Christianity 201

December 18, 2022

Peter’s Alternative Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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“Get thee behind me, Satan.”

At least, that’s how the old King James Version has it.

Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Especially to say that to your supposedly “team leader” disciple, and presumably in front of everyone else. (Matthew, one of the two disciples who wrote a gospel account, must have got the story somewhere if he wasn’t there in person.)

So what led up to that moment?

It was actually a study in contrasts, for just moments ago (as we have it recorded) Peter received a gold star and was named Disciple of the Week:

NIV.Matthew.16.13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

This is a bold and clear declaration of the divinity of Christ. Another time we get something as unmistakably clear is at the beginning of the gospels:

NIV.Mark.1.23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The man is undoubtedly interrupting the teaching session Jesus is doing (see the previous verse, 1:22) but most commentators agree that Jesus doesn’t want this full and complete revelation to be stated so early on in his ministry. It’s too soon for this type of preemptive announcement. Rather, Jesus wants people to discover his Messianic identity. (Even today, people we share our faith with might respond better if instead of just telling them who Jesus is, we let them meet Jesus in the pages of the gospels and see his divinity for themselves.)

Back to Peter.

In the very next scene in Matthew’s gospel it all ‘goes south’ for him.

NIV.Matthew.16.21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

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

23 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.”

Peter wants a storyline that doesn’t involve Jesus having to “suffer many things” or “be killed.” Do you blame him? That’s not how the whole Messiah thing is supposed to work, a few hints in Isaiah and Psalms notwithstanding. The words of Jesus would have been shocking and I can picture any of us blurting out something similar.

The “Satan” part seems rather strong, though, doesn’t it?

Not when you consider something that Matthew recorded much earlier, in Chapter 4.

Besides the cross, the greatest physical endurance challenge Jesus faced was the 40-day time in the wilderness, just before he commenced his public ministry. So we can say that his ministry is bookended by suffering.

We see in the text of Matthew 4 that Satan, referred to this time as “the devil” confronts Jesus with three specific temptations. It is the third and final one which of interest here:

NIV.Matthew.4.8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

There are many avenues of exploration we could follow with this text, but what we wish to note is that Satan’s offer would thwart plan of God, a plan set in place “before the foundation of the earth.” The devil’s apparent concern for Christ’s hunger, physical safety, and the building of the Kingdom; are also instruments to undo God’s plan.

Just as Peter doesn’t want to see Christ suffering, the devil also envisions a Christ without the cross. In both cases the response is “Away from me!” or “Get behind me!” (The NLT, CEV, and others simply echo “away from me,” alluding to the wilderness temptation scene.)

Is there a Christ without a cross?

It’s an alternative gospel, but a gospel without the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sin is hardly good news, is it?

November 23, 2022

Two Sides of God’s Kindness and Goodness: Grace and Mercy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today is another day where we’re highlighting the writing of a new author, and this time around, the blog’s title caught my eye: Maddening Theology. The writer, Tim Madden is the pastor of Cornerstone Bible Church in Browndale, Pennsylvania. As usual, click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

The Difference Between Grace and Mercy

Grace and mercy are major themes throughout Scripture. They are both such a blessing to us, but have very different meanings. Often people confuse the two terms because of their similarities. Let’s simplify them here. We are going to oversimplify the terms here, so note that this is not an in-depth study.

GRACE: RECEIVING A BLESSING WE DON’T DESERVE

Grace is receiving a blessing that we do not deserve or have not earned. It can be thought of as God’s unearned kindness. Anything He gives us that we have not or can not earn is grace.

Some great verses concerning God’s grace:

Acts 15:11 “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Romans 3:23-24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

II Corinthians 12:9a “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

MERCY: NOT RECEIVING PUNISHMENT FOR WHAT WE DESERVE

Mercy is also a gift of God’s goodness, but instead of being given something good, it is withholding the bad. Mercy is when we have earned punishment, payment for evil, yet instead of God giving us that, He withholds that punishment from us.

Some great verses about God’s mercy:

Deuteronomy 4:32 “The LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not abandon you, destroy you, or forget the promise to your ancestors that he swore he would keep.” 

Lamentations 3:22 “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.”

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.” 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

How has God’s grace and mercy been given to you in your life? Why do we need both of these? How have God’s grace and mercy blessed your life recently?


Because today’s article was shorter, we’re going to share another devotional from Tim, derived from the first five verses of Galatians. We’ll share those first, and then you can continue through the article here, or at the link in its title.


NLT.Gal.1.1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.

All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia.

May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

The Apostle Paul’s 5 Gospel Declarations

In the book of Galatians the apostle Paul spends most of the book talking about grace. He tells us how we receive it, the fact that we cannot earn it, and how we should live in light of the fact that salvation is by grace.

However, in the first chapter of Galatians, he makes five declarations about the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. They are found in the first five verses of the book.

  1. Grace and Peace: This is the good news of grace and peace. God’s grace is huge! This grace brings peace between us and God. They are a package deal.
  1. Only Through Jesus: This is a gospel that comes only through Jesus. It doesn’t come through Mohammed, good works, or belonging to a certain denomination or religion. It comes through grace and mercy by faith in Jesus Christ.
  1. Delivered from Sin: This gospel delivers us from the consequence of sin. John 3:16-18 says our sin condemns us, but Jesus is the one who delivers us. He takes us from darkness to light.
  1. According to God’s Will: This gospel was given by the will of God. It was His plan that Jesus would die on the cross to pay for our sin. There was no plan B.
  1. This gospel brings God Glory: To glorify God is to make Him known and make Him famous. It is to see everything good in our lives and point to Him. This salvation, this gospel, glorifies God.

Have you received the gospel of grace through Jesus Christ? Have you been delivered from sin through His plan of sacrificing His Son Jesus Christ? Do you have peace with God brought through the work of Jesus Christ?

October 31, 2022

Desperate for the Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Through a roundabout series of adventures, I was directed this morning to a currently inactive blog site, Deny Yourself Daily, where this was written by Susan Yenser. I knew it was meant to be shared here.

CEB.Rom.7.21 So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. 22 I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, 23 but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. 24 I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?

I Need the Gospel

There is nothing more terrifying in all of my imagination than being left to my flesh, to my natural self. The thought of the Lord turning me over to the sin that so deeply burns within me is the most disgusting, most disturbing thought I ever can imagine. And yet the Lord has every right to. He has no reason to save me from the depths of depravity that is called Susan Yenser. None. I deserve to be left in my sin to die and be punished eternally for my wicked heart that is set in enmity towards God and towards my neighbor. I fail so miserably in fulfilling the law. I don’t love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and I don’t love my neighbor as myself.

The only time I remotely show progress in doing so, it is Christ doing it through me. Not very often does the Lord show us the true depths of our own sin. But woe be to the one whom He does. Every ounce of my being is tainted with the fall and with the inclination to dishonor my Lord. The reality of Romans 7 has me turning the very same direction that it had Paul and that is to cry out WHO CAN SAVE ME FROM THIS? Who can I turn to that will take me out of this miserable state of flailing around in sin and lawlessness even when the spirit in me does not want to?

Thanks be to Jesus Christ, my Lord, who can deliver me from this body of death! The moments when all of Christ’s love and grace and mercy seem to have been removed from you so that you can sit and burn a little in the sting of your own sin, to a Christian, is it not the most terrifying of states? To see sin and to know that you cannot fight it on your own strength, is there any more frustrating of a position? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. It certainly feels like the most hopeless of all situations. To be left to myself in my sins, oh Lord, I can think of nothing worse.

My words only fail me at this point. They don’t do this topic justice. I must turn outside of myself. I, like Paul, do not cry out to myself for the remedy. I must cry out to the only, perfect, redeeming Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fulfilled the Law. He has done it for me. If it wasn’t for His righteousness I would be the savage that my heart was enslaved to be. Even when the Lord lets me feel those chains of slavery that were mine, may it not let me lose heart. Though it may for the moment, may it never keep me so down that I forget to look back up to the righteousness of my Lord that has saved me from myself and from Himself and His wrath.

Don’t give me your bankrupt preaching. Don’t give me a gospel that points me to myself. Don’t even give me a gospel that points me somewhat to myself and somewhat to Christ. It makes me want to vomit right now just thinking about it. Yes, the taste of sin in my mouth and the thought of being preached a watered down message that is pseudo-orthodox mixed in with the latest celebrity pastor’s own thoughts and reason literally makes my stomach turn with nausea. The thought that you would even try to give me more law on top of sincere disgust for the sin within myself, makes me feel hopeless.

Don’t give me the message that “God smiles when you be you.” In this state of hatred for the burning of the sin that seems to be hijacking my body and ruining my soul, DO NOT tell me that God is giving me a mulligan to re-do my life. A second chance. Don’t you see??? With this sin that is festering…I will only make it worse the second time around! I need a Savior! I need someone who did it FOR ME in my place while I sit here hopeless and unable to even move right or left without a sinful thought or deed. I need a message that will make me fall down on my face. One that will make me fight like hell. One that rages war on this sin within me and conquers it, not because of my actions, but because of the actions of Another.

I am a Christian and I need the Gospel. So much so that right now it seems so desperate as if I could not breathe another breath without it.

September 2, 2022

The Good News Changes the World

NRSVUE.Acts.17.4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some brothers and sisters before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this…

 

Appropriately enough, we’re back for a fourth time with Stanley J. Groothof who blogs at The 4th Point. In many communities, pastors are often asked to write something for the local newspaper. That’s what this is: An opportunity to speak to a wider audience than weekend church services might offer. Clicking the title below will take you to where it first appeared (and a picture of Stanley’s mouse pad referenced in the first paragraph!)

Upside down

On my desk is a mousepad. It’s a round mousepad and pictured on it is a map of the world. You can see a good chunk of North and South America, all of Europe and Africa, and part of Asia.

There’s just one thing that’s a little strange about my mousepad: It’s upside down – at least compared to how we usually look at a world map. The tip of Argentina points straight up pretending it’s high noon and Santa’s home at the North Pole is at the bottom! I understand that’s how Australians orient their globes, but here in North America it just doesn’t look quite right.

My upside down globe daily reminds me of something the people in Thessalonica say in Acts 17. Although the Gospel is initially welcomed by the Thessalonians, some ruffians show up where the followers of Jesus are sharing the Good News. These bad characters form a mob that turns into a riot. They drag some the disciples before the authorities with this accusation: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”

Apparently the people in Thessalonica don’t like having their world turned upside down.

I don’t either.

Yet that’s what the Gospel consistently does. It reveals how weakness is strength. How poverty reveals true wealth. How death leads to life. It sounds backwards, but God wins by losing. His perfect Son Jesus dies on the cross – the most humiliating, shameful ending imaginable. But Jesus beats death at its own game and rises in a shocking new beginning on the third day. Now for all who are in Christ, sin has been defeated, life has purpose, and the future is hopeful.

Those who identify with Jesus can’t help but adapt more and more to God’s upside down ways. Followers of Jesus perceive that generosity carries the highest profit. Slowing down helps you get ahead. Apologies are necessary. Forgiveness is freeing. Fidelity is meant to be celebrated. Sports are not meant to be idolized. Wisdom is more valuable than a university degree. Possessions are temporary. Beauty comes from character instead of the cosmetics counter. It’s ok for both men and women to cry. Those who are overlooked need compassion. We’re stewards (not owners) of creation. The truth matters. Promises need to be kept. Rights can be willingly set aside. The unborn already have an imprint of the divine. Ethnic diversity is a foretaste of heaven. Worshiping is the best use of time. Persecution is a reward. Peace overpowers hate. Loving one’s enemy is normal.

Many influencers in our culture say that living in line with these and other priorities in God’s Kingdom is unrealistic and pointless. They say living like that is upside down. And sometimes it feels that way. Especially when I get used to things not being right side up as described in the Bible.

So I keep Argentina on my mousepad map pointing upwards to remind me that God works in surprising ways. And that his Spirit empowers me to sometimes turn things upside down in God’s name. When I do so, I’m in good company with the disciples in Acts 17.

 


About the scripture reference: This is the first time we’ve had an author using the new NRSVUE which is publishing this month. It stands for New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

January 9, 2022

The Gospel is our Starting Point, and Then…

NIV.1 Cor.15.3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

ISV.Mark.16.15 Then he told them, “As you go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to everyone.

For today’s devotional, we have another new author to introduce to you. Chandler Moore blogs at Moore Thinking. Click the header below to read this at his site.

Should Christians “Just Preach the Gospel”?

In certain circles, the phrase “Just preach the Gospel,” functions more as a conversation stopper rather than any kind of genuine appeal. “We need to talk about racial justice.” Just preach the Gospel. “Have we considered if our message and evangelism is contextualized to our culture while remaining faithful?” Just preach the Gospel. “I’m concerned that we are not doing enough to serve the poor.” Just preach the Gospel.

You get the point. Now, to be fair, utilizing the phrase this way, doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is saying those items don’t matter. The most generous interpretation that can be given to it is that an individual is saying that those items, while important, will all be fixed if we only focus on Gospel preaching.

I find even this charitable interpretation far too simplistic of a methodology to walking faithfully, and holistically, as disciples of Christ. While the Gospel is of “first importance” (I Cor. 15), the Christian Scriptures are overflowing with teachings that are not directly teaching or preaching the Gospel.

To be clear, I believe that the Gospel, that is that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins to all who put their trust in Him and confess Him as Lord, is the centerpiece and cornerstone for properly understanding every aspect of the Christian life. With that said, we must understand that we have a wealth of teachings within the Scriptures that relate to pursuing justice, serving the poor, defending the weak, items that may be called “social justice issues.” These matters must be understood in light of the Gospel and fleshed out through the lens of the Gospel, but they also must be taught as distinct teachings of Christ and the Apostles that need careful thought, charitable dialogue, and prayerful reflection.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission, he told his disciples to “make disciples” (presumably by preaching the Gospel), and to teach those converts all that He has commanded. Yes Christians must preach the Gospel, but we must not stop there. We must teach all that Jesus commanded as well. Yes the Gospel never loses its relevance nor its power in the Christian life. Yes we need to be reminded of it and live from it daily. But as we do, we are then working off of the proper foundation for being the salt and light of the world, being all of what Christ taught us to be.


Notes:

Thanks to Rebecca McLaughlin for inspiring this post in: Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims (Austin TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021), 19

December 11, 2021

The Church Around the World

I checked the date this morning and noticed it was two weeks before Christmas, and it struck me that this date is applicable to the Christian community around the world. It’s not a regional or local celebration, but one that is visible (at the very least) to the entire population around the globe.

In The Apostles Creed, we affirm that we believe in “the holy Catholic church,” which references this global fellowship. A 2008 article on the Christian History page of Christianity Today notes that,

…Millions of Protestants still repeat these words every week as they stand in worship to recite the Apostles’ Creed. The word catholic was first used in this sense in the early second century when Ignatius of Antioch declared, “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.” Jesus Christ is the head of the church, as well as its Lord. Protestant believers in the tradition of the Reformation understand the church to be the body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space, the whole company of God’s redeemed people  through the ages.

Protestants, of course, do not equate “catholic” with “Roman Catholic.” To avoid this misunderstanding, some prefer to say “holy Christian church.” While there is nothing wrong with this term, we should not be embarrassed by the older wording. The word catholic simply means “general, universal, concerning the whole.”…

There is a passage in Isaiah giving the people a song that they are to use to “taunt” the King of Assyria upon their promised release. While it is specific to that time, I believe the prophetic language has broader repercussions.

26 This is the plan determined for the whole world;
    this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
27 For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
    His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

God’s hand is stretched out, and is plans and purposes will be seen not only throughout the whole world, but throughout the all ages of history. It is “determined for the whole world.”

As New Covenant Christians, our Good News is also to everyone, everywhere:

Matthew.24.14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Elsewhere we read,

1 John.2.2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

and again, in the epistles:

Col.1.3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

“Growing throughout the world world” means our story began then and continues now to spread throughout the earth.

Paul again affirms the international scope of the Christian faith in another epistle:

Romans.1.16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

As we start to wrap up the implications of this “holy Catholic church,” three passages I know have already come to mind for you:

Mark.16.15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Matthew.28.19 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

Acts.1.8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The global nature of the Christian faith, starting at the time when we entered the New Testament era, stands in contrast to the Old Testament era, where the surrounding nations’ gods were localized and territorial. (Thus the need for so many, in contrast to the God of Israel who was/is one.)

With two weeks to go, we join the community of believers around the world in recognition of incarnation, through human birth the divine one has entered into our history, Emmanuel, God with us.

The opportunities this gives to share this good news at this time of year are immense, if we’ll only look for them and be prepared for them.

This we say:

Psalm.72.19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

October 12, 2021

The True Measurement of Holiness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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For the past month I’ve been revisiting the first year of C201. Eleven years ago we connected with Lori Ettel at the blog A Display of His Splendor. Her most recent post was last summer, but it was so good I wanted to share it with you.

Jesus Came to Her

 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” (Luke 13:12)

Here we are, in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus looks over the crowd and one person catches his eye. One woman, among all the others, moves him to act. So, he calls her over. And after 18 years of being hunched over, she is healed. Amazing! She wasn’t there to be healed yet Jesus came to her.

and she glorified God. (Luke 13:13b)

I’ve been reading this story for a few days. I’ve looked at commentaries because I think there’s something I’ve missed. The story continues with the synagogue ruler and his buddies condemning Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. They argue there are six days a week to heal but the seventh is for worship, not work.

And this is how Jesus replies,

You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? (vs. 15).

Look at what he says. On the Sabbath you untie, (loosen, set free) an ox or donkey. You not only untie it; you lead it to water. You take an animal and set it free so it can drink. And yet you condemn me for offering the same freedom to a person.

The ruler becomes indignant. How interesting. He was a ruler of the place people came to worship. And yet, he missed the very heart of God. To him, holiness was keeping the law. To Jesus, it was looking after the needs of the people. Jesus points out, the ruler has more care and concern for his animals than he does for the people surrounding him.

It’s easy to condemn the ruler in this story but I have to ask myself, have I done the same? Do I consider people holy based on their actions? Do I hold some people higher than others? Surely, I align myself with those who think like I do. But wouldn’t it be better if I stepped out of my comfort zone and listened to someone else’s point of view? Maybe I’m not right. And listening to a different point of view will expand my understanding of God.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. – Romans 12:10

Jesus didn’t see the woman as the others did. They saw her as a sinner. They believed her transgression had caused her ailment. It wasn’t hidden. Rather, it was like a flashing red light for all to see and judge. She had learned to live with the pain. Maybe, she didn’t believe she should be healed. Or perhaps, she had asked for healing and it didn’t happen for her. Yet, Jesus went to HER!

If Jesus looks at the heart, shouldn’t we? He shows us over and over how we should treat those around us. God is love. There are no exceptions.

all scriptures ESV

Bonus devotional from the same author

A Friend

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:4-5 NIV)

There once was a man who couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t work. A life sentence for a man like him was simply to ask. Day in and day out he would ask for enough to get by. He wasn’t going to get wealthy from his begging. He simply needed to provide enough for himself. I imagine he didn’t have a family but this man had friends. He had people who cared for him and wanted the best for him. They stopped at nothing to get him where he needed to go.

This story is a beautiful depiction of true friendship. This man could not get himself the help he needed but his friends could. They brought him and were met with crowds of people. There were too many people and no room to get in. So his friends tore the roof apart so they could lower their lame friend down. They didn’t give up, they found a way. You see, their friend would only be cured if he saw Jesus.

Sometimes, we are met with circumstances that are beyond us. They seem unfair, even wrong. We wonder if God has forgotten about us. We feel abandoned. And we find ourselves unable to pray. But God is always at work. He understands we are struggling. He knows our hurt. He recognizes that we are simply overwhelmed. That’s when He calls on someone to pray for us.

When God sees us unable to help ourselves, He brings in others to help. He calls in someone who will pray. When we can’t get to Jesus alone because the obstacles are too numerous, He provides a friend who will offer support. God brings in those who are willing to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. They lay us at the feet of Jesus because they know this is where we need to be.

Be encouraged today. God has not forgotten about you. He remains faithful, working out every single detail. And when you cannot pray, He will provide someone to do that for you too. He loves you and He knows what you need. When He calls upon you to pray for someone else, be honored. He is at work in the life of someone else and allows you to be a part of it.

October 9, 2021

Our Salvation: A Source of Hope and Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, Kim Dunkelberger, who writes at Commissioned by Him. She is a poet and author who writes while facing physical challenges. This post actually came up today in a WordPress reader, which surprised me, because it was posted in 2019. I think we were simply meant to share this with you. It also serves as a clear presentation of the good news and salvation.

Click the header below to read this at her site, and then check out other articles.

Salvation – Praise God!

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
1 John 2:1-2

After a difficult weekend that resulted in continued fatigue and brain fog at the start of the week, I was unable to focus on commentaries for the verses I was studying for the day. Instead, I closed my eyes to think about 1 John 2:1-2 and pray. Jesus’ name and the word propitiation were foremost in my awareness. Salvation was my meditation for the next hour while I praised God for this gift.

When I was first saved, I was very thankful. However, I admit that my awareness of the value of salvation was minimal in comparison to the depth of my appreciation now. Prolonged trials have caused me to draw closer to God, long for the day that I can be with Him, and think more about the means by which this is possible.

God created us to glorify Him…

“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by My name,
And whom I have created for My glory,
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”
Isaiah 43:6-7

However, none of us has loved and obeyed God perfectly – with the exception of Jesus…

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:23

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.
Ecclesiastes 7:20

Therefore, we all deserve to go to hell…

These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power
2 Thessalonians 1:9

In His mercy, God provides a way to be forgiven for our trespasses though. He sent His perfectly sinless Son, Jesus, to die by crucifixion, bearing the punishment for the sins of all who would believe this truth. Instead of the torture of eternity in hell, God graciously gives eternal life with Him to all those who accept this gift…

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
1 Peter 3:18

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Salvation is God’s work; I cannot earn it. He called me. He died for me. He lives in me now. He will raise me to life in heaven after death. He offers this to all who will believe…

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus gave His life for me; the Father gave His Son. Even though my life is filled with trials, I am not bitter. How could I be angry with God when He has blessed me more than I deserve? How could I not love the One who loves me enough to lay down His life for me? How could I question Him when He is infinitely wiser than me? Instead of being angry, I praise Him, recognizing that anything this side of hell is pure grace.

It is true that my face does not smile as much as it used to; I’m not sure the smiling muscles work when my head hurts, my brain is foggy, and my energy is null. However, my soul is smiling; it is praising God for my salvation. Like Job, I grieve my losses but worship the source of my hope.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
Job 1:20-22

August 8, 2021

A Devotional Three-for-One Special!

For the third year in a row, we’re bringing you a trio of short-form devotionals from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner). Click on each of the headers below to bookmark or read at source.

The Valley of Decision

Joel 3:14 – “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”

The day of the Lord will characterize itself in a terrifying way to most. However, the day of the Lord can also be a day of great victory. For those of us who have accepted the Lord Jesus, our day of the Lord has come and God has already entered into judgment with our sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. Only as we have accepted Him as our sacrificial Lamb, will we then have moved from judgment to mercy as our sin has been forever atoned for by Christ’s perfect life.

The tragedy is that most will be caught in the conundrum of their own indecisiveness, not accepting the Lord’s most gracious gift before their respective death or His eminent return. If only they had known how close the Lord was to them in this time of decision! He patiently waited for their response but there was none.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us, if today you hear His voice, do not harden your heart but give your life to Him for He is full of love and abounding in mercy (Hebrews 4:7).

Divine Recognition

Acts 4:13 – “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”

Have you ever recognized someone as having been with Jesus? They aren’t difficult to spot. As the Pharisees witnessed, the hallmark of these folks is their immovable confidence in what they believe. How does confidence of this type manifest itself? Well, it starts in secret and spills out publicly. It oozes out of believers that truly believe their Lord and desire to spend time with Him. It comes by searching out His Word, and then living it to the best of their ability. It comes by living out the Great Commission and spreading the love of Jesus Christ to their communities, counties, states, countries, and finally to the world. Godly confidence is something that cannot be self-created but is a by-product of living and breathing the Lord Jesus Christ on a daily basis.

Do you want to provoke amazement as the Pharisees experienced? They merely acknowledged the confidence of Peter and John, that they were uneducated but yet they recognized the Lord Jesus in them. Confidence in one’s standing with the Lord only comes by getting into that secret place with Him — to pour out one’s heart and to pour over His word. Then, when we come out into the public light, there will be little to mistake any of us from having been with our Risen Lord.

Love and Compassion

Matthew 20:34 – “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.”

Often people confuse God’s compassion with His love. The Lord certainly loves at all times, for this is His nature (Proverbs 17:17), However, His compassions are often kindled according to His great will (Hosea 11:8). These ebb and flow in perfect measure as He touches and mends lives. Jesus’ nature did not always look loving, yet He never failed in this respect, even when He was angry or openly grieved. Likewise, His compassion was always at work although it was most demonstrative when God’s heart was “kindled.”

Always know God is a loving Father, even when He does not appear that way. The sign of a mature believer is patiently discerning how the Lord chooses to reveal Himself through His compassion. When God does touch us, there is a new awareness of His love and kindness and a greater desire to follow Him no matter where He might lead.


Bonus content:

It’s been awhile since we shared anything from Ruth Wilkinson. Today we have two video teachings for you in what will eventually become a series of four or five, which are based on the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy.

Click these links for

June 7, 2021

Jesus Reconfigured Law and Sin

As a child, I was taught that thunder and lightning happened when hot air met cold air. It was a simple explanation, but after spending ten minutes just now reading more detailed answers, it doesn’t describe what’s really happening.

Similarly, we can speak of what happens when the good news of Jesus, showing us the grace of God, meets a culture steeped in religious law. That produced the equivalent of thunder and lightning — the guardians of the law were livid — but also doesn’t give us the technical detail to describe what was taking place.

As arbiters of the law, the Pharisees meted out constant judgment to their people, so while Jesus appeared to be drawing a red line through parts of it and writing in other parts he was totally disrupting their reason for getting up in the morning. But there’s more, the words of Jesus were cutting through to their hearts, putting a lump in their throats, and leaving them wondering how much he really knew about their innermost thoughts.

Jesus simplified the law

When asked which of the (Exodus) commandments is the greatest, Jesus responded with an overarching summary as found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

CEB.Matt.22.37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

In a 2017 post here, I talked about the difference between principles and rules and mentioned Donald DeGraaf’s definition. “A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles.” (Having said that, I think there are foundational principles in the Exodus commandments.) Paul reaffirms the second overarching principle in Galatians 5:2, “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  (NLT)

From my perspective, one ought to look for the principle behind the rule. Ask yourself why God is making certain requirements of his people. One time when I read Leviticus through consecutively, I asked God to do just that; help me see the why behind the what. Jesus tries to get his followers to do the same.

Here’s the catch: Once you’ve reduced the law to its core principles, those principles can reverberate down the line of history in ways the early church could never have imagined. Should a Christian smoke cigarettes? Own a $200K car? Spend three hours a day playing video games? If you interpret these situations as having core principles at stake, then Jesus has added to the law, not subtracted from it. He is setting a standard of holiness that is more stringent:

ESV.Matt.5.17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus extended the law

In his teaching, Jesus goes beyond the simple actions of a person to the motivations behind them, and further again, to the things we think about doing if we thought we would not get thought. So the male who looks at a female lustfully is as guilty as though he had done the deed.

(Tangent: This is usually understood with the presupposition that men are particularly visually driven in the area of sexual sin. Men are about sight, women are about touch. So goes the stereotype. But increasingly we’re hearing that women are equally visually driven. So the patriarchal language of the words of Jesus here does not exempt women from the principle.)

NIV.Matt.5.27-28 “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

This is foreshadowed in Proverbs:

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

As we said in a 2019 post here, not only does motivation matter but can bring consequences. James

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

The 613 laws thereby multiply into a potential infinity, or at the very least, after Jesus appears, the possibilities for grieving the heart of God with our acts of commission or omission jumps from 613 to 6132.

Jesus calls out pretense

This is a big one. It’s not a question of performance; a wish that you were either hot nor cold. Love for God certainly matters. Turning in a lackluster performance, or settling for spiritual mediocrity isn’t good, but there’s a kind of performance which is clearly worse: Pretending, or to use another word hypocrisy.

Three words: Jesus hates it!

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” — Matthew 15: 7-9 ESV

Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. — 2 Timothy 3:5

They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. — Titus 1:6

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. — Galatians 6:3 –NIV

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’— Matthew 7: 21-23 ESV

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. — Luke 12:2 NIV

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. — Matthew 23:27 ESV

So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. — James 2:24 NLT

If you think the best acting anywhere is on Broadway in New York, forget it. Some of the best acting takes place in the church lobby after the Sunday morning service. People pretending to me more spiritually than they are.

Knowing the heart of a rich, young law-keeper, he says,

Matt.19.21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

He doesn’t require this of everyone, but in this case, the young man’s heart isn’t into it; he’s not all-in.

Thankfully, our relationship to God is not about trying to measure up.

It’s expressed in joyful devotion to him, his presence, and his word.

 

August 15, 2020

The Basics

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Christianity in a single sentence

[Paul writing] For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. – I Cor. 15.3-5 NIV

[Peter speaking] “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:22-24 NIV

[Paul writing] Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel… – 2 Timothy 2:7-8 NIV

[Jesus teaching] For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. – Luke 19:10 ESV

[Jesus teaching] “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 NASB

[John writing] This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. I John 4:10 The Message

[Jesus teaching]  “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:38-39 NIV


One of the very first posts at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, included this definition of the gospel by Jeremiah Burroughs:

The gospel of Christ in general is this: It is the good tidings that God has revealed concerning Christ. More largely it is this: As all mankind was lost in Adam and became the children of wrath, put under the sentence of death, God, though He left His fallen angels and has reserved them in the chains of eternal darkness, yet He has thought upon the children of men and has provided a way of atonement to reconcile them to Himself again…Namely, the second person of the Trinity takes man’s nature upon Himself, and becomes the Head of a second covenant, standing charged with sin. He answers for it by suffering what the law and divine justice required, and by making satisfaction by keeping the law perfectly, which satisfaction and righteousness He tenders up to the Father as a sweet savor of rest for the souls that are given to Him…And now this mediation of Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, preached to the children of men, of whatever nation or rank, freely offering this atonement unto sinners for atonement, requiring them to believe in Him and, upon believing, promising not only a discharge of all their former sins, but that they shall not enter into condemnation, that none of their sins or unworthiness shall ever hinder the peace of God with them, but that they shall through Him be received into the number of those who shall have the image of God again to be renewed unto them, and they they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Jeremiah Burroughs

That’s a long definition! The challenge when answering the question, “What is the Gospel?” is that you can end up over-analyzing a story that when distilled, is so simple that even a child can understand. That’s probably because the story is over-laid with so much wonderful, beautiful complexity that one can never stop mining its riches and admiring its intricacies.

5½ years ago, Reformed pastor Dane Ortlund posed the question to his readers and got many responses.

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result. (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation. (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)
  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation. (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name. (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign. (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succinctly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)

How would you define the gospel? How would you share it with a friend?


Scot McKnight:

Ravi Zacharias:

Skye Jethani:

Bruxy Cavey:

David Platt:

April 10, 2020

For Me He Died: A Good Friday Collection

 

Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross He was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.

Dying for me, dying for me,
There on the cross He was dying for me;
Now in His death my redemption I see,
All because Jesus was dying for me.

– early 20th Century hymn; vs 1, William Ovens, vs. 2, Gladys Toberts


…It’s like sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior.

-Early Christianity 201 post


Christ died. He left a will in which He gave His soul to His Father, His body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes to the soldiers, and His mother to John. But to His disciples, who had left all to follow Him, He left not silver or gold, but something far better – His PEACE!

– Matthew Henry


For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

-Colossians 1:19


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.

~ Watchman Nee


It must have been agonizing for Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – to acknowledge that in what was about to happen – the powers of darkness, which He could have no doubt thrown back with a single word – had been given free reign.

– Grant Gunnink; quoted at Daily Encouragement (C201 link)


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

– I Cor. 1:18


My hope is in the Lord
Who gave Himself for me,
And paid the price of all my sin
at Calvary.

For me He died,
For me He lives;
And everlasting life and light
He freely gives.

Hymn, My Hope is in the Lord, © 1945 Norman J. Clayton Publishing © Renewed 1973


May I never put anything above the cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. Through Him, the world has been crucified to me and I to this world.

– Galatians 6:14


The Jews thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being the Messiah, the Greeks thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being God, people today think that in being crucified Jesus failed at doing anything relevant – but if God can be spoken of as failing at anything when Jesus was crucified – God failed to treat us as our sins deserve.

-Clarke Dixon (C201 link)


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

-Ephesians 5:1,2


It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God Reigns, verses 3 and 4


But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

-Hebrews 2:9


The problem of sin is that it is a contagion and a captivity, which involves our complicity.

As a stain, sin is like a contagion that must be cleansed— as a virus must be eradicated from the body.

As blame, sin involves our complicity and thus blame must be borne.

As a power which leads to the penalty of death, sin is a captivity from which we must be freed.

In His death on the cross, Jesus purifies us from the stain of guilt, removes from us and bears in Himself the blame, and frees us from the power of Sin and Death.

Good Friday, indeed.

-Glenn Packiam (C201 link)


And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

-Hebrews 10:11-12


Into the cross of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Following through the garden,
Facing the dreaded foe;
Drinking the cup of sorrow,
Sobbing with broken heart,
“O Savior, help! Dear Savior, help!
Grace for my weakness impart.”

-Oswald J. Smith, Deeper and Deeper (C201 link)


It is true that I deserved death for sin just as do all of humankind. I had been caught in Satan’s deceits and those practices that were offensive to my creator and sovereign. Had justice been served neither I nor anyone else would have survived. Satan would have won. There would not have been a single person suitable for God’s presence.

– Russell Young (C201 link)


■ Here is the embedded link to the Good Friday (and Communion Service) playlist we’ve been promoting all week. This will play continuously as long as you leave this page open, or you can click through to YouTube and watch it (some of the songs are lyric videos) there. Unlike the hymns quoted above, these are all modern worship cross-centered songs.

 

December 5, 2019

The Christmas Story: Just a Good Story?

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas story is a good story. There is something about it that engages even people who would not call themselves Christian. Where Christianity gets a cold shoulder, baby Jesus seems to receive a warm embrace. The Christmas story is a good story for many reasons. It is a story of ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary. It is a story of the underprivileged experiencing an incredible privilege. There is nothing special about Mary or Joseph, either in their societal or religious standing. There is nothing special about the shepherds. The wise men don’t even belong, they are complete outsiders. Herod, rich, powerful, and privileged, threatens and kills, but the ordinary people battle through dire circumstances and participate in something truly remarkable. Everyone loves a good story where the underdogs come out on top. As for the divine, well the divine very clearly sides with the regular folk. You don’t need to be a Christian enjoy the Christmas story as a good story. But is the Christmas story just a good story and nothing more?

The way in which Luke begins to tell the story tells us something else about it:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Luke sets out to write, not a story, but history. Notice how Luke begins; not with “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away,” but with, “an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” That is, events that really happened in Luke’s time and place and which people who were there would still remember. There are eyewitnesses. The original readers of Luke’s Gospel could check his sources. These eyewitnesses were not people indoctrinated into a school of thought, but people who witnessed things with their own eyes. They were not philosophers, or religious people, but ordinary people who experienced something, and Someone extraordinary. Luke is not making things up, but writing them down. Those who know Greek well can tell that Luke is an educated man from these first verses, for his Greek, we are told, is very good. Luke is not some religious nut who has been duped, but an educated man who has “investigated everything carefully,” so that the reader can “be certain of the truth” (v.4 NLT). The Christmas story is not just a good story, it is also a true story. 

You can imagine a scenario where something is known to be true, but it is not good news. A doctor gives the correct diagnosis, for example. What she says is true, but it may not be good news. Is the Christmas story good news? The way Luke continues drops big hints about that.

The name “Herod” elicited a response in people in much the same way that the name “Trump” does today. However, where Trump elicits a polarized response, Herod’s name always brought fear. Herod’s name shows up early, verse 5 in fact. Fear continues to be a theme of the Christmas story, especially whenever an angel appears:

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Luke 1:12-13 (NRSV)

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30 (NRSV)

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11 (NRSV)

Every time an angel shows up there is much fear, yet fear not, for behold, there is good news!

People are often reticent about becoming Christians because of fear. They fear that becoming a Christian would have a negative impact on their lives. Their sense of freedom might be impacted. They might have to become “religious.” They don’t like religious people and fear they might have to become like people they don’t like. Therefore if the Christmas story and all the stories of Jesus, including the Easter story, are true, that would be bad news. However, when you dig deeper you discover that the story of Jesus is good news indeed!

Throughout his writing Luke does not come across as saying something like; “sadly, having looked at the evidence, I have to tell you that this religion is true, so you had better commit to it, even though it will be drudgery.” Rather; “having looked at the evidence, all this stuff about Jesus is true, and is great news and brings great opportunity.” It begins with ordinary people and with mean and privileged people but ends in great blessing for the ordinary people. It begins with sinful people, their relationship with God broken and shattered, and ends with people reconciled to God by his love and grace. It begins with death being a certainty and ends with eternal life being an opportunity. It begins with people getting religion all wrong and ends with people living a new kind of life focused on Jesus. It is true, but that does not mean you need to fear becoming someone you don’t like. You become a better version of yourself as you become more like Christ. It is all good news! The Christmas story is not just a good story, and a true story, it is also good news. 

Many people dabble in spirituality; “there is something out there.” Luke has good news based on a true story; there is something out there, in fact, there is Someone out there, and that Someone out there became someone down here. It is a good story, a true story, and is great news!


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog or click here to listen to the message on which this article is based.

December 3, 2019

Mary: Did She Know?

With the continued popularity of a certain Christmas song I won’t name, the announcement to Mary that she was the one who would bear the promised Savior stands apart from all other personal revelations given in scripture. The Roman Catholic Church has a special word for this, “The Annunciation.” You can read more about that at Wikipedia.

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

From ten years ago at Internet Monk, these questions:

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

And these responses:

  • Karin: Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!
  • Joanie: I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently. Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?
  • Hannah: Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbors and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time?
  • John: I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us. “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?” I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Read the other comments at Internet Monk.

November 5, 2019

God’s Word Will Be Twisted

by Russell Young

I have spent many years trying to get people to understand that more than the sacrificial offering of Christ is needed to enter God’s eternal kingdom. Unfortunately, many teachers enjoy presenting the cross as the full gospel message, and those listening like to hear that message. Such understanding takes all responsibility from the confessor and avoids the necessity to teach the less pleasant issues of God’s righteous requirements, sanctification through obedience, and judgment for disregarding the holiness and majesty of God.

The God of the Old Testament, who was to be “feared” (Deut 19:12) has been turned into a beneficent grandfather. The God who brought nations to destruction because of their idolatrous practices and their failure to humble themselves before him and to obey his commands seems to have abandoned the need for obedience and of separation from the world. The God who demanded righteous living has made provision for his grace to cover all ungodly practices, many would say.

Isaiah has recorded, “The earth will be completely emptied and looted. The LORD has spoken! The earth mourns and dries up, and the crops waste away and wither. Even the greatest people on earth waste away. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left.” (Isa 24:4−6 NLT) When the end comes, the earth’s destruction will have been caused by twisting or altering God’s Word.

Isaiah’s revelation should alarm many who have neglected the fullness of the gospel or who have altered its teachings. The world will not end because of the evil that pervades it; it will be ended because those entrusted with the Word will have distorted it and made it ineffective and unable to transform lives. God has not changed. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. He is sovereign and will establish his holy kingdom.

The end will come when God’s Word has been so twisted that truth, and with it hope, no longer exists. The Lord asked the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Faith may be found, but according to Isaiah’s prophesy, it will not be established in truth.

Where are we left concerning these words? A prophecy is a prophecy and it is absolute truth. That is, the Word will have been twisted beyond the Lord’s recognition by the end. Can this be stopped? No! It will not! The false “gospel” being promoted will have lost its power to save. God must be appreciated for his holiness and majesty regardless of teachings that suggest God’s overwhelming tolerance and forgiveness for ungodly practices and neglect of Christ’s lordship. “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (Mt 13:41)

What is the “more” than the cross that completes the gospel message? The offering of Christ redeemed the believer from his or her sin so that they might be given the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) Obedience to the Spirit will “fully meet the righteous requirements of the law.” (Rom 8:4) Judgment will fall on those who reject the Spirit’s leadership and live according to the sinful nature. (Gal 6:8) Christ, who has given his life to justify the confessor’s past sins (2 Pet 1:9; Heb 9:15), who has lived in a human body without sin and understands the temptations of the flesh (Heb 2: 17−18), and who has provided his Spirit for victory (Gal 3:14), holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev 1:18) and he will judge everyone according to the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10) He will determine each person’s fate.

The righteous requirements of the law must be met, and they will be “fully met by those who do not live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) Christ did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. (Mt 5:17) He did that for himself in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, and, as Spirit, he will fulfill them through his presence in the believer (Col 1:27) who has pledged and lived under his lordship (Rom 10:9). He provided his Spirit because the law, having been weakened by the sinful nature of humankind, was powerless to accomplish its purpose. (Rom 8:3) The law of the Spirit of life has replaced the covenant law. (Rom 8:2, 7:6)

“Eternal salvation” is not fully accomplished through the sacrificial offering of the Son of Man on the cross; it comes “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13), and it is to be worked out, completed, with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12) The Lord did not finish his work for people through his death on the cross but rose to justify (Rom 4:25) the willing through his Spirit. God’s Word will be twisted, and his truths will be lost.


This was Russell Young’s last regular column in this alternate-Tuesday slot, though his writing may appear at various times in the future. He’s working on his next book and doing research. His current book is now available through a different publisher, and wherever you buy books, they should be able to access it at a better price. We thank him for his contributions here at C201.


Eternal Salvation - Russell Young - 2Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation — “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”– Really? (Lettra Press) 

Text citations above include italics added. 

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

 

 

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