Christianity 201

June 30, 2017

From Sea to Sea

Today’s is a special post in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, celebrating tomorrow, July 1st. I am grateful for the research done on this by my pastor, Rev. André Turcotte who shared this recently at a public service in our town park, and was willing to share his notes with me.

September 1, 1864
Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, Premier of New Brunswick and one of the Fathers of Confederation, rose each morning to start his day with prayer and Scripture reading. As the 33 fathers gathered in Charlottetown to discuss and draft the terms of the British North American Act, there were many suggestions on what to call this new “United Canada.” That morning, as Tilley read from Psalm 72:8, he became so convinced that Canada should be a nation under God, that when he came down to the Conference session, he presented the inspired “Dominion of Canada.” The other Fathers readily agreed and accepted. Today, The following words hang in the corridor near the confederation Chamber in Province House: “In the hearts of the delegates who assembled in this room on September 1, 1864, was born the Dominion of Canada. Providence being their guide they builded better then they knew.”

Psalm 72 (NIV) Of Solomon.

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure as long as the sun,
as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

May he rule (have dominion) from sea to sea
and from the River
to the ends of the earth.

Canada’s official motto comes from Psalm 72:8, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.”  Until not many years ago, July 1st was called “Dominion Day” which was a recognition of the sovereignty of God. Today, it is called “Canada Day.”

Canada’s coat of arms, adopted in 1921, stands upon the Latin phrase A Mari Usque Ad Mare, which when translated means “from sea to sea” a reference to Psalm 72:8.

The spiritual heritage is reflected in the country’s educational system and laws.

The Education System

Bishop John Strachan, a leader who helped form our public education system, stated that “the church must continue to play a central role in education. You cannot divorce religion from education because schools will inevitably reflect the philosophical and religious or (irreligious) biases of those who direct them.”

Egerton Ryerson, father of public education in Canada, wanted a “common patriotic ground of comprehensiveness and avowed (or maintain) Christian principles.” He wrote the textbook First Lessons in Christian Morals which was published in 1871. Ryerson clearly said that the Ontario school system was to be a “Christian public school system.

Many of our greatest Canadian universities were founded as denominational seminaries to educate future church leaders.

The Ontario Public School Act of 1896 stated that “It shall be the duty of every teacher of a public school to teach diligently and faithfully all of the subjects in the public school course of study; to maintain proper order and discipline in his pupils in his school; to encourage his pupils in the pursuit of learning; to include, by precept and example, respect for religion and the principles of Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues.”

The Laws of The Land

In 1960, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights. It begins with, “The Parliament of Canada, affirming that the Canadian Nation is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God…” The Canadian Bill of Rights can be found here.

In 1981, Pierre Elliott Trudeau signed his name to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter begins with, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of the law.” The Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be found here.

Where does Canada stand today?

At the end of Pastor André’s notes was the full text of Psalm 78 which provides an interesting contrast to what you’ve just read. As we’ve written several times before, people tend to forget.  Secularism, skepticism, materialism, cultural and religious pluralism; all of these over time have contributed to the present situation where Christianity is no longer at the heart of public or family life.

I do believe that alongside various factors, it is the Christian foundation, still embedded in many of our institutions, which makes this a great nation.

God, keep our land glorious and free.

 

February 12, 2017

“God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”

by Russell Young

Consider the cliché: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This pronouncement is often given by those trying to evangelize.   This cliché is easy to accept at first glance.  It is encouraging to the one going through one of life’s struggles; it offers promise.  Those who accept that there is a god would esteem him to know all things and to be all powerful. They also accept that he is all loving.  Consequently, the message is given and taken as if the person being addressed would only confess faith, his or her life would be wonderful, richly blessed and filled with joy. Although these descriptors are true, they are not true according to the world’s understanding.

What was “God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the apostles? They all, but one, experienced horrible deaths. Think of God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the many faithful today who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. What are people to think when they suffer through disease and poverty? How are they to interpret God’s “wonderful plan”?

God does have a plan for our lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ may be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1: 11─12 NIV)

The plan is not “for us” directed; it is “for the praise of [God’s] glory.” Later in that book Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV) This is also the declaration of a plan.

God’s plan is “wonderful” but will not necessarily bring the worldly blessings that many infer. Paul wrote: “The Lord will reward everyone for the good he does whether slave or free.” (Eph 6:8 NIV) The rewards of God are not trivial nor are they necessarily temporal and their accomplishment requires suffering.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 NIV) Despite the trials, persecution, pain, and poverty that true believers endure in this world, they will reap a harvest of blessings and eternal life, if they remain faithful to the end. (Mt 10:22)

The walk of truth and obedience brings glory to God and eternal rewards.  This is his wonderful plan.  It does not include ease, riches, and the pleasures of this world, and those who present clichés need to take care concerning the impressions that they leave others.  They can mislead and be destructive to furthering the gospel. Weak faith based on misrepresented truths can give way to disillusionment and destruction and the spreading of a false gospel. Should the one being evangelized know the truth about what is before him or her?  Absolutely!  They must count the cost if they are to become strong and useful. Perseverance to the end is the only way that God’s plan can become wonderful. True believers know this and have committed themselves to victory over all sorts of trials through the presence and power of Christ. It is for the fulfilment of God’s plan in one’s life that his people have been called for the praise of his glory and it is in that fulfilment that they bring him glory. His plan is to conform the faithful to the likeness of his Son and to assist in the building of his kingdom.

It should never be accepted that God has ordained a moment by moment strategy for the way a believer is to live, that his moments have been pre-destined and firmly established.  The manner in which believers are led will depend upon how well they listen and how closely they follow.  Paul wrote, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:27 NIV) It is God who searches our hearts and from his search determines a strategy to affect the Spirit’s purpose.  Sometimes God will discipline, and at other times he will punish.  “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5─6 NIV) God’s plan is wonderful because he has a personal interest in accomplishing those things in our lives that will give opportunity for transformation of heart and practice so that a person might become acceptable to him. (Rom 15:16)  It is wonderful because it leads to eternal life, but most of the ‘wonderfulness’ will come in glory, not as we walk this earth.


Russell Young has been a regular Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 for the past year and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

January 23, 2017

Are Events Ever Out of God’s Control?

The title of our piece today (above) is written within the context of the political season which our American friends have one level just come through, and on another level is just beginning. Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement wrote this to appear on Friday when the “peaceful transfer of power” took place in Washington, D.C. It provides a great background for these thoughts. If you click through (link in title below) there is the option of listening to these thoughts on audio.

The Assurance of God’s Providence

“During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: ‘Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons; He sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him'” (Daniel 2:19-22).

Unshakeable, immovable, faithful and true
Full of wisdom, strength and beauty
These things are true of You

Daily Encouragement dot Net banner…Inauguration Day… in the USA. Some people are happy and excited, others angry and fearful. In light of this important date in America’s history let us focus a few minutes on the Word of God and a teaching from some 2,600 years ago.

The daily Scripture portion is a powerful proclamation of the providence of God.  Here’s an historic definition of this theological term: “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.”

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and God revealed to Daniel both the dream and the meaning, a panoramic sweep through hundreds of years into the future and the rise and fall of various kingdoms. We look back now and see how this has marvelously been fulfilled.

“Praise be to the name of God forever and ever.”  Before Daniel revealed the dream to the king he offers praise to God. He “blessed the God of heaven” (v. 19).

“Wisdom and power are His.” This timeless truth is so instructive and encouraging in light of the many issues of uncertainty we face; those things which cause us anxiety and fear. Some we commonly deal with such as the turmoil in the world and especially at this time here in America with a transition and uncertainty as to where the nation is headed. Others are personal and reflect our individual situation. It may be a health need, a job situation, a family matter or many other issues that trouble one’s spirit.

“He changes times and seasons.” We see the hand of God in the changing of the seasons as He ordained at creation. Following the great flood God made a covenant with Noah and seasonal changes have been an evidence of God’s faithfulness ever since.

“He sets up kings and deposes them.” History sure validates this. Some 2,600 years have passed since Daniel made this statement and history abundantly demonstrates that many kings and kingdoms have come and gone. We live out our lives in a tiny window in the scope of God’s providential dealings. Our perspective is narrowly skewed if we don’t constantly observe the bigger landscape of God’s dealings with humankind.

“He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things.” We must look to God as we direct our focus toward Him. A great need for the earnest follower of Christ in this information overload age is godly discernment. It seems that we are awash in fake news, outright lies, distortions, spins and misleading information. We need revelation from God’s Word concerning the deep and hidden things not revealed by man, but revealed to our hearts by the inner working of the Holy Spirit.

“He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.” This last phrase really, really blesses us as we prepare this message. Daniel needed the light of God’s revelation to interpret the king’s dream. God revealed the dream and its meaning to Daniel in the middle of the night. Rather than rushing to the king and boasting of his interpretive skills Daniel broke forth in praise to God and made this glorious declaration about our omniscient God: “He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.”

Since we’re unable to see “what lies in darkness” let us walk with God everyday of our earthly journey since “light dwells with Him.” Nothing surprises God! Since He knows what lies ahead let us be assured that the light of His glory will illumine our path and give us the needed light to see our way through the troubling and narrow passages that await us. God will replace our fear of the future with His promise of provision for that which lies ahead.

And as I turn my face to You
Oh Lord I ask and pray
By the power of Your love and grace
Make these things true of me too

Daily prayer: Father, we know that wisdom is given to those who submit to Your authority, honor You and reverence Your holiness. The opposite is true of fools since they despise wisdom and godly instruction. You grant a treasure of good sense to the godly, for You are our shield, protecting us as we walk in integrity. When we come under Your authority we will know how to find the right course of action when seeking answers, for wisdom will enter our hearts, and knowledge will fill us with joy. Wise planning will watch over us. Discernment and understanding will keep us safe. Father, You are the bright light that comes bursting forth when darkness seeks to blindside our view. All foes are rendered powerless in Your presence and at Your command.  Thank You for the marvelous wisdom available to us as Your children.

(See Proverbs 2: The Benefits of Wisdom)

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.

 

November 8, 2016

Praying for America

Today we’re paying a return visit to Carol Hatcher whose site has the name Sheep to the Right. Honestly, I don’t know how many people will read this today, as the U.S. (and the entire world) are preoccupied with something else, which was also the starting point for Carol’s writing. We’re joining this devotional already in process, so if you want to read it in full, click the title below.

Note to Regular Readers
To facilitate faster loading times for both PC and mobile readers, all the links in “Index of Worship Songs Here at C201” have been removed from the sidebar and are now accessible through a page, “Worship Songs Posted at C201” linked halfway down the sidebar; and the archives here, instead of showing each of the individual months, are now accessed through a drop-down menu. Also, moving forward, if I can remember to do it each time, we’re going to start linking authors’ Twitter account names in the introductions.

What if America Really is Going to Hell in a Hand Basket?

…This morning I was praying for America – begging God to heal our broken nation. I asked Him to help both Hillary and Trump to recognize Truth and be changed by it. And as I prayed, a story from the Bible came to mind. You can call it what you will – but I know the Lord placed it there.

It was the story of Jesus predicting His death to His disciples. He laid out the entire event before it happened. Jesus told them He would go Jerusalem, and once there, He would suffer at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. Then Christ explained He would be killed but would come back to life on the third day.

Imagine your close friend, your mentor, just told you something like that. How would you respond? I’m sure I would’ve responded the same way Peter did.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Matthew 16:22 NIV

Jesus didn’t say, “It’s okay buddy. God has a plan in all of this.” No. He reply was much stronger!

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:23 NIV

That’s pretty harsh. But, you see, Christ’s death and resurrection was God’s greatest gift to humanity. Through that death and new life, we – you and me – can have eternal life. So, when Peter suggested to Jesus that it wasn’t going to happen, Jesus wasn’t having any part of that. He was saying, “You are just concerned about yourself. This is a God thing. Don’t get in my way.”

So as I was praying for America today, God brought this story to mind and how it relates to our situation. You see, if the worst happens – if Hillary gets in office and inadvertently shares state secrets and continues the gut-wrenching horror of late term abortions – or if Trump gets into office and mouths off to Vladimir Putin and causes Russia to drop an atomic bomb – the end result is people will be looking for hope. And the only Hope to be found is in Christ. You see, our only purpose here is to bring Christ glory. So if it takes the world getting more wicked and vile to make people turn to God, then that is what He will allow.

If that seems cruel to you, remember He allowed His only Son to die for the same reason – to bring you life. God desperately wants this world to know Him and experience His saving grace. So while I’ve been praying for things to get better when the election is over – for the newly elected president to make positive change – things are going to get worse. There may be some positive change. I’m not trying to be doom and gloom. But God is pointing out that things have to get bad, really bad, for people to turn from their wicked ways and come to know Him.

So, fellow Christian, the time is now. First, we have to stop getting so distracted over things that divide us – political parties, movements, the need to weigh in on things where we need to keep our mouths shut. Satan is using those things to destroy us.

We also need to be plugged in to God’s Word, and then let the power of the Holy Spirit that fills us change those around us. In other words, stop being so shy about sharing your faith. Let Christ empower you.

For those of you who don’t know God, or you know of Him but you don’t talk to Him and you really aren’t sure where you are going when you die, the time is now. The same God who created this entire universe is all knowing and all-powerful. He has the power to save you if you just admit you are a sinner who desperately needs Him. Ask Him to save you. He will fill you with hope you never thought possible.

So friends, America may get worse before it gets better. But do not fear. You may weep and wail. You will see things you never thought would happen. But don’t lose hope – Jesus will return. So if our worst fears come to reality, have hope and know that God is and forever will be on the throne.

Psalm 47

1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.

2 For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.
3 He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
4 He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.

5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.

8 God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
9 The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.

May 25, 2016

Christians and Cremation

NLT 1 Cor. 15:51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Today we’re doing something a little more topical, but very appropriate for Christianity 201 readers. Perhaps this subject is an issue that has arisen in your local congregation or among your Christian friends.

This is an older post from regular Wednesday contributor Pastor Clarke Dixon.

Burial and Cremation: What Is a Christian to Do?

“The conclusion is simple. Cremation is devil worship and rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel . . . the true followers of Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with it. His ministers and churches will not allow it, and they will speak boldly against it.”

So concludes an article I had reason to come across recently… People have asked me whether it is OK for them to be cremated to which my normal response is “yes, so long as you no longer have a pulse.” So why do I not speak against cremation as the writer of the article would urge that I do? What is the Christian to think and plan to do in this matter?

Cremation UrnThe first thing we should note is that nothing can trump the power of God.

What happens to the matter we are made of now, really will not matter to God. Some people have a fear, namely “what if there is nothing left of me to be raised at the resurrection?” And what if one’s family has ignored the desire for burial and gone ahead with cremation then lost the urn, or what if the circumstances of one’s death has ensured that there is no body to bury? Grim, but it happens. Let us note however, that we are not to be equated with the matter that makes us up. Most of our cells will be replaced over our lifetime, but even more importantly, the very atoms that make us up are continually being swapped out, so much so that it is suggested that the majority of atoms are replaced yearly. If our bodies are independent of the of the particular matter that makes us up, then what actually are they? They are the result of the information that guides the matter into place. We can think of creation when God spoke everything into existence. It is interesting that the language of speaking and communicating is used, for creation is not just about the creation of matter, but about the vast amounts of information that guides that matter into place. This was no cosmic tweet! And so if each atom of your body is scattered to the air, don’t worry, for as one of the youth from my last church profoundly put it, “God’s got your DNA.” He knows who you are and who you are to be, so as a matter of fact it does not matter what happens to the matter that matters so much to you right now.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that we “will be changed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the analogy of a seed to teach about the resurrection body. As with all analogies, we ought not to press the analogy too far, for example expecting that only if our corpse is “planted” will we expect to be raised. That is not what Paul is saying, but rather he is pointing out the continuity and change that we can expect. There will be a continuity that points to individuality, so if you die, you yourself can expect to be raised again as an individual. But you will be different, in fact whether alive or dead when Christ returns “we will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NRSV) For “this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NRSV) which does not mean to say that these particular atoms are used, but that you, who once had a body on a journey towards death, will now have a body full of life.

Finally, the Bible teaches us that God’s purposes stand. Job says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NRSV). We have not learned this truth if we are worried about the future of our remains. As a Christian your resurrection is not dependent on the circumstances of your remains but on the purposes and power of God.

So it is not a matter of God’s power and ability, but is it a matter of obedience?

It is not a matter of law. Curiously, there is no law in the Old Testament stating what you must do with a corpse, though there are plenty of laws for what you must do if you come into contact with one. And there is no law given in the New Testament either. In fact it is instructive that when Jews and Gentiles join together in Christianity with all the ethical sorting out that goes on when two peoples bring their baggage along to a merger, we have no mention of burial versus cremation. Jews tended to bury their dead and Gentiles would sometimes cremate theirs, yet when they come together into Christianity this is not an issue. It is interesting that the issue doesn’t get a mention at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 which would have been an ideal time to lay such to rest.

Though it is not a matter of law, burial was the custom. As already stated it was the norm for God’s people in the Old Testament to bury their dead, and while we hear of burials happening in the New Testament, we never hear of cremation. Throughout the history of the Church, burial has been the more common custom. But does the fact that burial has been more customary make cremation a matter of disobedience? We should note that our burial customs today are not the same customs practiced in Biblical times. Embalming was not a customary practice, and in fact we know that in New Testament times the custom was often to bury twice. First the body would be laid in a tomb (and not in a casket) where it would decompose, then after a year the bones would be collected together and placed in small box (just long enough for one’s femur bone) called an ossuary leaving the former space vacant for someone else. Now consider that when a funeral home hands you an urn, it is not filled with ash, but rather the pulverized remains that do not burn away into the atmosphere, namely bone. You could therefore almost make the case that cremation is closer to the Biblical model of keeping a box of bone than our current custom of embalming.

But if we opt for cremation are we not taking on a pagan custom? We might consider the one time we do hear of embalming happening in the Old Testament, with Joseph in Genesis: “And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). Embalming and use of a coffin was an Egyptian custom, and was related to the Egyptian theology of resurrection. That Joseph took on the pagan burial practice of the land he had made his home does not appear to have threatened his status as a godly hero of the faith. Further I have heard it said that Christians should not cremate their dead for Hindus cremate theirs. But Hindus also sing, and laugh, and breathe, and do all manner of things that we also do. Rather than ask what cultures and religions carry out the custom, we might better ask in what spirit we carry out ours. Chocolate itself is not an evil thing, but if I were to eat it in a spirit of gluttony, then I might be doing something bad. Right now I cannot think of any other spirit to eat chocolate in so perhaps that is a bad example, but if I could eat it in a spirit of celebration of God’s goodness in providing sweetness, then I would be doing something good. If I were asking for cremation in a spirit of willful rebellion towards and rejection of God, then yes, cremation would be a very bad thing to do, but if I ask for it in a spirit of trust and rejoicing in the power and grace of God, then it is not.

But if we opt for cremation are we not doing violence to a gift from God? Some will want to say “you cannot just do to a body whatever you want, it is a gift from God that is to be cherished in how it is handled.” Yes we certainly do want to cherish the gift of our body while alive, but does that carry over into death? The words of Paul are instructive here: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Here our current bodies are contrasted with those to come, they are mere tents in comparison to proper buildings, and though gifts indeed, they are not ones Paul seems too keen on cherishing as he looks forward to a better gift to come. They are tents which are prone to destruction, in fact there is no dignified process ahead for one’s corpse whether pumped up with embalming, naturally decomposing, or cremated – it is all rather undignified and a violence to the body. For many of us the concept of dignity will be a personal matter, and speaking for myself, I would find it a most undignified end for my body to be done up with make-up and dressed up with a suit and tie.

If we began noting that nothing can trump the power of God, let us finish by noting that nothing can trump the grace of God.

While the writer quoted at first would imply that one would lose their salvation by choosing cremation, a “rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel,” we must ask if our salvation is in jeopardy. From my study of the issue of burial versus cremation for the Christian, I have not found the case convincing that to be cremated is to reject Jesus and His gospel. If in fact I turn out to be wrong (yes it happens, ask my wife!) and cremation does sadden our Lord, at worst it is a misunderstanding on my part, not a willful rejection of a clearly stated will. Is God’s grace not sufficient to cover such misunderstandings? Is the love of God so weak so as to be so easily ended through my one decision?

For I am convinced 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 8:38,39 NRSV)

Dear reader, let us not belittle the grace, love, and power of God by taking salvation back into our own hands. Will you be buried? Will you be cremated? God’s grace, love, and power in Christ will shine through either way.


We also covered this topic (not as well) in 2011 at Thinking Out Loud under the heading
Cremation and Christianity.

April 21, 2016

Our Sin and the State of Creation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to the devotional blog Get Along With God. Choosing a selection from this blog is never easy, but I found the idea in this one something I hadn’t truly considered before. This time around the writer is John. Click the title below, then click on ‘home’ to visit other articles at the site. You’ll also see some nice graphics that go with this article. (This article also contains links to others at the same blog.)

All Creation is Calling

All Creation

God created the heavens and the earth and everything that lives. At the end of His creating He said, “It is VERY good!” He made a masterpiece of the world and universe we live in. It was blessed!

Then came man, made in God’s image. We roamed the earth and were given preeminence over all Creation. We were able to walk in the cool of the day with God, our Father, in unbroken fellowship. It was beautiful! But then came the day that we fell.

As a result of our choice and fall, all of creation was cursed along with us. Its fruitfulness and flourishing gave way to thorns and thistles. On that day, death and decay permeated everything created. That which was blessed and VERY good, bore the scars of our choice against God. Yet did Creation turn against us in revolt and bitterness? No, the Word says that all Creation longs for the sons of God to come into glory. Creation literally groans as it waits to see us reunited with God in perfection.

For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.
Romans 8:19 HCSB

Everything on earth is subject to our fall. Nature itself was subjected to our evil choice and yet lives in hope and anticipation. Imagine, hope reigns supreme throughout all creation even in the face of our evil. The earth didn’t swallow us whole in a vengeful act for mangling its form; no, it teems with expectation for the day that we and it will be liberated in newness.

For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.
Romans 8:20-22 HCSB

The Story of All Creation and Our Today

So, how does this relate to us today? Because “The Story” is the same in the microcosm as it is in the macrocosm. The Creation Story is reflected in our personal lives as well. In the same way that Creation was hurt by our choices, other people’s choices have and do hurt us deeply.

Whether through ignorance, or in willfulness, or with malice, we are wounded, scarred, and crippled by the choices of those around us. Be it parents or siblings, spouses or children, authorities or friends, we are wounded and sometimes irrevocably. And this happens in both directions. We wound as much as others wound us. But here is Creation standing as an ever-present sentinel, a beacon for hope. Creation bowed to the Sovereign Hand who subjected it to man, and now it groans and waits for the redemption we all seek. Which one of us hasn’t also had to personally twist in the wind of adversity, waiting for our Redeemer in Glory to come?

This fact could sink us emotionally if we didn’t have the sustaining power of the Spirit of God. It’s too much to bear on our own. But the good news is we were never intended to. Our Savior came to heal the breach, and He left the Spirit to be our Life. It’s true, without Him it is impossible, unsustainable, and devastating. But the story of His Redeeming Love is sung throughout Creation—all Creation calls, waiting patiently without bitterness, malice, or scorn.

This is our lesson and our life. We are each called to receive our bruising, accept our crippling and groan with all Creation for the end of the age.

Am I a pessimist? A gloomy Gus toting a “Life’s a bummer and then you die!” bumper sticker? No, on the contrary, I know that God has subjected me and I have been maligned by the choices of others, but I am called to embrace His sovereign choices and not take up bitterness against those who have sinned. Others are also the recipients of my sinful choosing – may they have the grace to embrace our Sovereign God.

All Creation has a lesson to teach us. It has a vital call for us all. Surrender to the Hand of our Sovereign God and eagerly wait and groan for His Sovereign Hand to liberate us all. Oh, how often I have taken up an offense and become bitter, writhing with resistance rather than groaning with anticipation. It’s a life or death choice—one we each have the grace to face.

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!
Romans 8:18-21 Phillips

June 19, 2015

When It Doesn’t Make Sense

In theory at least, collecting and preparing these C201 pieces constitutes my own personal devotional and Bible study time; but on the days when some devos have been pre-scheduled I still need something just for that day. My own default devotions come from DailyEncouragement.net, in fact I try to make that the first website I click on when the computer is warmed up.

Today’s thoughts appeared this week at the site in a longer version. Click the title below if you want to read it there.

“When It Just Doesn’t Make Sense”

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2).

“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” (Romans 8:28).

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).

…Years ago Dr. James Dobson wrote a book titled, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense”. That’s sort of a titillating title, but for many of us it does express well our own experience in the mysteries of God’s providence.

Sometimes circumstances are very personal for our family and close friends. Virtually all of our readers can scroll back through their memory and recall such a time. My first exposure was as a child when one of my cousin’s was in an accident and his wife died. I so poignantly recall my grandfather wailing. But there have been many “It Just Doesn’t Make Sense” experiences since then and of course in regard to our pastoral and chaplaincy ministry we console frequently those going through various traumatic situations when it just doesn’t make sense.

The most recent national news that is senseless is the mass murder of six women and three men during a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina [Wednesday] night. The gunman came in and sat down among the congregational members. Those of us who attend church are always welcoming to a visitor, but we would never expect that visitor to draw a gun and randomly shoot those who are there to worship Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

People, at any given time, are experiencing a heartache of some type that just doesn’t make sense. Due to the size of our planet many never make the news or at most only the local news. I’m so glad there’s a newsline to heaven not just at the instant the news takes place but even before we are to experience it.

For many, events like this either becomes a crisis of faith (for believers) or an excuse not to believe (for unbelievers).

Consider Stephen who stood boldly for Christ and was stoned. Afterwards, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2). Have you ever really pondered this verse? Surely the emotions were no less intense for them than they are for us in our losses. To “mourn deeply” has the sense of great lamentation. The literal Greek meaning is “to beat the breast in grief”.  Did they “understand” any better than we do? Surely they did not.

Consider John the Baptist.  He was specially called to serve God from his very conception. He had prepared the way for and even baptized Jesus.  He had taken a bold stand for truth and righteousness before an ungodly king and was beheaded as a result.  Consider his disciples. They had the grisly chore of taking his body and burying it.  What were they thinking?  What a great test of faith they endured. Surely, like us, they wondered, “Why did God allow this to happen?”

Above all, consider the Lord Jesus Christ, who endured such opposition from sinful men and murdered on our behalf.

Some of you have experienced great loss in your life.  I myself have had some deep hurts and disappointments in life that I still simply don’t understand. The life of faith is tested, sometimes greatly.  Jesus forthrightly told us, “in the world you will have tribulation” although we are generally surprised when we do experience tribulation!

But at times of tribulation like this, faith is also demonstrated in such a powerful way. I saw a news report concerning the first Sunday the church in Reading gathered after the accident that killed their pastor’s wife and seriously injured their pastor. Already some amazing things are happening in the aftermath of this tragedy, although perhaps not reported beyond our area as the “newsworthiness” of the event passes.

Today, may those of you impacted by situations that “make no sense” find great peace in these words from the apostle Paul, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).  He is indeed “the God of all comfort.”

Finally let us again recall the great statement of assurance many of us have memorized 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.” In some cases we’ll just have to wait for the other side to see how it works for the good. Through it all, let us stay faithful and have a rich assurance of God’s steadfast love!

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

 

May 14, 2015

“It’s a God Thing”

This article by Shane Pruitt is somewhat topical, as it looks at a popular Christian cliché that some of us use. I wasn’t sure whether to post it here or at Thinking Out Loud, but I thought the content was a good match here at C201. As always, click the title below to read this at the blog I Already Am.

Should We Be Saying, “It’s A God Thing”?

It's a God ThingIt was a total “God thing!”

If you’ve spent much time around church people, you’ve probably heard (and maybe said) this statement hundreds of times.

“It’s a God thing” is used in Christian culture when things unexpectedly work out the way we wanted them to. We raised the total amount of money for our mission trip, the chips fell our way, we were totally surprised by an event that popped up from out of the blue.

But, inevitably this statement always follows something good that has happened to us—a story of healing, a rare coincidence that worked out well for us, finding a parking space, getting a job or when our child stops warming the bench in time to hit the game-winning shot.

Who’s in Control?

Should this statement be a part of our vernacular? Well, first, let’s see if the phrase is even biblically accurate:

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!” (1 Chronicles 16:31).

“Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

“The heart of man plans His way, but the Lord establishes His steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

“Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10).

These five compelling verses tell us one clear thing: God is sovereign. And, there are literally dozens upon dozens of other verses that say the exact same thing.

God has supreme authority, control and power over all that has happened, is happening and will happen in the future in all times across all history. God has the right, the authority and the power to govern all that happens in accordance to His divine will. He has the right and the power to achieve His purposes. He is in control of circumstances that dictate whatever He wills to come to pass. He has complete control of everything and there is nothing that happens that is not done by or allowed through His will.

So, is the statement “It’s a God thing” accurate? Yes, of course, it is.

The great things that happen in our life—it’s a God thing! When things go our way—it’s God thing! We get that promotion we’ve been wanting—it’s a God thing!

All Things for Good

However, there is a flip side to that coin. When things don’t go our way—it’s still a God thing. When we don’t get the promotion that we’ve been wanting—it’s a God thing. Times of suffering, times of tribulation, times of loss—God thing, God thing. It’s all within God’s sovereign plans.

If God is truly sovereign, then He is in control of the “bad” days just as much as He is in control of the “good” days. Sometimes His plan is not what we may want or would plan for ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to see where He is during the hard times. But we can trust that He’s there, that He cares, that this world is fallen, but He’s in control.

True faith is being able to say, “It’s a God thing” even in the midst of suffering, difficulty and heartache. When something doesn’t go my way, I can still know, trust and believe that God is working out all things for His glory and my good.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Maybe, the best way to look at the statement, “It’s a God thing” is to really understand that everything that is and occurs are all “God’s things” and not mine. And He can do what He wants with His things, including me.

(This Article was also picked up by RELEVANT Magazine online)

Go Deeper:  For a similar theme by the same author, check out Why We Stopped Saying, As Long As They’re Healthy”

January 3, 2015

When Your Schedule is Daunting

When I asked our friends at Daily Encouragement if that had any sources to recommend for us here at C201, they mentioned one and one only, a marriage enrichment blog by Sabra and David Penley called Simply One. However, you don’t have to have been married to see why their writing came recommended. We’ll probably draw from this resource sometime again soon, but for today, I chose the post below (because I really need to read it); click the link to read it at source; once there click the header to look around.

A Crazy Week

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

“What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:9-10

“…there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work…” – Ecclesiastes 3:22

I’ve had a crazy week.

100_5375

Last Sunday, I checked out the calendar to see what the schedule held in store for the next seven days. Ugh!  I was not happy with what I saw! Every single day had something extra written into the allotted square. There was a doctor’s appointment, a women’s meeting, a counseling session, helping with an extra dinner at church, two meetings at my husband’s office, getting blood-work taken, a birthday, a dinner with friends, and a Sunday School party. Those don’t include the activities that were added during the week: an unexpected trip to the dentist, my husband’s lunch with prospective students, and baking a cake for the church dinner. (My husband’s activities are included here because he isn’t able to drive, and I am his driver.)

Now, many of these things would not usually cause stress on their own. In fact, they often can be pleasurable. It’s not that I don’t enjoy dinners and birthdays and parties and getting together with friends; I just don’t enjoy them coming at once. Put them all together in one week’s schedule, and certain things are pushed aside and not achieved. Just the thought of it causes me anxiety!

How does this happen, this over-scheduling?! Obviously, I’m the one who writes it on the calendar. Don’t I notice how full the days are becoming before I make the commitments?

Nevertheless, this frenzied week was upon me. And I wasn’t happy.

As I looked at the hectic schedule shouting at me on that calendar, I felt the stress pouring through my veins. My attitude took a nosedive and an overwhelming feeling took over. All I wanted to do was sit and sulk.

That’s what I desire when I get overwhelmed. I just want to shut down and do nothing. Well, actually, it isn’t nothing. Sulking and sitting are actions…like a little kid pouting when he doesn’t get his way. Yep. That’s a pretty good description. I want to pout…and sometimes I do.

Can you relate?

It seems we need to get a handle on all of this—these out-of-control schedules that wreak havoc . So, what should we do when faced with an upcoming wild week?

I found some encouragement in Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…”  “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time…” “…there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work…” (Eccl. 3:1, 9-10, 22).

Many times we have more on our plates than we think we can handle. But His Word tells us that if God has allowed it in our day, He has a purpose in it and it is a part of His plan. We must remember this and gain a better perspective. Each activity needs to be seen as a God-given opportunity to serve Him, to find the beauty in what we do, and to rejoice in the experience.

I’ve often heard the saying: “How do you eat an elephant?…One bite at a time.”

This certainly applies here. A hectic agenda can be as overwhelming as trying to eat an elephant all at once. Yet, we can victoriously conquer a busy week by taking it day by day, hour by hour, activity by activity.

In praying about all this, I’ve found some steps to follow whenever faced with an overloaded schedule:

  1. Change what can be changed. Look to see if anything on the schedule can be postponed until a less busy week to allow some breathing room.
  2. Be sure to spend time with God every day. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your devotions with God, thinking you just don’t have time. Find your guidance and strength for the day from the One who has the power to make it all work according to His plan. (Matt. 6:9-11)
  3. Take it one day at a time. Spend your time and place your thoughts on what must be done for this one day only.  (Matt. 6:34)
  4. Keep your focus on the current task. Don’t spend time thinking about upcoming activities. Stay present and do your best to glorify the Lord through it. (1 Cor. 10:31)
  5. Enjoy the moment. Don’t let an oversaturated schedule ruin the joy of each activity. Find the beauty in everything. (1 Thess. 5:16)
  6. Be flexible. As you go through the week, some things may get cancelled; others may need to be added.  Some usual weekly activities may need to be postponed until next week.
  7. Always be grateful and give thanks to the Lord in everything. (1 Thess. 5:18)

When a crazy week threatens to take you down, trust the Lord’s calming grace to help you stand firm and be victorious.

Dearest Father, when we are faced with an overburdened calendar and we start to be overwhelmed, give us Your perspective and guide us in each step. Fill us with Your strength and ability to be victorious and complete each needed activity with excellence, all the while rejoicing and giving thanks. Help us to keep our focus on You, Your purpose, and Your power, trusting You to make everything beautiful in Your time. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

November 27, 2014

Why Did Jesus Let Judas Manage the Petty Cash?

John 12:1 (NIV) Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

This appeared a few days ago at What’s Best Next, the blog of Matt Perman. To read at source click the title below and then look around the rest of the blog, which contains a mix of good study articles like this one, as well as some practical items of interest.

Petty cash journal

Why Did Jesus Let Judas Carry the Moneybag?

Why did Jesus let Judas carry the money bag during his ministry, knowing in his omniscience that he was stealing from it (John 12:6)? One blogger humorously points out “one is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship.”

It’s a provocative question. I’ve seen a few posts on this over the last few years that make some good points. But they don’t always get at why Jesus had the right to do this, and we don’t — and what this implies for what it means to follow Christ’s example. In relation to this question, I think the best answer is from Jonathan Edwards:

[Judas] had been treated by Jesus himself, in all external things, as if he had truly been a disciple, even investing him with the character of apostle, sending him forth to preach the gospel, and enduing him with miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

For though Christ knew him [that is, knew that he was a fraud], yet he did not then clothe himself with the character of omniscient Judge, and searcher of hearts, but acted the part of a minister of the visible church; (for he was his Father’s minister;) and therefore rejected him not, till he had discovered himself by his scandalous practice; thereby giving an example to guides and rulers of the visible church, not to take it upon them to act the part of searcher of hearts, but to be influenced in their administrations by what is visible and open.

Here are a few additional thoughts to flesh this out.

First, if it’s surprising that Jesus would have let Judas carry the money bag, it should be even more shocking that he let Judas be an apostle at all. For the task of going out and preaching the gospel, which Judas participated in, is even more significant than carrying the moneybag.

Second, Edwards’ point here is right on: Jesus was acting according to what would have been evident in his human nature, not what he knew from his omniscient divine nature, as it was not yet time for him to exercise the role of judge.

Thus, if Jesus had, in his human nature, actually seen Judas stealing from the money bag, I think he would have taken it away. Jesus was not intending to set an example for us here that we should knowingly appoint dishonest people to important positions. He was acting in accord with the knowledge he had not as omniscient judge, but according to the ordinary operations of his human nature. And on that basis there were likely no concerns with Judas yet.

In acting according to what was evident according to his role as minister of the visible church, Jesus was seeking to show, as Edwards points out, that we aren’t to act as though we know a person’s heart unless there are clear and obvious outward signs that reveal otherwise. In that sense, then, Jesus is modeling something for us here.

Third, obviously Jesus did have reasons in his sovereign will for appointing this task to Jesus. Perhaps it was to show all the more fully Judas’ sin and apostasy over the long-term (or, as Jon Bloom argues, to give an acted parable warning us against the love of money). However, Jesus’ sovereign will is never something we are to model. He has rights that we don’t. As the best Calvinists have always pointed out, we are to make the moral will of Christ our guide — not his sovereign will.

Fourth, it is a sobering thing that there are some people seeming to follow Christ that are not truly following him. That is a scary, shocking thing! It should lead us all to be all the more diligent to “make your calling and election sure” by constantly growing in grace (2 Peter 1:10).

September 1, 2013

God’s People Always Have a Song

In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life. (John 3: 14-15, The Message)

Over a week ago, we arrived at the summer camp where me met to pick up our two sons; one of whom had been working there for 17 weeks, the other who was there just over 13 weeks. I love Christian camping and its mammoth potential in the life of a child or teen. If you are one of the ‘givers’ and you’re looking to invest in ministry for maximum lasting impact, I encourage you to seek out an interdenominational camping ministry — they’re the ones that don’t have a source of automatic funding — and ask what their current capital needs are.

Anyway, the staff were having a wrap-up lunch, and even though I hadn’t been there, I got the same lump in my throat that I would have gotten having spent the 13 or 17 weeks there myself. I looked at one young man who was fighting back some tears and I just about lost it.

The staff watched a slide presentation that included four of the songs they had come to love over the summer, one of which clearly engaged them more than the rest, Let it Be Known by Worship Central. It’s not just that the song has a catchy rhythm and physical actions. I believe that God always has a song; that a song gets raised up in every time and place and season.

Let it be known
That our God saves
Our God reigns
We lift You up up
Let it be known
That love has come
Love has won
We lift You up up up oh

Some of the staff are returning to school, others to jobs, others to an uncertain fall season. Some will go back to Christian homes where they’ll be taken to churches on Sunday that sing the same songs; others to non-Christian families that beg the question, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137).

But on that day, in that dining hall, the power of their corporate worship and the sheer volume the soundtrack pumping through the speakers, would empower any of them to say, “With God, nothing is impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

Come on let’s turn it up
We’re gonna sing it out
For all the world to hear…

…Nothing can stop us now
No one can keep us down
We’ve found our voice again…

…No need for fear and shame
There’s power in His name
Come on let freedom reign…

My prayer for them would be that after the energy has faded and they are back home — perhaps with other Christian friends, or perhaps feeling very alone — the power of the Holy Spirit would continue to be as strong in their lives.

God has new songs he is waiting to birth in the hearts of people in different locations, situations and junctures of personal and corporate ministry. Perhaps one of the young people in that dining hall will write one of them.  In the meantime, turn it up loud — really loud — and make their end-of-summer anthem yours as well:

March 30, 2013

Stuck In Saturday

 

This is based on a section of the book Plan B by Pete Wilson and appeared on his blog a couple of years ago and also at Relevant Magazine.  You can click here to read it at source.

The other day I stood in line at my local coffee house. I was in a curious mood and just watched the four or five people in front of me as we stood in this unusually slow line.  Their body language and facial expressions said it all. There were hands on the hips expressing disgust at the current inconvenience, some were rolling their eyes as they glanced up momentarily from texting on their cell phone here was the predictable looking at the watch and then looking at the line and then looking back at the watch.

Most of us do not like waiting for anything.  We live in a day of fast everything and waiting for anything seems like a major inconvenience.  I must confess I don’t like waiting either.  I don’t like standing in line for my favorite cup of coffee, flipping though magazines in the waiting room of the doctor’s office and I sure don’t like waiting in traffic.  And if I can just be honest with you, I don’t like waiting on God either.

Lewis Smedes described waiting like this: “Waiting is our destiny. As creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for, we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light.  We wait in fear for a happy ending that we cannot write. We wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever.’”

This is what we often see in the anatomy of hope. There is an event that takes place that sucks the life out of you.  Something goes horribly wrong:

A dream dies.
A relationship ends.
A job dissipates.
A desire is crushed.

You’re left there standing, waiting, paralyzed by hopelessness.    You start to wonder…

Did God forget his promises?
Does God know?
Does God care?

Luke 23:44-49

44 It was about noon, and the whole land became dark until three o’clock in the afternoon, 45 because the sun did not shine. The curtain in the Temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, I give you my life.” After Jesus said this, he died.

47 When the army officer there saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “Surely this was a good man!”

48 When all the people who had gathered there to watch saw what happened, they returned home, beating their chests because they were so sad. 49 But those who were close friends of Jesus, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance and watched.

Notice how Jesus’ closest followers react.  The gospel account says they “stood at a distance and watched.”

Have you ever been so hopeless you couldn’t do a thing?  You couldn’t get mad or fight or even cry?  Have you ever felt so hopeless you didn’t have the energy or passion to even get ticked off?

I believe this is the emotional state of Jesus’ followers.  Nothing seems to be happening.  They feel hopeless, as if they’re completely alone.

Now, we know the end of this story.  We know that God was in fact doing his best work yet.  But there would be a waiting period.

It was Friday, remember, when Jesus was crucified.  But the paralyzing hopelessness the disciples experienced continued to intensify as they moved into Saturday.

I think it’s interesting that we don’t talk a lot about Saturday in the church.  We spend a lot of time talking about Good Friday, which of course we should.  This is the day redemption happened through the shedding of Christ’s blood.  It’s a very important day.

Nobody would argue that Easter Sunday is a day of celebration.  We celebrate that Jesus conquered death so that we can have life.  It doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday.

But we don’t hear a lot about Saturday do we?   Saturday seems like a day when nothing is happening.  In reality, it’s a day of a whole lot questioning, doubting, wondering, and definitely waiting— a day of helplessness and hopelessness.  It’s a day when we begin to wonder if God is asleep at the wheel or simply powerless to do anything our about our current problems.

While we don’t spend a lot of time talking about Saturday, I think so much of our life here on this earth is lived out feeling somewhat trapped in “Saturday.”  I’m trying to get to a place in my life where I can embrace “Saturday.”  I’m trying to get to a place where I can view it as a type of preparation for what I believe God might be doing in my life.

You may currently be in the midst of a horrible, out-of-control situation.  You feel as if God is not there, that there’s nothing that can be done.

But here is the message of the gospel for you while you’re stuck in your helpless, hopeless Saturday life: God does his best work in hopeless situations.

We worship a God who specializes in resurrections.  He specializes in hopeless situations.  After all, at Easter, we celebrate the fact that he conquered death— the ultimate hopeless situation— so you could have life.

His followers were dejected and dismal and hopeless— and then Jesus rose from the dead.  God did the impossible and in a matter of hours the disciples journeyed from hopeless to hope-filled; from powerless to powerful.  They saw him risen and everything changed.  The story of our salvation was born out of extraordinary uncertainty.  But that’s the way hope works.

And no, that doesn’t take away your cancer.
That doesn’t erase the bankruptcy you’re in the midst of.
That doesn’t heal your broken relationship.
That doesn’t replace your shattered dream.

But it can remind you that while life is uncertain, God is not. While our power is limited, God is limitless.  While our hope is fragile, God himself is hope.

Your world may feel chaotic, especially when you’re stuck in a Saturday struggling hopelessly and waiting desperately.

But no doubt about it, God is still in control. And one way or another, Sunday will dawn.

May 12, 2012

Encouragement from a Shipwreck

Today’s devotional is from the blog of a North Carolina Sunday School class of mostly young married couples, called The Purpose Class.  This blog post, about Paul and his companions being shipwrecked in Acts 27, appeared under the title, Land Hooooo.  (I hope I typed the right number of oo’s!)

Acts: 27: 32: So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let if fall away. 

Today’s devotional is about a shipwreck.  Have you felt like you have shipwrecked some aspect of your life before?  I think to some degree we all have…either by a poor choice, unfortunate circumstances, the sin of someone else, or some other reason; it’s not that difficult for us to have that “sinking feeling” in life.  But I want to encourage you today, especially if you’re going through your own personal shipwreck right now…God can make a miraculous situation out of a shipwreck.  With His help, you can survive the storm!  You can even use that storm and ensuing shipwreck as a turning point in your life to make the proclamation that God brought you through!  Picture us saying, “Yes, I went through the storm; and yes, I was shipwrecked; but in the end, by the grace of God, I’m a product of what God can do with a shipwrecked person!  Amen!  Let’s look at the story.

Today’s scripture comes to us in an extremely trying time in the lives of nearly 300 individuals; 276 to be exact, as the story points out.  The story is that of Paul, his companion prisoners, and the guards and soldiers assigned to maintain order.  Paul had been arrested and was being transported to Rome to have his appeal heard by Caesar.  They had been sailing for several days and had come to harbor in a place called Fair Havens.  And now, against Paul’s advice, the Roman centurion in charge had decided to sail on, instead of “wintering” in the port at Fair Havens…apparently it was very late in the sailing season and bad weather was common.  It’s in this setting that great turmoil strikes those on this fateful trip.  

As they left the port in Fair Havens, they were met by a gentle breeze.  It wasn’t long before this breeze became a “northeaster” that began to drive their ship uncontrollably.  The scripture says in verse 15 that they “were driven along.”  Isn’t that how a lot of our shipwrecks in life start?  At first a sin or circumstance seems like it’s a gentle breeze.  It’s inviting and seems like it’s not that big of a deal.  But soon the gentle breeze turns into a raging nor’easter and by then, it’s too late to get off the ship…we’ve already left the port. With that said, perhaps we could avoid some (not all) life shipwrecks by making God-directed decisions to begin with, especially those that are temptation-based, right?  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

As the men on this ship began to realize the dire situation they had gotten into, they began to throw things off the ship to lighten the load.  It says in verse 19 that “they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.”  It struck me when I read this that this is exactly how we usually act in our storms too.  We start to try to fix it ourselves, with “our own hands.”  And really, God wants us to turn to Him in those times.  I heard a pastor speaking about how we often feel God turns away from us when we make mistakes and says, “Well, they’ll just have to suffer, I tried to tell them;” or “You turned your back on me, so I’m going to do the same to you.”  But this is not how God seems to work.  There are many stories where Jesus goes TO the one who has sinned and has made bad choices.  He lets them know that He still loves them.  Read the story of the woman at the well in John 4: 1-26; the story of the disciple Peter’s denial of Jesus and how Jesus specifically sought him out after the resurrection.  The same could be said of Thomas after the resurrection; remember, the other disciples had faith, but Thomas “doubted.”  But Jesus came TO Thomas to show him His scars.  Jesus didn’t scorn these people, he sought them out.  So don’t let the devil trick you into thinking that God is mad at you and doesn’t want to hear from you.  No, God loves you dearly and wants a relationship with you, with all of us.

Back to the story.  Part of verse 20 says, “we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”  But it is here that I want us to take hold of a different way of looking at things.  It seems that we have a choice to make in the midst of our personal shipwrecks.  We can give up hope, start throwing things overboard, and go down with the ship; or we can be like Paul, and become an encourager.  Paul makes a proclamation (Given to him by an angel) to those onboard the ship, that “no one was going to be lost, so keep up your courage.”  That’s easy to say, but tough to do, right?  If you’re like me, it’s a whole lot easier to “take fear” vs. take courage.  I need to ask God to help me change my mindset and heart in these situations and let God take care of the situation, not me.

After 14 days they were still being driven across the sea.  In fact, they had lost all sight of the sun or stars.  It seemed as if they were at the mercy of the storm, but really God was in control.  He’s still in control today too.  It says in verse 32 that as the ship was approaching land, basically out of control, some of the sailors tried to pretend they were putting out anchors, but were actually trying to get into one of the lifeboats.  When Paul noticed this he told the centurion that “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”  So the centurion had the ropes to the lifeboat cut and the lifeboat fell away.  I think maybe that’s what we need to do, we need to quit holding on to the usual pattern of behavior when it comes to a lot of situations, especially the shipwreck situations.  The usual pattern of trying to get into our own “lifeboat” doesn’t work.  Maybe God is urging us to cut away the “lifeboats” that we are so dependent on in this world and start depending more on him.  The lifeboats of financial security, materialism, etc.  Do we depend on these things more than God?  Something to think about…

During this whole time of struggle, Paul was encouraging the men onboard to take courage.  He encouraged them to eat and reminded them again of what God had promised through the angel that had visited him earlier.  “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head,” Paul would say.  Maybe that’s a good strategy for us in the storms too.  Go back and read God’s promises.  Proclaim those promises to those around us.  Encourage those who need encouraging.  We’re all sensitive people and we all get scared when the ship is heading towards disaster.  But think about what that situation would have been like if Paul hadn’t been onboard.  I wonder how it would have been different without his encouragement and calm direction.  I also wonder if God has placed us in certain situations so that we might be the encourager and helper. 

Finally, it says in verse 35, that “He (Paul) took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all.  Then he broke it and began to eat.  They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.”  Isn’t that a great example of how God can use a shipwreck to bring folks to him?  Paul was a “doer” of the word, not just a proclaimer or listener.  The story doesn’t say this, but I bet a lot of people on that ship came to know the Lord that day.  After it was all over, I bet they reflected on Paul’s calmness in the midst of the storm.  It’s a calmness that sounds and looks pretty familiar to another person that had been through quite a few storms himself…Jesus.  Remember the story from the gospel of Matthew?  Matthew 8: 24 says,” Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.”  He was sleeping!  When this storm came suddenly, like the storms of life tend to do, Jesus was there with the disciples and He’s with us too.  He asked the disciples that day why they were so afraid?  And then He calmed the storm.  The tough part to understand is that sometimes Jesus calms the storm and sometimes he allows us to go through the shipwreck.  But take comfort in this, either way, Jesus is there and He loves and cares for you. 

I pray that we would grow in our faith to become encouragers to those around us going through their storms and shipwrecks of this life.  They’re going to happen, we all know that…but what we need to remember is that we don’t have to “go it alone.”  How did Paul’s shipwreck turn out?  Well, they all made it safely to shore, all 276 of them.  Did they lose their ship?  Yes.  Did they lose their cargo?  Yes.  Did their faith in God grow because of the experience?  Undoubtedly, YES.  Storms aren’t pleasant, but they’re a part of life.  Through the strength, wisdom, and grace God gives us, let’s weather the storm knowing full well the final outcome.  Land Hooooooo!  We will all make it together!

Father, thank you for bringing us closer to you through the storms and shipwrecks that we go through in this life.  Lord, You know that we’re scared of the storms; help us understand that that you know what’s best for us, and that all things work together for the good of those who love you.  We do love you Lord, help us to love you more and be an encourager to those around us.  Thank you for bringing us closer to you.  Amen.

 

Memory Verse:  Psalm 42:1:  As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

May 10, 2012

Money and Wealth: It’s All His

Today we’re zooming in on part two of a two part series about money… so you might want to read part one.

[visual: me leaning on one foot, and then the other, waiting for your return]

…Okay, we’re back.  So you already know that this is by David P. Kreklau who combines something that sounds really exciting with something that sounds rather boring — he’s a CPA with the US Air Force.  Part two (click the title to link direct) is:

Awkward! …the Impact of Sovereignty on Our Money

Have you ever been in that awkward situation where somebody wants to give you money but you are embarrassed to receive it… or maybe you want to give money to someone but they are too embarrassed to take it?  As my daughter would say, it feels “awkward…!”

In my last blog I talked about how we take pride in our money and we allow it to bleed into our identity… making us feel like we have all the control over our money, which can create these awkward situations where we convey feelings of pride either in giving or receiving.

But the point I made was that God is sovereign over all things, including whatever it was that helped you obtain your wealth… whether your choices or upbringing, etc.  And therefore, whatever amount of money you have, that is what God has chosen to distribute to you.  Thus, you need not tie your identity to your wealth.

The Impact of Sovereignty

Here are some practical ways that this understanding should affect our money.

1)      Humility.  Knowing that it is God who distributes to whom He wills should disarm our pride over our wealth and lend us to feel humble in knowing that what we have is only of grace… not ourselves.  And let’s face it, we could all use more humility.

2)      Gratitude.  This humility should naturally flow into gratitude, recognizing that this grace is not deserved and that we actually deserve nothing.  Yet, God gives to us lavishly.

3)      Giving.  Just as we model everything we do after the Gospel of Jesus Christ – how He gave Himself for us when we deserved nothing good – we ought to give graciously to those in need, despite what they “deserve.”

4)      Stewardship/Redistribution.  Remember that since God decides in His sovereignty who gets what, then those who have been given much must remember that they have been given much for a reason.  You have been made a steward by God, and it is up to you to redistribute to those in need.  This is easier to do when you remember that it is not your money.  It is God’s… given to you to use for the kingdom in bringing about His good purposes.  This knowledge should also directly impact how you spend your money.

 5)      Receiving.  We need not feel embarrassed when receiving charity, as this is what God has appointed.  His way of you obtaining that money in this instance just happens to be a gift of love from someone as opposed to a wage.  Is there a better way of feeling the Gospel than receiving a gift instead of earning it yourself?

As you can see, this understanding of our wealth brings profound consequences to how we view money.  You can stop looking inward in terms of valuing yourself by your wealth and start looking outward by trying to breathe value into others.

If God gives abundantly to you, use that money to glorify Him.  If He gives you a nice home, use it to entertain in a Christ-exalting way.  If you are short of cash and someone helps you out, use that money to His glory and see the Christ-like quality of giving in that moment and worship Him.

If the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10)… then the love of each other will disarm that evil.

~David P. Kreklau

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