Christianity 201

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

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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

December 1, 2016

Creation. Where the Christmas Story Begins . . .

o-come-o-come-emmanuel
by Clarke Dixon

If someone asked you to tell them the story of Christmas, where would you start? With the angels announcing to Mary and Joseph that a baby is on the way? Or perhaps with the prophets of the Old Testament announcing that the Messiah would someday be on His way? That is still not going far enough back for the Christmas story goes right back to Creation. How so?

Imagine you are attending a synagogue service sometime before Jesus is born. The rabbi has read from the scroll of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. You wonder what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in the Garden before the Fall. You ask yourself “What did Adam and Eve enjoy during that time that we are missing out on now?”

Perhaps some of you will think of being naked and unashamed! Perhaps not. Some of you may think of the wonderful non-violence of that time and place. Even in the animal kingdom there was a sense of peace and non-violence:

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. Genesis 1:30 (NRSV)

How things have changed, with violence marking both the animal kingdom, and so called civilization.

However, the biggest change of all, and the thing you should miss the most, is the full-blown presence of God. God is spoken of as walking in the garden as any person might, and only after the “apple debacle” do Adam and Eve feel that His presence is a scary thing.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 (NRSV)

We get a sense that before the eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve could spend time with God as easily as we might spend time with a family member or good friend.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would miss the presence of God without someone pointing to the Temple. The Temple was a symbol of God’s love; “I want to dwell with you.” But it was also a symbol of separation; “Because I am holy and you are not, I must dwell separated from you, in a holy place.” The Temple was a constant reminder that we are not in the Garden of Eden anymore. Adam and Eve enjoyed the full presence of God without the need for a Temple.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without the need for a priesthood. The priesthood was again a symbol of God’s love; “I want a relationship with you.” But it was also a reminder of separation; “I am holy, and you are not, therefore we cannot have a relationship. You need people who are holy, separated out from you, to stand between you and me.” Adam and Eve could speak freely with God with no need for priests.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without all the rigmarole of religion. The ritual purity code again is another reminder of separation from God. By setting up the religious code, God was revealing proper morality, yes, but was also in effect saying; “There are a lot of things you need to change about yourself before you can even approach me.” Adam and Eve did not need to get all religious when in the Garden.

So does Christmas change anything? There are signs that Christmas is part of everything changing! If you were God and you chose to be incarnate, where would you choose to be born? Perhaps in the Temple to remind the people of the separation that exists between yourself and humanity? God chose a different emphasis. Could you get any less temple-like than being laid in a manger? This is an “unclean” place.

Likewise, if you were God, who would you invite to be the first to come and see your infant Son? Perhaps it should be the priests, the people most focused on holiness? Nope, the Lord sends an invitation to shepherds, whose ritual holiness would be impossible to keep given their work with animals. And they come straightaway. No need to stop for purity focused observances. They come to Jesus without getting all religious about it.

The point is clear. God’s focus at Christmas is to be with us, right here in our mess, even though we are not worthy of Him. In place of our worth, is His grace. Where the temple, the priesthood, and even religion stood as symbols of separation, Christmas stands as a symbol of Presence.

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

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

I don’t recall where I first heard this, but Christmas is God with us, while Easter is God for us, and Pentecost is God within us. We can point to “the end,” to Christ’s return as our being with God as Adam and Eve were with God in the beginning.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; Revelation 21:1-3

Just as there was no temple in the Garden of Eden, that symbol of our separation from God is not found in the future:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

Christmas, with its emphasis on “God with us,” points back to Creation when God was with Adam and Eve, to the present time as we enjoy God’s presence through the Holy Spirit, and forward to the great re-Creation when God will be with His people in the profound way He had in mind from the beginning.

What is your greatest delight at Christmas? Perhaps family? Or turkeys? (Hopefully you know the difference!) Perhaps time off work? Time away? Gifts? Or eggnog? God’s great delight and desire, which Christmas points to, is the realization of His original purpose in Creation; a loving relationship with people. While you may be into the eggnog, He is into you. He has prepared a wonderful Christmas gift, His presence, now, and for all eternity. Have you received that gift yet?

 All scripture references are from the NRSV

For those reading this the first week of December, 2016, click this link for a puppet script which was also part of the service containing this teaching.

November 25, 2016

Fighting Back, Piece by Piece

Today a first-time writer here. Lisa Sharpe came recommended to us and blogs at Thoughts, Ponderings and Random Nothings. You can encourage her by clicking the title below and reading this at her blog. If you know someone who deals with fear, anxiety or depression; you might want to direct them to the article linked below.

Daily Battle: How I Fight Back

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:31-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

There are days where I wake up or go to bed simply to reset. The day was too long, too hard, or too empty and so I had to close it out and hope that the next day would be different. Better, somehow. But a reset doesn’t always happen, and I still have a day to get through. So this is how I fight.

I wake up and I can feel it immediately. I don’t have it in me today. “It” being that magical thing inside of you that helps you feel like “you’ve got this”. And mine today, is missing. Why? I don’t know. I try to find it, gathering what pieces of it that are left lying around. There isn’t much, and what I can seem to grab slips through my fingers. I’ve got none of it today.

The rapid fire thoughts start coming even before I’m fully awake. Starting with simple questions, only to find out later down the line that it’s Fear in disguise. Do you really think you can make it today? Maybe you should just stay in bed. Today is going to be hard, are you sure you can handle it? You don’t know what’s waiting for you outside those doors today, and you’re sure you can handle it? Not just it being there, but the unpreparedness of it coming at you? No. I’m not sure. Gosh, this feels hard.

Then, after the questions begin to turn into concerns, the self-doubt bursts through the door like the Kool-Aid man. Why can I not get up and face life like everyone else can? My life’s not that hard, I know it’s not. So the problem must be me. Why can’t I just be strong enough to easily get through a day? Why do I always have to struggle?

Then the statements show up. Self-declared statements that feel like facts. I’m never going to be able to beat this. It’s always going to follow me. This is the rest of my life, and I’m already having a hard time. How can anyone put up with someone like this when it makes me a monster? I am a monster. And I can’t stop. I can’t handle today. I’m not going to make it. I’m not enough to get through this day. And if I keep trying, I’m going to keep failing and this world will crush me. And no one wants to deal with a crushed person.

Geez. I can’t handle today.

So let’s break down today into smaller pieces and see how I do.

Let’s close our eyes and slow down for a minute. Whatever it is that you know needs to be done can wait a minute. Forget about all the people you think you need to be there for. All the things you know you need to do today. Forget about the details of what you need to do at work. If you could take it all out of the equation for just a bit, where would that leave you? That leaves me with nothing. Great. So now I’ve broken my life down to nothing. There would be nothing left. Nothing but God. I almost forget about Him. I keep confusing Him with “it”.

He’s still here. So it’s back to me and Him. I keep forgetting this is exactly where He wants me. Not getting too wrapped up in all the “stuff”. He told me I’m not supposed to be strong enough. “It” was just a lie anyway. I forgot that it’s really kind of Him to break me down until my only prayer can be, “Help. God, just hold my hand”. That way I won’t forget He’s there. That He controls my day. That He knows what’s outside the door, and He is ready to face it boldly, even when I’m not. I forget that my day is His, not mine, and that He has a reason for having me go through today. And that includes this struggle. He is ready for every step of the way, so that I don’t have to be. My interactions with people are for Him, not for others. I work to be faithful, not to impress. I hold His hand because I trust Him and want Him to guide my day, not because it’s the only option. Even though it is the only option. I’m broken. But He knows that, and He said it’s okay.

Geez. I forgot everything. I want to be free again. I want to give Him back my day again. I want Him to have it. I think I could face today if He had today. I don’t want this day to own me. I want to be free again. God take this day back. It was already about you, but I had forgotten, so please take it back and make it about you for me too. Help me to remember. And please, hold my hand while I keep trying. I’m going to need so much help. But I think if you were there, I know I could make it. And even if I fail again, at least I won’t be alone. Help me to remember and see that today is for you. For your plan. It was always your plan.

OK. Eyes open. It’s time to move. My first step can’t wait forever. I’ll just work on making it to breakfast first. Then to the car. Then until lunch. Then home again. Piece by piece. And somehow I’ll turn around and be amazed at what happened in the “in between” spaces of all those place markers in time. Somehow in the in between spaces, I listened and prayed for a friend. I accomplished a task. I solved a problem. I avoided an accident. All while avoiding a meltdown. But how? I’m not even sure, but I do know one thing: It wasn’t “it”. It was Him.

 

September 14, 2016

What it Takes to Have a Church

by Clarke Dixon

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.

House ChurchWhat 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.

Lego ChurchThere 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” (1st 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!

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

January 22, 2016

God’s Promises are Guaranteed

A year ago I asked our friends at Daily Encouragement to recommend some souces for material here at C201 and they mentioned one and one only, a marriage enrichment blog by Sabra and David Penley called Simply One. Today we pay a return visit. There is always a danger in misreading a principle in scripture as though it is a general, absolute promise. But if we meet any conditions mentioned, we have the assurance of God’s faithfulness to his promises.

Clicking the title below to read this at source will get you not only a graphic image, but also some discussion questions. And you don’t have to be married to extract the truth of today’s teaching, even though their blog is written for couples.

Five Promises of God to Guide Us through the Year

1 – God enables us to live a godly life.

We read in 2 Peter 1:3-4: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

In this passage, God gives us “great and precious promises.” These promises are found in His Word, and they are “everything we need for a godly life.” This includes a godly marriage. This is why Sabra and I teach about marriage from God’s Word. And this is why we developed Couple Connect and encourage you and your spouse to use it together. (For a printable PDF of how to design your own time together, click here.)

When we live by God’s great and precious Word, He promises that we will “participate in the divine nature,” and we will escape “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” This is the only way we will have the marriage God designed for us.

2 – God is always with us.

A second promise God gives to us in His Word is that He is always with us, and He will always be with us in our marriage. The last thing Jesus said before He ascended to heaven, after His death and resurrection, was such a promise. We read these words from Jesus in Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Hebrews 13:5 gives us a command of God, followed by His promise: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” By the way, this directly follows God’s word to us about marriage: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

So God tells us the key to a blessed marriage. If we’ll be faithful to Him and each other in our marriages, He’ll be right there with us. We can be certain that when we seek Him together He will guide us down the right path and He will take care of our every need along the way. We can have a marriage without fear because He is at the center of it and in control of it.

No matter what He allows to come our way, God will go through it with us.

Psalm 139:7-12 says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

As God’s children, our faith and hope for our marriages can be founded on the solid rock of His constant presence.

3 – God will provide all our needs.

He promises at the end of this section in Hebrews 13:6: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus promises that we do not have to worry about anything because He will provide everything. He says in Matthew 6:33: “‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’”

4 – God will answer our prayers when we seek His will together.

Jesus gives us another promise in Matthew 18:19-20: “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This certainly applies to a husband and wife who are one in Christ.

As one in Christ, we desire to do His will together. When we desire to do His will, He is pleased to reveal it to us through His Word. When we pray together as a married couple, seeking and desiring to do His will, that is a prayer we can pray with confidence. For He promises to answer us. We are told in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”   

5 – Whatever we face in the year ahead, God will bring good out of it.

Not only will God be with us through every situation we face, but He will see that good comes from it. This amazing promise is found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This promise can help us be strong and stand firm in our faith when our circumstances become difficult and the days seem dark. God is able to work it all together for good.

So, as you look together toward the year ahead, remember God is eternal and omniscient–He knows everything that will happen. And He promises to be with you in the midst of every trial, pain, victory, and defeat. He longs for you to hold on to His promises and to recognize His presence at every moment, in everything you do. He wants you to be full of the hope for this year because He is God. He is your God. And He will be there with you and help you every step of the way.

Never forget His promise to you: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

September 15, 2015

The River of God

Who knew the Southern Baptist Convention publishes a daily devotional? We didn’t until last night. The depth of study in what follows — the devotional posted for yesterday — certainly is at the level C201 readers should expect. I was going to do some editing on this, and then decided to let you see it as it goes out; a devotional thought, some word study, the Christological connection, prayer requests for an SBC worker and a specific nation, and a memory verse that I assume is in the KJV.

We don’t have a link for this; to read today’s devotional go to sbc.net/devotions. At the bottom is a link to SBC’s devotional content provider, but you need a password in order to see their material.

Ezekiel 46 to Ezekiel 48

Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar. Then brought he me out of the way of the gate northward, and led me about the way without unto the utter gate by the way that looketh eastward; and, behold, there ran out waters on the right side (Ezek. 47:1-2).

A river as a symbol of life and health has appeared multiple times in the Bible. The first mention is in Genesis 2:10-14, discussing the river flowing out of Eden. The prophets Joel and Zechariah each mentioned fountains of living water that were sourced from the Lord (Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8). It is the river of water of life, from the Book of Revelation, that comes the closest in both physical description and purpose to the river of healing described by Ezekiel. And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:1-2).

In each vision, the river flows from the presence of God outward. Each river is lined with trees that perpetually bear fruit and whose leaves have healing properties. In Ezekiel’s vision, the river flows eastward, getting wider and deeper the further it goes until it mingles with the dead sea and purifies the water, bringing life back to the sea (Ezek. 47:8). The rivers, which typify the life-giving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, clearly illustrate the limitless transforming power of our almighty God. God’s power is not bound by proximity; the further we get from the truth and the light the more He is needed, and the stronger His power grows. Anywhere we find ourselves, no matter how dark and troubled the place, if we reach out to God we will be able to find Him. The restoration of the Dead Sea by the river of healing is proof that nothing is beyond the power of God. For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37).

As with all other spiritual aspects of our lives however, we must seek redemption in order to find it. One would think that God’s river would be easy to see, but sin has a way of clouding our vision. We become “comfortable” (even if we are not happy) with where we are, and pushing through the weeds of sin that have us landlocked away from Him seems like too much trouble. We tell ourselves that we “are not that bad off,” or that “God will understand.” The reality is that, no matter what our reasons are, God will never understand or excuse unrepented sin. But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt (Ezek. 47:11). If we choose stay there, rooted in the byways of the world, then we shall surely die.

Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. (James 4:8).

Thought for Today:

God forgives sin, but He does not accept it.

Christ Revealed:

Through the river of living waters and one of the Names of God, Jehovah (Yahweh)-Shammah meaning: The Lord is there (Ezek. 47:1-12; 48:35; also Rev. 21 ‑ 22).

Word Studies:

46:7 as his hand shall attain unto = as much as he can afford; 46:24 places of them that boil = where the Temple servants are too boil the sacrifice; 47:2 utter gate = outer gate.

Prayer Needs:

Pray For Staff: Amanda Horn • Government Official: Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL) • Country: Bulgaria (6,924,716) Southeastern Europe • Major Languages: Bulgarian, Turkish • Newly opened to evangelism • 59.4% Eastern Orthodox; 7.8% Muslim; 1.7% Other (Catholic, Protestant, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, Jewish); 3.7% None; 27.4% Unspecified • Prayer Suggestion: Pray for a greater desire to serve the Lord (Ps. 42:1-2).

Memory Verse:

John 15:1-5
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

Devotion courtesy Bible Pathway Ministries

I decided to include this song at the end, and after debating it for a few minutes, decided to use this version that incorporates a rather unusual choice for background images. (If you’d prefer a more traditional video for this song, click this link.)

September 12, 2015

The Great Omission

Today we pay a return visit to Steven C. Mills of Steve’s Bible Meditations. (CEB refers to the Common English Bible, a newer translation that I also use frequently.) Click the title below to read this at source.

The Great Omission (from the Great Commission) – Matthew 28:19-20

Great-Omission“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matthew 28:19-20, CEB).

After His death and resurrection in Jerusalem, Jesus made several post-resurrection appearances to His disciples in Jerusalem and in Galilee. It was in Galilee that Jesus appeared to His disciples (some believe the “more than 500” that Paul described in 1 Corinthians 15:6) and directed them to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

All Christians are very familiar with the Great Commission. In fact, you could say that Christianity is organized around the Great Commission. Almost everything we do as the Church is in response to the Great Commission.

But, in our zeal to perform the first part of the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples,” we sometimes omit the second part, “I will be with you.”

I think that Jesus was telling His disciples– after His death and resurrection and before His ascension into heaven–that He would still be with them in much the same way that He was with them for the three years of His earthly ministry. He talked with them. He taught them. He guided them. He counseled with them. He was with them. Jesus was their leader and they followed Him!

But, sometimes we want to implement, organize, expedite, administer and manage the Great Commission without consulting Jesus.  We want to do it our own way instead of subjecting ourselves to the empowering presence of Jesus to direct us and enable us.

So, what if we decided to put Jesus first in the Great Commission? Maybe it would go something like this: “I will be with you, so go and make disciples?”

Jesus is with us!  The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19), dwells in us and with us to empower us to accomplish the Great Commission. And, if you think about it, we can’t really make disciples for Jesus without His presence and power: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, CEB).

So, before we go make disciples for Jesus, we need to be with Jesus. We need Him to be present with us by making ourselves available to Him, by submitting our own will and our own way to God’s will and God’s way.

Because, the best way to eliminate the Great Omission from the Great Commission is through Complete Submission.

Jesus said to everyone, ‘All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23, CEB)

August 24, 2015

We’re Only Here for a Short Time

Roger Knowlton blogs at Entrusted With The Gospel, and has been a pastor at Edgewood Community Church in Waupun, Wisconsin, for the last 15 years. This was our first time visiting his blog, and there were a lot of great pieces to consider, but with so many of you dealing with kids off to colleges and universities, this seemed the one to share today. Click the original title below to read at source.

Longing For Another World

A slight melancholy fills the Knowlton home lately. Last Wednesday we drove to Three Lakes and dropped off Elisabeth at Honey Rock camp for “Passage”, Wheaton College’s adventure-based orientation program for first year students. After camp on Thursday, a bus will take her to campus where we will meet again and unload the paraphernalia for her new dorm home. She will start classes next Wednesday.

And now two of our happy band of five are missing.

We should have known this would happen; we saw it happen to others. We even saw it happen with our own when Josh left two years ago, but going from 5 to 4 still leaves a slightly noisy house. From 4 to 3 is…different. As I write, nobody’s home now. Diane is working. Annie is at Bible study. It’s just me, and I keep playing a song over and over again.

And then we said goodbye to Jeff Thompson and family on Sunday. For you who don’t attend Edgewood, Jeff has been our Worship Arts Leader for the last 8 or 9 years. He is so very gifted, and we will miss him.

If I sound depressed, I’m not really. Not really. I’m just feeling…sehnsucht, the German word which Wikipedia translates as “longing”, “yearning”, “craving”, or “intensely missing”. Maybe you could put it like this – sometimes I find myself more cognizant that I was not made for this world. And I think I know why this is…you see, there is an “impermanence” here…that doesn’t quite feel right.  I’m aware of that this evening.

We feel impermanence when our children leave the home, but of course, there is another…greater impermanence: my friend Jon Van Houten’s mom Gretchen died Friday, and her funeral was today. She was elderly…and godly, but we all know something is out of place.

We know that things should be more lasting than they are. Something within us knows that is the case. But when I step back and consider it, I’m really thinking about the other world…the one I was truly made for. C.S. Lewis first taught me about sehnsucht, and he elaborated on the phenomenon in his book, Mere Christianity

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Yes, that’s it…and as I feel those desires more acutely in recent days, my eyes are being lifted to another world, and thus to that time when this world will begin

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (ESV)

Paul closes these beautiful thoughts with a command…

Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 (ESV)

Maybe this song that’s been on my heart this evening, Even so Come, by Kristian Stanfill will be such an encouragement to you…


December 18, 2014

Two Sets of Stones

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Joshua 4:20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, What do these stones mean?

Joshua 4:8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down.

stones of remembranceToday’s reading is from the devotional website All About Reflections. Click the link in the title below to read at source and look around the rest of the site.

Jordan River Stones – Stones In My Jordan

by Gloria Small

It is a joy to find it true that, if we open our hearts to Him, the LORD continually teaches us. Passages of scripture that have been read over and over suddenly jump out at you and the lesson there is always perfectly timed. Just that sort of thing happened to me. I have been so blessed and thrilled by the application of this truth to my heart that I wanted to share it. The passage is found in Joshua the fourth chapter.

The context of this chapter is, of course, the passing of the children of Israel over the Jordan into the Promised Land. The LORD had instructed Joshua to tell one man from every tribe to pick up a stone from the midst of the Jordan and to carry it to Gilgal. There Joshua was to set up those stones as a memorial of what the LORD had done for them that day and what He had done at the Red Sea (Joshua 4:20-24). The word for this stone is “eban.” The Holy Spirit brought to my mind the “stone of the help,” Ebanezer, that Samuel had set up when the LORD gave them the victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:9-14).

Yet, there were two sets of stones mentioned in Joshua chapter four! That is something that I had read before but it never really registered. There is also a set of 12 stones that Joshua set up in the “midst of the Jordan” (Joshua 4:9). It is this set of stones that are “there unto this day,” that the LORD has used to bless my heart.

Jordan River Stones – What are these Stones?

When the LORD applied the stones as a lesson to my life and heart it seemed everything I heard or read re-enforced the truth. Isn’t it a wonderful thrill when that happens? The Spirit asked me, “What means these stones?” My soul had to answer, “these are the stones of the help that the LORD has allowed to come into my life.”

As I look back through it now, I can see those stones. They have not been “stones of stumbling.” Rather, the afflictions that I have seen have been building material. God has been building upon the foundation He laid in my life with those stones. Not only that, He is the one who carries the burden! What JOY!

Where are those stones? In the midst of my Jordan! I am still traveling through my Jordan, walking upon the dry ground He has prepared for me. Along the way, I see those “stones of the help” that are constant reminders that “He who has begun a good work in me, will be faithful to complete it” (Philippians 1:6).

These are stones of remembrances of battles He has won, of steps of faith taken in His Name. Those stones will remain there until “the day of Jesus Christ” and they are built upon His foundation that is under me and will be until I reach my final home with Him. How my heart filled to over flowing with love and gratitude when this lesson came flooding over me.

Jordan River Stones – Conforming Me

The process that we constantly go through, as the LORD conforms us to the image of His Son, is not always an easy one. It seems we ever learn from the “rocky places.” It is the oasis of His Word that refreshes us with springs of living water. These times of encouragement from the Spirit of Christ living with in us help us along the way. The Word that is “spiritually discerned” fills us and gives us His strength to “keep on keeping on” as we journey through our own Jordan, knowing this promise that is sure “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The lesson of these stones has brought me peace and joy in the midst of the battle. So if it looks like the waters of your Jordan are about to overwhelm you, look around for those stones.

August 29, 2014

Welcoming Jesus

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Chris Lenshyn blogs at Anabaptistly and wrote what follows back in 2013, and apparently I bookmarked it at the time. Click the title below to read this at source, and then click around the blog to see what he’s been up to more recently.

Matthew 25: How do we receive Jesus?

Where love is

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Matthew 25:34-36

This is a classic text!  During a week of service with Mennonite Disaster Service, an organization which rebuilds houses and a bunch of other stuff after disasters, I participated in a bible study based on this text.  At the bible study a gentleman took the liberty to add to the end of this text “… I needed a house, and you built one for me.”  It was beautiful.  A stunning moment as this text dynamically engaged my particular time and place.

It has also inspired literary genius.  Leo Tolstoy in his classic “Where love is God is also” shares a story about a cobbler who loses his faith, but finds it again in the service of people, for that is where he found God.

Surely the audience of 1st century Palestine would recognize that Jesus was offering a divine social critique in this story.  He lived a life that embodied this message.  Serve the people of whom our society throws out with the garbage.  Serve and love like Jesus did.  It is a call to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, offering a love that transcends all social boundaries.

It is a call to humility.  To serve those whom are the ‘least of these’ has a guilty by association feel to it.  You love, therefore you are.  Love, and show solidarity with the socially downtrodden and there is a high chance you will indeed share the same fate.

It’s not something we do just because it is nice.  The sacrifice is too great for that.  Nicety can only take us so far.  It therefore can’t be a ’riding in on a white horse’ superman-esque mentality.  This is where Jesus digs a bit deeper.

It stunningly asks us the question, “how will we receive Jesus?”

Martin the cobbler in Tolstoy’s story receives Jesus in humble service of the ‘least of these.’  That is where he encountered God.  Crossing socio-economic boundaries takes a humility.  Without this humility and service, the cobbler would not have seen love, nor encountered the presence of Jesus.

If we are not in the place of humility, we will have a difficult time receiving Jesus.

The apocalyptic element of this story indicates to us that our choices matter.  There are consequences to what we do.  It offers us hope however, that we are ultimately judged by the cross.  But at it’s heart, this story, this text pierces our soul with the bold suggestion that we need humility to receive Jesus and humility looks like ‘the least of these.’

The answer, while relatively simplistic offers a back to the basics in Christian spirituality. Be humble, for there you will find and receive Jesus.  The consequences of such are wholistic, being both spiritual and social.

Like the gentleman who offered an addition to the text “I needed a house and you build one for me…” what would you add to the story?  What does humility look like for you? 

June 26, 2014

When God is in the Camp

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Last Sunday, my wife and I listened to a sermon from I Samuel 4.  Though it was not the focus of the message, I was arrested by verses 5, 6 and 7:

When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.

(I should also say that while our focus today is on verse 7, despite the Philistines’ reaction, this was not a particularly victorious chapter for the Israelites, who misused the ark of the Lord. To get the full context and see what happened next, click here.)

What follows below is a short excerpt from the middle of a sermon text posted at Sermon Central by John Lowe. While the story ended badly, the truth of the Philistine observation remains. John has a degree in Structural Engineering and currently maintains eight websites.  To read the entire transcript, click the title below:

 

Show Me That Our God Is In The Camp

…When God comes into the camp, new life is put into prayer. Instead of the repetition of holy phrases in a cold, feeble and lifeless fashion, the soul empties itself out before the Lord. It is the Holy Spirit that leads the prayer, for He knows best how you should worship, and what you need.

The presence of God in the camp brings fresh energy to service; He shakes men up and awakens their spiritual muscle. When the Lord comes to us with power, He makes us alive all over; every part of the man is speeded up with a divine energy; then men really work for Jesus and work successfully, too.

When God comes into camp, His presence has an effect on unbelievers. Sinners turn to the Lord, in so marvelous a way that we may be astonished. The last persons in the world that we expected to be saved come to our service and they find Christ. Many have heard the Gospel for years and their hearts appear harder than steel, but they are melted by the Word. When God comes into the camp, the Holy Spirit convinces men of their sin, and many turn to Christ in faith and love, and are saved.

When God is in the camp, His presence infuses daring faith. Weak men begin to grow strong, young men dream dreams and old men see visions. Many begin something for Jesus, which they would not have thought to do in their timid days. Other men reach a greater height of dedication. Adventurers for God are raised up; missionaries to the poor and shameful sinners that are not the popular objects for Christian workers. Because God is in the camp, many take up the work which at first only the truly brave believers dared to try.

When God is in the camp, His presence cannot be hidden, since in a delightful way it transforms joy into worship. People do not think that sermons are dull, when God is in the camp, and prayer-meetings are not thought to be “a waste of time.” God’s people enjoy fellowship and when Christians meet, and God is in the camp, they speak cheerfully about the Master. I hope that you have enjoyed many such pleasant occasions. We should be like those people mentioned by Malachi: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name.” They had such a heavenly conversation that God Himself turned eaves-dropper to listen to what they had to say; and He liked it so much that He had it recorded; and He thought so much of it that He said He would preserve it; and a book of remembrance was made for them that feared the Lord, and that thought about Him often. The question is, would God think so much of our conversation that He would make a book of remembrance, in our day?

I cannot tell you of the infinite blessings that come to the camp of the Christian when God is there…

Go Deeper: As I’ve formatted today’s devotional, I’ve been listening to a very recently posted sermon on this passage by John Duff at Calvary Chapel Vista, north of San Diego (55 minutes)

 

December 19, 2013

Peace is More than the Absence of War

Today I want to give you a peek at the first half of Adrian Warnock’s sermon notes from a sermon called Blessed are the Peacemakers.  You’ll then be given an opportunity to link to read the conclusion. Remember, this probably was fleshed out to a 25-30 minute sermon; so read slowly and carefully. Adrian is part of the leadership team at Jubilee Church in London, England.


1. What is peace? At one level the absence of war.  Cost of a lack of peace is huge:  Peace is the most expensive commodity “Defense” spending 1.8 Trillion US Dollars for top 15 countries.  Could end poverty overnight.  More to Peace than war not happening!

Shalom”  =the absence of internal anxiety and external war:

Not alienation but acceptance
Not chaos but order
Not disruption but security
Not discord but harmony
Not danger but safety
Not anger but self-restraint
Not fear but the rest of faith
Not timidity but confidence
Not anxiety but calm
Not disorder but self-discipline
Not sense of being alone but being part of a people
Not loneliness but being known
Not a stranger but family
Not sickness but health
Not poverty but wealth
Not agitation but a settled spirit
Not hostile but friendly
Not bitter but reconciled
Not separated but together
Not broken but repaired
Not immature but complete
Not damaged but whole
Not ruined but restored
Not distressed but total well-being
Not full of clamour but quiet
Not restless but satisfied
Not inpatient but content.
Not insecure but in a covenant relationship

Peace is not just something between people but something that is inside of us too. Real need of world for peace is not just physical remedy but a spiritual one.  PEACE comes from the presences of God. If we want to be peacemakers we must first have peace ourselves!  If you haven’t experienced real peace you find it hard to give peace. If not at peace with God you are restless.

Sin breaks peace              “Passions at war in you”

2. How do we get peace? 

a. WITH GOD

Our God is a god of peace.  Purpose of Jesus Coming was to bring peace.

Real peace needs a change of nature. Must be reconciled first to God

As we heard we are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

At enmity with ourselves, each other, but more than that with God.  Nothing we can do to put that right: he sees our righteousness like filthy rags

BUT GOD > two of the best words in the Bible “rich in mercy”  “because he loves us…because he loves us!” NO OTHER REASON  Allowed us to share in the benefits of Jesus resurrection, and turned aside his own wrath, with it being satisfied in the death of Jesus on the cross!  GLORIOUS Gospel of peacemaking with God!

Propotiation — Jesus paid the price so we could be justified. satisfied the wrath of an offended person and brings reconciliation.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

Spiritual peace is all about becoming more aware of the presence of God

b. Within ourselves

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.(John 14:27).

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33).

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:23

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:5–7).

So for example, We grieve but not in the same way as those who have no hope

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