Christianity 201

November 21, 2022

The Next Move of God

A popular worship song from a few years ago, performed by both Elevation Worship and Bethel Worship is titled “Do it Again.”

I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again.

Excerpted phrases from the lyrics include:

  • You have never failed me yet
  • Your promise still stands
  • Great is Your faithfulness
  • I know the night won’t last

It’s a confidence-inspiring song, trusting God to act as he has in times past. While everyone else is singing it, I am joining in as well, believing that God is fully able to move as he has in times past, and knowing that there are people standing nearby who long for God to move as he has before, either in a general sense of revival or restoration, or concerning a current need they are facing that day.

But life involves the valleys as well as the mountains.

What do you do if the Passover has already passed over, the Red Sea has already parted, and the son has already stood still? Habakkuk no doubt felt like he’d missed Israel’s “glory days.”

Habakkuk 3:2(NIV) LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

We do the same thing. It’s easy to wish that we could see the miracles. Maybe you missed the “third wave” of the charismatic movement in the 1970s; or missed the ocean baptisms of the Jesus movement, also in the ’70s. Maybe you missed the moment at a Christian music festival; or couldn’t attend a particular year of Promise Keepers. Perhaps you weren’t there when that church doubled its attendance in six months; or when that individual was dramatically healed, or another delivered from a particular addiction.

Or maybe you were there, but have a sense of that was then and this is now. You — quite correctly in one sense — don’t want to be coasting spiritually on that event that happened all those years ago, but desire to see God move as he did then.

Or maybe you didn’t miss or aren’t missing a thing, but feel like nothing compares to Old Testament signs and wonders or first century miracles. Like Habakkuk you say:

Habakkuk 3:2(NIV) LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

But always remember how he ends this particular chapter. Even if life appears to be the opposite of all that you’d like to see, even if, as the Brits say, it’s all gone pear shaped; our faith is not shaken. It doesn’t negate the prayer of verse 2, but in 17-19 the prophet puts things in a larger perspective:

Habakkuk 3:17-19a (NLT) Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

It’s also important to remember that God doesn’t always move the same way twice. Compare the two healings of two blind men; one involves Jesus simply speaking, the other involves a messy, muddy paste. One is a single-step process while the other is a two-step healing.

Asking God to “Do it again” may mean that God answers your prayer but in a wholly different manner.

Isaiah 43:18 (NLT) “But forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
19 For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.


July 6, 2022

The Temple: A Place Where Heaven and Earth Could Meet

A year ago we first introduced you to the site of Jonathan Richard Wright. When we checked back this year, there wasn’t a lot of newer material, but I found myself drawn to this article again. (We had linked to it as a bonus item at the time, so apologies if you read it previously, but based on clicks, this will be new to you.) Jonathan is on pastoral staff of a Florida church and his working on his PhD in Theology. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

Jesus, the Temple, and You

I’m sure you woke up this morning thinking, “I’m a temple!”

Probably not. But, I’d like to show you why you should think that—and I’d like to show you from the Gospel of John. So, let’s do a quick tour of John to see why he uses the theme of the Jewish Temple.

Before we begin, you should know that the Hebrew Bible (what we sometimes call “the Old Testament”) includes a story that is driven by a temple theme. On page one, we read that God’s presence lives in a paradise (“Eden” = “delight”). In this paradise-garden, he places his image (like the kind you’d put in temples)—that’s us! Humans. These humans are told to “guard” and “keep” the paradise which are the same commands given later to priests who’ll care for Israel’s temple.

After humans rebel, God still mercifully lives with his people. First, his presence can be found in a tent, called a “tabernacle” (Exodus 25). Then, eventually, he moves into a physical brick-and-mortar temple built by King Solomon (2 Samuel 7). Fast-forward, and Solomon’s temple is destroyed by surrounding kings, and God’s people soon decide to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1–6). But even with that temple built, the prophet Ezekiel dreamed of a day when a better temple would arrive, one like God’s people had never seen before (Ezekiel 40–48).

But, what exactly happened at these temples? Just like the first temple in paradise, the temple was a place where heaven and earth could meet, where people would be able to go and experience God’s presence. Wherever there’s a temple, God could be known—what a grace!

Enter John’s Gospel.

On its first page we read that Jesus, the Word “became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Interesting. So, Jesus links himself to God’s tent used by Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness—the mobile presence of Yahweh.

Fast-forward, and in a conversation with Nathaniel, Jesus says, “you will see greater things than these…truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:50–51). We should ask: “where else have I read about God’s angels ascending and descending?”

The answer is: when Jacob dreamed and saw a ladder connecting heaven and earth, and angels are climbing up and down on it (Genesis 28). Jacob awakes, and names that place “Bethel,” or “God’s House”—the exact phrase used to talk about the temple in other Bible passages (1 Chronicles 6:48, Hebrews 10:21). Jesus claims that he is the ladder—the ultimate connection between God’s space and human’s space—Yahweh’s new house.

Seeing the injustice and selfishness happening in Jerusalem’s temple, John writes that Jesus chases money-changers out and declares, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16). Then, when asked why he has the right to oversee the worship of the temple, he promises that the temple will be destroyed, but then rebuilt. All Jesus’ hearers miss his point. But then we read that the disciples later remembered, “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). It’s Jesus’ body that is the true dwelling place of God—the real temple.

Let’s keep going. While sitting with a woman with a complicated history by a well, Jesus gets into a debate about the temple. Instead of telling her that she must go to the temple to worship God, Jesus says, “woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jesus indicates that a new phase has started in how to worship and know God—the temple is no longer needed because the true Messiah has come onto the scene.

In his Gospel, John also imports images from the Jewish festivals of Passover, the Feast of Booths, and Hanukah, and ties them to Jesus. In the Passover, a lamb is killed to remember God passing over the Israelites in Egypt before the Exodus. Then Jesus is called a lamb, showing that he’s taking away his people’s sin (John 1:29, 36). At the Feast of Booths, water is consumed and lamps are lit to remember how Yahweh kept his people alive in the wilderness. Then Jesus offers for anyone to come to him and drink (John 7:37), and proclaims that he’s “the light of the world” (John 8:12). During Hanukah, a Jewish figure who is commissioned by God is remembered. Then Jesus calls himself the one “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (John 10:36). All three of these feasts took place in or around the temple, and here, through using identical words and images, Jesus is described as fulfilling each feast.

Surprisingly, from John 13 on, the temple is never mentioned again. But even as Jesus moves towards his cross-death, he assures his followers that his presence will dwell in them (John 14:10, 15:4). They won’t be alone. In fact, Jesus dies and rises again in order to create a new people—a new family. That’s what he means when he says, “In my Father’s house (“household” or “family”) are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). Besides comforting his disciples with the news that they’ll forever belong to God, Jesus also means that his redeeming work is forming a people who will be filled with his Spirit—becoming his new house.

All believers, because Jesus is in them and they’re in Jesus, now make up his temple. We’re God’s new house to be bearers of Jesus’ ongoing presence in and to the world until he returns. Jesus is the place where heaven and earth meet, where people can go and experience God’s presence. Wherever Jesus is, God can be known.

And if you’re in Jesus, that’s also you.

May 29, 2022

Contentment: The Daily Process of Being Thankful

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

On five previous occasions here we’ve shared devotional material from Floyd McClung, best known as the founder of Youth With A Mission. With his passing exactly one year ago today, his wife, Sally McClung continues to write online at the website they shared. Clicking the header below will take you to where this first appeared.

Day by Day Contentment

During the 5+ years on our unexpected journey, one of the things I felt continually challenged by was to “learn to be content” in whatever situation I was in.  And it was challenging!  Being content while I was sick, while my husband was lying in silence on a hospital bed, while I continually faced financial challenges, and while every way I looked there was so much I needed to deal with……it was not a simple matter to be “content.”  And yet, God helped me to do just that.  His loving grace enabled me to find peace and rest, to find a place of contentment day by day.  I’m so grateful.

I wish that contentment, once achieved, could just become permanent.  But the very challenge to “learn to be content in whatever state I am in” makes it clear that it’s a continual challenge.  I daily face new barriers to contentment.  I find myself coming back to the Lord again and again asking for His fresh help and grace to be content.  He is patient and faithful – He helps me over and over come to a rest, a peace, and yes a true contentment in each situation.

One recent day when I was dealing with some physical issues, I was finding it hard to be “content.”  I wanted change.  I wanted healing.  I read a devotional about a 64 year old lady who had been bedridden for more than 16 years.  She was in constant pain and unable to move.  The only thing she could use was her thumb on her right hand.  But everyone who was with her talked about how joyful and thankful she was.  She used a 2 pronged fork with that thumb to put on her glasses, feed herself, sip tea through a tube, and turn pages of her large Bible.  Everything she did was with the use of that right thumb.  She thanked the Lord continually for the use of that thumb, for His goodness to her, and for His saving grace. (Shared from “Our Daily Bread” May 1993).

Contentment isn’t learned all at once and it’s over with.  It’s a daily process of being thankful for whatever blessings we have.  I’m still on the journey of learning contentment!

“In everything give thanks.”  1 Thessalonians 5:18

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:11-13

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.”  1 Timothy 6:6

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:10

Each morning as I thank the Lord for a new day, I ask Him to help me have a heart of contentment.  I’m so grateful for His mercy and grace to me.  He is so faithful!

I have been challenged in my pursuit of contentment because it has been a hard week.  One thing after another seems to have “plagued” me.  As I was needing to make some decisions, this verse came to my mind:

“This is what the Lord says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ ”  Jeremiah 6:16

I took time to bring each matter to the Lord and ask Him for the “good way.”  As I’ve waited in His presence and listened, I feel I’m getting some help and clarity.  I’ve also received His peace which brings “rest for my soul.”  Oh how I need that rest – that soul-rest.  I have had to remind myself to bring each thought, each worry, each concern, each need to Him.  I can’t carry them, but He can!  I’m so grateful that for every crossroads that I come to, He can show me the ancient path, the good way.  He is faithful!

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”  Deuteronomy 33:27

“Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”  Psalm 105:4

“In anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.”  Psalm 118:5

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”  Psalm 143:8

March 20, 2022

Putting God Back Into Everything Church-Related

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
– Colossians 4:5-6 NIV

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
– Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT

 

I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here.  No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way.  Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting is a good example of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities?  What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mailout and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if the church bulletin had teaching or devotional value, not just announcements, to the point where people wanted to hang on to them beyond a single week?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.

Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse.    At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to break in, but I couldn’t find an opening.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today.  ‘I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program.’

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us.  But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen.  And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things  outside of church.   We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives.  Nah. That’s way too radical.

Years ago (13 to be exact) our friend Kathy put this on her blog:

I’m reminded of a little church my sister and I visited in the UK, in 2007. St. Leonard’s in Speeton, Yorkshire dates back at least the the 12th century, maybe even further.  It’s the tiniest church I’ve ever seen — surely couldn’t hold more than 50 people — set on the outskirts of the village. It was lovely to sit in its pews and meditate for a while; so quiet and peaceful.

But what struck me the most was the sign on the door:

Don’t you think this sign should be on every church door?

Those routine church events — from cleanup days to business meeting — have a holy, supernatural potential; and we should participate with the expectation of seeing amazing things take place.

 

December 18, 2021

Holiness Shines in the Darkest Moments

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

NIV.Luke.2.8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11a Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you…”

…15b …the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Our search to bring you the best in devotional writing took us to a new writer today. Jake Owensby is a Bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States, holds a doctorate in Philosophy and as we learned later, is the author of Looking for God in Messy Places: A Book About Hope (Abingdon, 2021). We tossed an image of the book cover into the mix today, although I’m not sure the devotional is an actual excerpt. This appeared earlier today at his blog, which is also called Looking for God in Messy Places.

We always encourage you to read C201 devotionals at the place where we found them, and this one is beautifully illustrated there which adds to the reading experience. Click the header which follows.

Wherever You Are

If God can show up in the manger, God can show up anywhere. With anybody. With you and with me. Wherever life might take us.

The angels said to the shepherds, “To you is born this day … a Savior.” And once the angels had gone, the shepherds headed into Bethlehem to see for themselves.

What they found there was an exhausted young mother. A vigilant new father. And a baby. A baby lying in a feed trough. Surrounded by animals and hay and dirt and dung.

But it wasn’t just any baby. When they looked at him they knew in their gut, in their heart, in their marrow that they were seeing God in the flesh. And that this baby, in this place, born to these poor parents, was telling them everything they needed to know about God. About how God is saving them. Saving you and me and the whole world.

In the infant Jesus we see—like those shepherds saw long ago—that God can and will show up anywhere. At anytime. There are no circumstances so appalling, no dwelling so mean, no life so shattered that God will not make it his very own home.

In Jesus we see that God pursues us wherever we may be. Not to spy on us or to scold us or to judge us but to take up nurturing, healing, liberating residence in the very midst of our lives. No matter how messy our life might be. Frederick Buechner put it like this:

“If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too.”

If you’re like me, the birth of Jesus offers relief and kindles a hope that I could never conjure up for myself. That hope is more than wishful thinking. More than the anticipation that my own desires will be fulfilled or my private agenda will get a divine thumbs up.

The birth of Jesus—the moment in which God takes on the vulnerability and fragility of human flesh in a dangerous town in some stranger’s crummy spare room— shows me that God is with us. That love inhabits even the darkest corners of this world.

And the divine love is no mere feeling. Love is the power that changes everything. As Howard Thurman says, Christmas assures us that “love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.”

Jesus will not force his way into our lives. His love is freely given. And we can freely accept it, reject it, or ignore it. Each of us will decide whether or not to make room for Mary and Joseph in the inn of our lives.

As preachers have said in Christmases past, each of us is an innkeeper. Jesus invites us to make a place for him at the center of our lives. And there is a part of us—a tender, wounded, weary, harried, bewildered part of us—that struggles to turn off our “No Vacancy” sign.

In the words of Henri Nouwen:

“A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain. Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost. Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.”

To put that another way, we struggle to give Jesus a place in our inn because we fear that our rooms will be too shabby, too plain, too messy to meet his approval.

So, I encourage you to look with your imagination at that baby. Not the idealized infant of Renaissance paintings and stained glass windows. But at that peasant baby on a dirt floor in a drab, untidy room. That baby breathing donkey’s breath, smelling of old straw, and wrapped in a tattered blanket.

If God can show up there, God can show up anywhere. With anybody. With you and with me. Wherever life might take us.

December 12, 2021

Our Expectations of the World to Come

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A new writer today, Randy Livingston is a police chaplain in Florida who writes at From the Chaplain. In addition to quoted scriptures today a number are alluded to, and you’re encouraged to look them up. Clicking the header which follows will take you to where we sourced this, and you’re encouraged to read it there.

The Next World

The Scriptures tell us that after Christ was raised from the dead that the Father “set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come (Ephesians 1:20-21; emphasis added).  It is fascinating, engaging, and somewhat overwhelming to take note of the truth that there is another world yet to come!  We have only a brief exposure to it in the word of God, but there is enough there to convince us of its reality and a beauty that far surpasses our meager understanding or imagination.

One would expect it to be beyond our comprehension, and rightly so, because God himself dwells there (Revelation 21:3).  It will be characterized by righteousness because the Lord reigns there (Zechariah 14:9).  It will be a place of unsurpassable glory because God is all-glorious (Revelation 5:13).  It is a world that we aspire unto though we have not seen it. It is a place that our hearts long for because Christ himself is there and where Christ is there is righteousness, peace and joy unspeakable.

This sounds almost too good to be true were it not for the promise of Christ himself.  “I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).  Yes, friend, there is another world to come.  It is real; it is unimaginably joyful; and, it is forever!

We could spend more time filling in some gaps in our expectations about this world to come from what has been revealed to us in God’s word.  But the point of this writing it this – there is a whole new world coming after this one has expended its strength and vigor on wickedness.  Christ is coming again and when he does there will be peace and righteousness (Micah 4:3-4).  Truth and holiness will be the key characteristics of this new world order.  Note the contrast to this present world.

Our world is full of lies, unbridled wickedness (or so it seems), selfishness, hatred and every form of impurity the mind can conjure.  Would anyone debate that?  Do we really need convinced of man’s intrinsic wickedness and rebellion against God?

But when Christ comes he shall put down every resistance, silence every foe, root out and vanquish all wickedness (Revelation 19:11-21).  The inauguration of his kingdom shall be glorious indeed! Even so, not everyone will enjoy the benefits of this coming world.  It is a prepared place for a prepared people.  Only those who have washed their sins in the blood of the Lamb and are dressed in his righteousness will be able to participate.  The Apostle John tells us that “there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:27).

Is your name there?


Second Helping: When we’re checking out a devotional blog for the first time, there’s always that article that was the runner-up in terms of what we would have liked to share with you. The one today was about preserving the reputation and legacy that we leave on the day of our death.

August 2, 2021

Marked as a Child of God

Genesis.4.1b.NLT When [Eve] gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear! 14 You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”

15 The Lord replied, “No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him. 16 So Cain left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

A year ago we introduced you to Chuck Griffin who is the LifeTalk editor and one of the writers of Methodist Life a devotional.

This introduces an idea that was new to me, that as a child of God, we also have a mark of protection, as did Cain, though for different reasons. Read the devotional here or through the link in the header which follows, and see what you think!

Marked for Life

Today’s text: Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV): “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the story…, God sentences Cain to the life of a homeless wanderer for killing his brother, Abel.

“Anyone who finds me will kill me!” Cain declares. By some mysterious method, God marks Cain in response to this expression of fear.

In the English language, saying a person has “the mark of Cain” is pejorative, and the story has been used foolishly to justify all sorts of ill treatment of people, including race-based slavery. Cain’s mark was really a blessing, shielding him from violence by others.

Whatever it was that made Cain stand out to those who would do him harm, the mark amounted to undeserved protection from God. We certainly should classify the mark as God’s mercy, and in a way, perhaps it even represents grace, an act of love offered by God to one who has grievously sinned.

We are all sinners, meaning we all deserve death. We all should hope to be similarly marked so we can be protected from what we deserve.

And in fact, it is easy to receive a protective mark, one far better than Cain could have imagined. When we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God marks us as his. We can think of baptism and confirmation as opportunities to formally accept the mark, which reads “Child of God.”

It also is easier than we might initially think to show our mark to others. As the Holy Spirit works within us, our lives should become signs of the presence of God’s kingdom.

Any time you show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control to others, your mark is showing.

Lord, make us wholly yours, and may your Holy Spirit continue to seal us and keep us from the works of the evil one. Amen.

 

February 15, 2021

The Two Temples

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

We have another first-time writer here to introduce: Irm Brown.  She describes herself as a “librarian, writer, blogger, follower of Christ.” Her blog is called Meditations from Zion where she has been writing since March, 2007. (How have we not met up with here before?) This article appeared in January. Click the header which follows and enjoy this on the site where it first appeared.

Look From the Temple Within

In recent days, I have been practicing Lectio Divina again** with some regularity and have found it profoundly illuminating. Partly, I believe it’s because of the familiarity of the Christmas season scripture passages. Most of us know them well, and it’s often difficult to hear/read something new from them. This practice is perfect for a renewal and discovery in God’s Word.

I found a lovely app for my phone called “Ritual” and on it, a daily Lectio podcast presented by theologian, Kathleen Cahalan. The other day, she read a passage about Simeon and Anna from Luke 2. The part about Anna struck me the deepest [Luke 2:36-38]:

“There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” [emphasis mine]

In the past, I simply found her devotion admirable albeit somewhat extreme, and moved on. Or, how lovely for Mary and Joseph to have received two prophetic utterances on the same day, etc. But on this day, I was captured by the Temple itself and the conundrum of the temple within and the temple without. After all, scripture is clear, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” [I Corinthians 3:16, NKJV] And all I could think about was the wonder of never leaving the Temple within. If I could really remain in the holy place, dwell there, and from that vantage point, look out, wouldn’t my view of others and the world around me be transformed?

So, with the help of my “Monk Manual” [MonkManual.com], I was drawn to this idea and have embraced it as my theme for the month of January. There’s no real “doing” in this theme, there’s no success or failure, no comparison, no wrong or right. It’s a small globe of thought on which I want to rest each day and allow myself to wonder again and again: I am in the temple of God and the temple is in me; I am not alone there.


**Lectio Divina is a contemplative way of reading the Bible. It dates back to the early centuries of the Christian Church and was established as a monastic practice by Benedict in the 6th century. It is a way of praying the scriptures that leads us deeper into God’s word. We slow down. We read a short passage more than once. We chew it over slowly and carefully. We savor it. Scripture begins to speak to us in a new way. It speaks to us personally, and aids that union we have with God through Christ who is himself the Living Word.  –From the Anglican Communion.org


Read more from this author: Ever tried to tell a child not to do something? Maybe that’s how it is with us when we’re told to “Fear not.” Check out: Fear Not? I Don’t Think So.

 

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

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

 

Next Page »