, and the normalization of violence. David knows that the only response is to retreat. A retreat not away from this world but a retreat into the refuge of God’s presence. Thomas Merton writes that when Christians forsake contemplation they substitute the “truth of life” for “fiction and mythology” bringing about the “alienation of the believer, so that his [sic] religious zeal becomes political fanaticism.”  David instead of leaning into the madness, embraces silence and solitude. He writes of the presence of God:

 That’s the only quiet, secure place
in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway,
far from the buzz of traffic.

2. Immersive Worship

Second, David immerses himself in worship both private and communal. Even on the way to church, he’s already singing his own songs:

I’m headed for his place to offer anthems
that will raise the roof!
Already I’m singing God-songs;
I’m making music to God.

Worship is the eruption of joy and gratitude, not a response fueled by emotivism, but a quiet resolve to contemplate what God has done and to voice heartfelt thanksgiving for it. Worship is the antidote to our own poisonous obsession with self, our propensity to live at the mercy of our circumstances and our ever-changing whims. Worship in the face of great trial is not a denial of our situation. Rather it is God’s invitation to to view the world from his own vantage point, to be with God and find that in all things he is drawing near to us.

This Exuberant Earth

David expresses one final plea, “You’ve always been right there for me; don’t turn your back on me now. Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me; you’ve always kept the door open” (vv. 9-10). He asks for guidance, he needs God to show him the way. He writes:

Point me down your highway, God;
direct me along a well-lighted street;

And he ends his prayer in one final, resolved, steadfast, radically hopeful expression of trust. Again, what’s remarkable about this ending stanza is that this resolution is not reserved for another life. He finds hope right here in the midst of the confines of this world, this place, amongst these people and these circumstances. He knows that God won’t quit on him and so, grizzled veteran of faith and trust in God that he is, he won’t quit on God. He holds fast to the hope that God’s goodness will reveal itself again, right here in this “exuberant earth.” Don’t quit. God is faithful. In the beautiful translation of Eugene Peterson:

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.

 

January 8, 2019

Between the Wings of the Cherubim

NIV.Ps.5.7 But I, by your great love,
    can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
    toward your holy temple.


CEB.Ex. 25.10 Have them make an acacia-wood chest. It should be forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high...

…17 Then make a cover of pure gold, forty-five inches long and twenty-seven inches wide. 18 Make two winged heavenly creatures of hammered gold, one for each end of the cover. 19 Put one winged heavenly creature at one end and one winged heavenly creature at the other. Place the winged heavenly creatures at the cover’s two ends. 20 The heavenly creatures should have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. The winged heavenly creatures should face each other toward the cover’s center.

NIV.Ex.25.2 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Often we begin here with some printed thoughts and end with a song. Today’s thoughts began with a song. First, they began with hearing of the passing of an older member of our congregation. When we began attending, Gwen was the pianist. My first contact with her was over a song she played that Sunday as an offertory, Commune With Me. Absolutely beautiful song, and I had to know what it is. She asked me if I played the piano, and I told her I did, never knowing that about a year later I would be the church’s first Director of Music.

As I thought about the song, I delved more deeply into the phrase that forms the title of today’s thoughts, and found a 2006 post at the blog The Voice of David:

“Commune with me” – that’s our communion/fellowship/one-ness with God
“I worship You” – our worship of Him
“I’ll meet You there” – again, speaking of fellowship, but also speaks of our eternal
reward and inheritance in Christ

The term “between the wings of the Cherubim” is taken from God’s promise in the Old Testament that He would meet and talk with the high priest… between the wings of the cherubim (that’s where the blood of the sacrifice was put) in the Holy of Holies, behind the veil, into which the high priest could only enter once a year on the day of atonement. Now we have Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, the end of the Law of commandments in ordinances, whose blood was shed for us so that now, it is only in Christ that we have communion with God, it is only in Christ that we can worship Him, and it is only in Christ that we can finally meet God face to face.

Yet the wonder of all this is that no matter how much I try to explain this in words, my words will never be fully sufficient all that this means – all that it means to be in Christ, to commune with God, worship Him and to meet Him there between the wings of the cherubim. I dare say I am not fully able to comprehend this wonderful idea yet, either. It takes the Holy Spirit who indwells each person who believes in Christ to first implant the Word, then develop it until the Word becomes unto each one of us true revelation.

At the beginning of today’s devotional I quoted from Psalm 5. Bible Study Tools offers commentary on this verse:

With this verse the first part of the Psalm ends. The Psalmist has bent his knee in prayer; he has described before God, as an argument for his deliverance, the character and the fate of the wicked; and now he contrasts this with the condition of the righteous.

But as for me, I will come into thy house. I will not stand at a distance, I will come into thy sanctuary, just as a child comes into his father’s house. But I will not come there by my own merits; no, I have a multitude of sins, and therefore I will come in the multitude of thy mercy. I will approach thee with confidence because of thy immeasurable grace. God’s judgments are all numbered, but his mercies are innumerable; he gives his wrath by weight, but without weight his mercy.

And in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple, — towards the temple of thy holiness. The temple was not built on earth at that time; it was but a tabernacle; but David was wont to turn his eyes spiritually to that temple of God’s holiness where between the wings of the Cherubim Jehovah dwells in light ineffable. Daniel opened his window toward Jerusalem, but we open our hearts toward heaven.  (Emphasis added.)


In memory of Gwen Burgher

 

 

October 29, 2018

The Value of Road Blocks

Today for something a little different, we’re going to return to Jon Swanson’s site, 300 Words a Day, but we’re going to add a little of the linked scripture passages, because, well, let’s just say we can tell who clicked what by looking at our stats page!  (I have been guilty of this myself over the years, only reading the commentary without clicking through to the passages; or just reading the key verse in a print devotional, but not the entire recommended section listed on the page.) Remember, you’ll still want to read the full texts which are linked in each paragraph.

Click the title below to read at source, and then you can navigate to Jon’s site where hopefully, you will click the links provided!

Road Blocks

A road block is an event or object that makes us stop moving. A tree that has fallen across the road can be a literal road block.  So can the sarcastic comment that interrupts our train of thought, the clogged drain in the tub, and the paperwork that we didn’t expect which has to be completed by tomorrow morning.

I want to think about the value of road blocks, but I encourage you to not read this if you are currently stopped by a road block. (You’ll get frustrated).

Road blocks let us test our reactions and responses.When I get frustrated that everything is spilling some mornings, I eventually have to step back and say, “why is this bothering me so much?” It’s one reason James tells us to value the trials we face because they can, when reflected on, help us discern what is going on in our hearts.

NIV.James.1.2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Road blocks allow us to be creative. Some obstacles invite us to find different solutions. Zaccheus wanted to see Jesus. There were crowds. There was a tree. He climbed the tree.

NASB.Luke.19.3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.

Road blocks remind us to rest. I suppose this is related to the idea of reflection, but if we find ourselves frustrated or angry or overwhelmed, we may need a nap, a snack, a walk. It may not be our road black to remove. Or it may, but not now. Or it may, but tomorrow, when we’re rested.

NIV.Ps.4.1 Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

Road blocks invite us to focus  Some obstacles remind us that what we are doing is valuable. We are invited to devote more focus to the task at hand and ignore the distractions. As Nehemiah said, “I am doing a great work. I cannot come down.”

NASB.Neh.6.2 then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were planning to harm me. So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”


Here’s a CCM classic from Andrae Crouch. I thought of this song because of the verse:

I thank God for the mountains
and I thank him for the valleys
and I thank him for the storms he’s brought me through
for if I’d never had a problem
I’d never know that God could solve ’em.
I’d never know what faith in his word can do.

For those of you who’d prefer a more modern song, here’s Matt Redman. The lyrics begin,

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us…

…Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

October 26, 2018

God Did Not Abandon His People

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This is our third visit with Peter Corak who writes devotionals at My Morning Meal. Click the title below to read this at source.

A Sanctuary

“Elvis has left the building.” That’s the phrase once used at the end of an Elvis Presley concert to indicate that the concert was done–like, really done . . . as in, “It’s over, folks. No more music, tonight.”  The people could disperse because the king of rock and roll wasn’t coming back for an encore.

And reading in Ezekiel this morning there’s a sense of similar finality. The glory had the left the building.

From the house to the threshold (10:4), then out from the threshold to the court (10:18), and finally up from the midst of the once holy city to a mountain to the east (11:22-23), the cloud that once filled the holy of holies, the brightness that once emitted the very presence of God, the glory of God, had, quite literally, left the building.

The glory had departed and the people were dispersed. They would be scattered among the nations. The land of their promised possession in ruin, they would be sent away for an extended “timeout” to consider their ways that they might repent of their rebellion. Heavy sigh!

But here’s the thing that I’m chewing on this morning, though the glory had departed, and though they would be the dispersed, yet God would not abandon His people. In fact, they would come to know His glory in a different way, a way not dependent upon a brick and mortar temple, but through a new type of relationship.

“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’”

(Ezekiel 11:16)

While in exile, while trying to make it in a foreign land, though far from the holy temple site which was no longer so holy because the glory was gone, the Lord GOD says, “I will be their sanctuary for a while.”

God, through Ezekiel, reaffirmed His promise: “I will gather you from the peoples . . . and give you the land of Israel” (11:17).

God then expanded the promise: I will put a new spirit in them. Give them a new heart, a heart of flesh ready, willing, and able to obey (11:19-20).

And until the full realization of the promise, God says I will be a sanctuary. I will be the temple and will tabernacle directly with them.

For a little while, though far from home, God’s people would come to know and be satisfied with God’s abiding presence as they waited until the day of their full and complete restoration and return to the land of promise.

The glory had left the building, but the God of glory had not turned His back to His people. He would draw near to His remnant in the place of their sojourning and would be their portion, their protection, and their power. All the while, drawing out their hearts toward Him in obedient worship.

We also are people in a foreign land waiting to go home and know afresh the glory of God in all its fullness. But until then, His abiding presence through His Holy Spirit is our sanctuary, the means by which we encounter the glory, though “in a mirror dimly” (1Cor. 13:12).

What’s more, He is making us part of that sanctuary. As, in Christ, we are “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).

Though often, as we look around us, it may seem the glory has left the building, yet within us, through redeemed and regenerated hearts, we can know God as a sanctuary. His glory abiding with us and in us.

By His grace. For His glory.

September 16, 2018

“I am Like an Olive Tree”

Today I wanted to focus on a verse in Psalms:

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. Psalm 52:8

I went about the process of trying to find a commentary which would fit what we do here, only to discover a site called “My Olive Tree.” I figured if anyone knew about olives, it would be these people, right? It turns out the authors have as their mission, “…To create a partnership between the Evangelical community and the nation of Israel; this partnership will produce employment, income, and revenue for humanitarian aid projects in Israel. We envision the planting of one-million olive trees over… seven years.”

To learn more, click the title below and read what follows there — with some beautiful images — then navigate around their website from that page.

I Am Like an Olive Tree?

Oftentimes in the Word of God, deep spiritual truths are communicated through symbols or allegories of everyday life. Because the stories in the Bible are thousands of years old, this leaves us with the difficulty of discovering the true meaning of the text. We are not only challenged to understand the age and culture of the writing, but are also expected to fast-forward the meaning of a symbolic or allegorical word or phrase into a context that fits into today’s rapidly changing 21st century society.

This process is known as hermeneutics—studying what the biblical authors were saying to their original audiences, asking how those teachings apply to us today, and then wrestling with how to live out their words of wisdom.

This research can be a daunting task to challenge the best of scholars.

This brings us to my question: what exactly did David mean in Psalm 52.8 when he wrote: “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God…”? Who or what was he referring to when he made the comparison of himself with an olive tree?

The Hebrew word for ‘olive tree,’—es shemen—simply means tree of oil. However, the primitive root word means to illuminate, to shine, or to cry aloud with joy. And if we take its literal meaning, the word ‘olive’—zayith—translates to yielding illuminating oil.

The olive tree is important as a joyous symbol of illumination.

Olive trees feature prominently throughout the Bible. The first mention of an olive tree is found in Genesis 8.11, when God came to Noah with a symbolic gesture of covenant peace—the dove with an olive leaf in its beak, signifying that dry land existed:

“Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth; and Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.”

As we dig deeper into the symbolic message that God was conveying through the olive leaf, we can see that it represented a gesture of covenant peace and hope between God and all mankind—a cessation of judgment.

When I read on in Deuteronomy 8.7-8, I found that in ancient Israel the olive and its oil were considered one of the Seven Species, or staple foods, found in the land of Israel. This was true then, and it is still true today!

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land… a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey…”—Deuteronomy 8.7-8

We know this because in 1 Kings 5.11, we learn that King Solomon exported between 100,000 and 120,000 gallons of olive oil to the king of Tyre annually.

“And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand kors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty kors [nearly 120,000 gallons] of pressed oil. Thus Solomon gave to Hiram year by year.”

Today Israel produces 675,000 to 720,000 gallons of extra virgin olive oil per year—making olive oil a significant major crop both in ancient Israel, just as it is today!

Olive trees can also survive very harsh conditions, as we discovered in Genesis 8.11 when Noah was presented with a freshly plucked olive leaf from a tree that had been completely flooded. Moreover, even when the trunk of an olive tree is cut down, it will still sprout new life.

I also discovered that olive trees are evergreens—they have leaves throughout the year that stay green despite drastic seasonal changes.

So, what did David mean when he said “I am like an olive tree in Psalm 52.8?

Let me paraphrase what I believe he was saying:

But I am like an olive tree—I am illuminating, steadfast, undying, joyous, peaceful, abundantly fruitful, and life producing—as I flourish in God’s greenhouse, lovingly nurtured by His hand that guides me always and forever…

So… Under God’s loving care we have no choice but to flourish!

 

April 24, 2018

The Unrecognized Christ

by Russell Young

Who is Christ? This might sound like an unnecessary question to pose to Christians, however an understanding of who he is to the extent that his ministry can be fully accomplished is seldom appreciated.

Many years ago, through research and prayer I had sought to gain insight concerning the evolution of Canada from a country that had once elevated Christ to one that can be termed “a post-Christian.” Most Canadians would have identified themselves as supporting Christian principles and most would have identified themselves as being of this world view. Although many would accept the designation, commitment to Christian principles in life has become lacking, is often ridiculed, and for political-correctness has been discarded. Late one night, having doggedly pursued my query for most of a year, a vision came to me and I was overwhelmed with a great sense of peace. (This has been the only one that I can recall.) It was of a whiteboard with the wording printed, “They must know him.” At the time, I accepted this to represent the need for evangelism and gave it little more thought.

Recently, in prayer, while seeking knowledge of God’s will, the realization came to me that “knowing him” meant knowing him as Holy Spirit. Although I had written on the fact that eternal salvation comes through Christ as the Holy Spirit (2 Thess 2:13, Titus 3:5; Gal 6:8), I had not connected it to my earlier vision until this day. That is, “They need to know Christ, as Holy Spirit.” This appreciation is not common even among spiritual leaders.

Paul made the association clear to the Corinthians. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:1718 NIV Italics added) Paul has also made this revelation to the Colossians and to the Galatians. “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27 NIV Italics added) “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but, Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20 NIV Italics added) Note that it is Christ in the believer that is his or her hope of glory, not Christ on the cross, although his life-offering is essential.

Who is Christ? He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He not only offered his life a sacrifice on the cross to complete the covenant of the law and as a propitiation for sins (Heb 9:15), he was resurrected so that we might be given his Spirit to lead a righteous life. (Gal 3:14, 6:78; Rom 8:4, 1314)

Knowing who Christ is requires knowing him as Spirit since the fullness of his ministry is also defined by the Spirit’s ministry. It is this aspect of Christ that needs to be known. It is Christ as Spirit who enlightens (Jn 16:13), leads (Jn 10:27, 16:8; Rom 8:14), and empowers (Rom 15:13; 2 Tim 1:7) for righteousness. (Gal 5:5) The warning has been given that those who blaspheme the Spirit will never be forgiven. (Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10; Heb 10:26) Blaspheme means to sin defiantly. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native born or alien, blasphemes the LORD.” (Num 15:30 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has also revealed an “expectation of judgment and of raging fire” for those who “deliberately keep on sinning.” (Heb 10:2627 NIV) The person who would be “eternally” saved must obey Christ (Heb 5:9) and do the will of the Father. (Mt 7:21)

Knowing Christ requires recognizing his holiness and authority and honoring it. Christ said that he was the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). The Spirit is his life. It is this aspect of Christ that seems to have been missed and it is through honoring this person that commitment and self-discipline are required. Neglect of his life has resulted in Canada becoming a post-Christian nation. The power of Christ for eternal salvation and for ministry is being lost.

The Spirit was sent to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8 NIV), however tradition has carried the church in Canada more than conviction by the Spirit and without conviction truths become cast aside and are lost. Without conviction people do not contend for the faith. Without conviction the righteous requirements of God are replaced with personal interests and desires. Without conviction, the Spirit, Christ in us, will not be honored as our lord or sovereign and cannot minister for the confessor. Many accept the designation of being Christians, but do not live his life. They have hearts, attitudes, and practices that are difficult to distinguish from the multitudes that surround them; consequently, Christian values have been replaced by those of the worldly multitudes and Canada has lost its Christian identity. The power of God has been usurped by the prince of the power of the air.

Concerning the last days Paul wrote that people would have “a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2 Tim 3:5 NIV) The power of God is exercised through his Spirit. The sovereignty of God as Lord and King is seldom acknowledged, even from pulpits, and his lordship other than as a title.

Jesus Christ as Holy Spirit is the unrecognized Christ, and he needs to be honored through obedience for those seeking his eternal kingdom. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) People need to know who he is, that he is the Spirit. His reality needs to be recognized.)


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

November 23, 2017

Sitting on the Altar

by Clarke Dixon

“The priest yelled at me for sitting on the altar and that was the last time I ever went to church”. Thus said a new acquaintance one day. Some may want to scold the priest for handling the situation in an unfriendly manner. Or perhaps the priest knew something the young man did not? The Bible has much to teach about sacred, holy spaces.

It begins with Adam and Eve who, though initially enjoying the presence of God in the garden, sinned and got the boot. God is holy, they were not, and so they no longer belonged in that sacred space.

It continues with Moses and the burning bush. Moses is to take off his sandals for the place upon which he was standing was holy ground. God’s presence was near, an unholy man like Moses must keep his distance. We can note here, how fire is an appropriate image for the presence of God. Unholy people should never think they can give a holy God a hug. The fierce holiness of God commands a respect of space.

It continues with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. God tells Moses that he is going to be present on Mount Sinai and so the people are instructed to wash their clothes and to not “go up the mountain or touch the edge of it” (Exodus 19:12). God is holy, they are not, sacred space is to be respected.

It is taught with the giving of the law and the instructions regarding the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. The incredible attention to detail for clothing, ceremonial washings, and sacrifices offered a reminder that an unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God. If you were a Jew and you were to approach God at the tabernacle or later the temple, then the holiness code must be kept. If you were a non-Jew wanting to approach God at the Temple in Jerusalem, then you had to obey the signs telling Gentiles to go no further. God is holy, and you are not, so stay back.

The young man I quoted at the beginning was told to stay back. Unfortunately, he also stayed away. Whatever lessons the priest and the young man could learn that day, there is an important lesson for us all. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul:

But I have written more boldly to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:15-16 (NET emphasis mine)

Paul’s passion, reflecting God’s call on his life, is to reach the non-Jews with the good news about Jesus, with the good news about God. Paul frames this calling as being like a priest who is to bring an offering before God. In Paul’s case, that offering is non-Jewish people. There are two truths that follow from this for us to consider:

First, because of Jesus, people are brought into the presence of God who should not normally be there. Think of the temple and the signs telling the non-Jews to stop and go no further. Now imagine Paul like a priest bringing his offering, the non-Jews, to the temple. He must walk right past the signs! People who were once far from God and who were to keep a distance are now brought into a sacred space. There is a similar line of thought in Ephesians:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh . . . that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13 (NET)

Perhaps you feel that you are far from God and should keep a distance. In Christ you are invited to come right up to the altar!

Second, because of Jesus, people become an acceptable offering. Only the best of the best was to be brought as an offering before the Lord. There were to be no blemishes or defects. Do you feel like the best of the best? Probably not and neither do I. However, our perfection as an offering is a reflection of God’s work in us. Paul does not say that he brings the non-Jews to God just as they, as if any old offering will do. What he says is;

I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:16 (NET emphasis mine)

It is God’s work to make us holy through the blood of Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our part is to show up. Paul here is continuing a thought he expressed earlier:

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God. Romans 12:1 (NET)

The emphasis is not “Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by your own efforts, to make sure you are good enough, and holy enough, to present your bodies as living sacrifices.” We might prefer it were, for we prefer pedestals to altars, also for then we could boast about our own capacity for holiness. Only, of course, we never could. The main verb focuses us on our part; offering ourselves. It is God’s part to make us “alive, holy, and pleasing to God”, to make us an “acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”.

I am a Dad, not because I spent nine months of painstaking work building a baby piecing together each and every cell in the correct place. I am a Dad because something incredible happened in my wife’s womb. My only accomplishment for nine months was getting a crib together. We are invited to become an acceptable offering, not because we we have the capacity in ourselves to become holy, but because God has done something incredible.

So let us consider again the yelling priest and the young man sitting on the altar. Was the priest right? The real tragedy here is that the young man, when I met him, could only think of religion in terms of priests, churches, religious people, and religious stuff. The question is not “what do you think of religion?” but always “what do you think of Jesus?” Whatever his answer to that is we know what God thinks of him. He wants him to be where He is, to live fully in the presence of God, to live in a sacred space, in fact to become a sacred space. That is what God wants for you also. Are you sitting on the altar?


read more at www.clarkedixon.wordpress.com

October 24, 2017

Holding, Embracing, Living in God’s Promise to Be With Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents. Click the title below to read at source.

When Pressures Build

by Ron Scurfield

A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  Mark 4:37-39, ESV

What do we do when the pressures of life build up and obscure the presence of Jesus – when we seem to be heading down a tunnel that gets narrower and darker? We may tell ourselves, “God is with me. He will never leave me nor forsake me.” We may hold on in faith, aware that God knows our problems and He won’t let us down.

But the effort in maintaining control takes its toll. We’re pushed into a corner and the walls are closing in. We can’t see a way out and we know the enemy is gaining the upper hand. Our resistance fades. Do we examine our conscience and look for ways where the devil may have found a foothold?

We search the Scriptures for words of encouragement. But we can see where we’re heading, and the pressure increases. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). God will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He turned away from His Son because Jesus was carrying the sins of the world on His shoulders, ‘… that they may have life …’ (John 10:10).

We need to hold on. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). We may argue that we do know the truth, but He still seems so far away. The truth is in His Word, and His promises are trustworthy.

Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). To know God is more than just a mental assertion that He exists. It’s an intimate relationship. God is all-loving, all-merciful and all-faithful. We need to embrace this truth and know that He will never let us down. When our faith begins to waver and doubt takes hold, the enemy creeps in as he did in the garden when he said to Eve, Did God really say …? (Genesis 3:1).

Habakkuk writes: My heart pounded, my lips quivered … decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The intimate relationship He has with us is such that He will see us through our troubles. He will provide for our every need. He will never leave us. He is with us continually. David said. ‘‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (Psalm 23:4). We need to know the truth. Hold on to it, embrace it, live in it. Jesus said, ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6). He will never fail us. Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please forgive me when I allow the trials of life to become greater than my faith in You. You are Lord of all, even my troubles. Help me to rest in Your peace when the storm rages, and know that You are God. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

June 29, 2017

Good Grief! And a Lack Thereof

by Clarke Dixon

Expressing emotion during a time of grief is a very natural thing to do. To not grieve, and to suppress emotion, is a very unnatural thing to do. If we understand that, then we are well on our way to understanding why God told Ezekiel to show no grief over the death of his wife:

Ezekiel 24:15-18 (NRSV) The word of the Lord came to me: 16 Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners. 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

So why is Ezekiel told not to grieve? Ezekiel’s lack of grief becomes a lesson in grief for God’s people during the exile. They have been demonstrating a lack of grief over something very important. We find the clue as to what in these following verses:

Thus says the Lord God: I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire . . . . And you, mortal, on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection, . . . Ezekiel 24:21-25 (NRSV)

Do you notice something about the loss God’s people are experiencing? Where is the mention of the presence and glory of God? Remembering that the temple was to be known as the place of God’s presence, and remembering the need for humility in approaching God’s glory and presence, it is strange that the temple should be called “the pride of your power”. The temple has become “the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire,” and their “joy and glory.” The temple has taken the place of God in the lives of His people. The temple itself has become for God’s people nothing more than another idol. Yet there has been no grief over the fact that God has already “left the building.”

When God’s people lose the temple they are told they ought not to grieve, for all along they have not shown any grief over losing what should have been most important to them, the presence and glory of God. In fact God’s people have been actively doing the very things that take them away from the presence and glory of God: “you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another” (Ezekiel 24:23 ESV). In other words, this is the status quo. God’s people have not been grieving over the sin that has led them away from the presence and glory of God.

What are we to learn from this for our day?

There are two things:

First, we learn about what ought to elicit deep emotions in us. When you have an understanding of the reality of the presence and glory of God, then anything that would take you in the opposite direction should make you feel sick. What are those things? We learn them from God’s Word, but let Jesus summarize for us:

Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV) 34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

When we know the Lord, when we have a mature understanding of His greatness and glory, we will naturally grieve when we see a lack of love, both for God and for neighbour. When we see God mocked, and when we see people suffer injustice, we ought to grieve.

Second, is it possible that our grief as God’s people is misplaced in very much the same way it was misplaced in Ezekiel’s day? We grieve over the loss of churches and church buildings. A recent local newspaper article lamented the closure of churches in the rural areas. To quote one church member: “When I was a kid, there would be square dances and community meals here” (Northumberland News, Thursday, June 22nd 2017). What about the prayer there, the digging into the Word of God there, the care of the soul there, the presence of God among God’s people there, the worship of God there? To quote a clergy person from the same article: “When I was a child everyone went to church – why do people go to church? For the community. It was the only game in town for some communities.” Again, does no one go to church for prayer, for the Word of God, for the presence of God, for the worship of God, for the glory of God?

The sentimentality around losing churches and church buildings is completely natural and understandable. But are we grieving more over the apathy towards Christ, and active pushing away from God in our day? Are we getting emotional over God’s presence and glory? To do otherwise is unnatural and we may be lacking in good grief.


Read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

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