Christianity 201

September 18, 2019

Does Your Church Bite?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
 – Galatians 5:15 NLT

Our car is going to be at the shop for a few days, so I cleaned it out before leaving it with them. In the cupholder was a small piece of paper which simply said, “Gal 5:15.”

I had written that down several years earlier, but reading it now, I’m not sure what the particular point of emphasis was to be.

So now you know the why of today’s text.

Let’s look at some context, taking two verses before and two verses after from the Common English Bible:

13 You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. 14 All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. 15 But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other! 16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires.

As I looked around the internet for further insights into this passage, I landed at Verse by Verse Commentary. We’ve used them before here for brief quotations, but I’ve never shared the full text of how they treat a passage; I’ve never allowed you to see the format. It’s more like ‘word by word’ or ‘phrase by phrase’ commentary; the type of source material so helpful in expository preaching. Click the header below to read at source.

Galatians 5:15

by Grant Richison

“But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”

The Galatian church entered onto a stage of conflict because of legalistic thinking. Paul now warns them about a consequence of this. All doctrine, whether false or true, has practical implications.

But if you bite

Secular Greek used the verbs in this verse of “bite,” “devour” and “consume” for wild animals that bite with the teeth in lethal battle. Legalists lacerate those who believe in grace with reproach. 

and devour one another,

The word “devour” means to gulp down. It comes from two words: to consume by eating and down. The idea is to completely consume something. Evidently there is such a thing as Christian cannibalism! The Galatians did not nibble on one another!

beware

The idea of “beware” is to keep our spiritual vision sharp. The word comes from a word for to see. If Christians do not stay alert, they will fall into divisions that result from legalistic belief. Legalism is always divisive and censorious.

lest you be consumed by one another!

Christians can destroy one another by legalism.

Principle:

Legalism produces a censorious spirit

Application:

Paul never fuses legalism and grace because they are opposites. Neither can we harmonize them into some sentimental doctrinal glob. We should set legalism and grace in stark contrast if we are going to life the Christian life as it should be lived. If we do not separate these two ideas, we will also experience rivalry in the church.

Legalists are contemptuous and severely critical people who show little mercy. However, true Christian love makes allowances for others and takes account of their frailties. Genuine love compensates for people.

“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins‘” (1 Peter 4:8).

Christians cannot afford to play god and become the judge of other believers. When we take the role of a critic, we put ourselves in the position of god. If we find fault with one another and tear each other’s reputation apart, we will destroy the Christian community. All that we see from some churches God has used mightily, is smoke billowing from the ruins of wrath. The people of God could not get along. There is a great difference between the fruit of love the ruins of wrath.

 

August 29, 2019

Don’t Focus on What You’ve Been Told You Can’t Do

Today we’re back for a third time with Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice and Mercy in a Broken World. Clicking the header below will take you to the original article with a longer introduction.

She did what she could

In Mark 14, Jesus is in a place called Bethany, which some scholars suggest actually means, “House of Misery” or “House of Affliction and Poverty”. So, it may have been a place where the poor congregated and received handouts.

This might explain why Jesus was chilling out at the home of the unfortunately-named “Simon the Leper”.

Maybe Bethany, this place of struggle and affliction, was a place where men like Simon and other outcasts made their home.

Maybe you’re in your own kind of Bethany.

Perhaps you feel like you’re in a place of misery, sickness, or poverty right now. Maybe you are living in the midst of a broken neighbourhood, or going through a season of affliction. Whatever that looks like.

If so, pay attention. Because what happens next is quite mind-blowing and cool.

Jesus is having dinner around the table with Simon and a bunch of his crew. And a woman (John suggests it is Mary, the sister of Martha) slips in with a bottle of expensive perfume.

She makes her way quietly through the small gathering. No-one knows what she is about to do. As Mary draws nearer to Jesus, she adjusts the pint jar in her hands. She’s shaking a little. But she’s determined to do what she came here to do.

Jesus is mid-sentence, reclining. Mary steps forward and breaks the seal. She tilts the jar. The perfume flows out, thick and fragrant, enough to drench Jesus’ head, drip down his beard, and even reach his feet. A pungent aroma fills the room. It’s overwhelming. Faaaaaaaaaar too much perfume.

The crowd turns. “What the heck have you done, Mary!?!”

John says that Mary kneels now, as mouths drop open in surprise and shock, and she wipes Jesus’ feet with her long hair. An act of devotion.

And then Jesus praises her with these poignant words:

“She did what she could.” (Mk 14:8)

It’s a dramatic scene. Here’s this woman, lacking in almost every way that the world deems important. Small. Vulnerable. Fragile. But she carries out an act so brazen, so incongruous, that the whole party is buzzing with surprise and indignation.

Notice who she is, who God uses, and see if it resonates with your situation today:


1. She lacks power.

Like any woman in that time, Mary was considered a second-class citizen, of no status or authority. Respectable women were expected to stay mostly within the confines of the home. If a woman was ever in the streets, she was heavily veiled and was prohibited from conversing with men.

The women Jesus knew were very likely illiterate, since the rabbis did not consider it important for women to learn to read. (On a side note, most of us don’t experience illiteracy – except when we move to a new country. Perhaps you’re struggling with the language in the place where you live? Or in some other way you feel you don’t measure up educationally. That’s Mary.)

And yet she steps forward. She dares to push through the crowd. Mary holds her head high. She does what she can.


2. She lacks permission.

No-one saw Mary coming, or realized what she was going to do. And it’s probably wise that she didn’t ask for advice from the established religious leaders first, because as soon as she acts, everyone is up in arms. The crowd of critics erupts in grumbling and furor. What a dumb thing to do! So unstrategic! Those resources could have been used better elsewhere.

And yet she acts anyway. A small, seemingly insignificant and unimportant act. She does what she can.


3. She lacks support.

No-one is on board with Mary’s strange action. It seems out of place, incongruous, lacking in purpose or objective. You wouldn’t write this in your newsletter home. You wouldn’t submit it in a monthly report to your manager. You probably wouldn’t even post it on Instagram.

And frankly, in the context of a place of poverty, like Bethel, it’s not surprising to me that there is some critique of her extravagance. The grumbling actually makes sense on a human level.

But Mary is compelled by something beyond human reason. She has left space for the Spirit to lead. And she does what she can.


We do need worldly knowledge and wisdom. There are times when it is appropriate to strategize about how to best reach the poor. We need big thinkers. We need to reflect on best practice and critique models of mission that are broken. We need to think beyond emotional acts of mercy and consider the larger structural justice issues.

I do that a lot, in my blog and in my books.

But we also need to leave room for the mystical, the beautiful, and the small.

We need to leave room for the Spirit.

There are plenty of critics out there. The room is filled with finger-pointers.

On the left, the progressive movement is overflowing with critique. Everything is “problematic”. Everyone with privilege is complicit. Anyone who dares to go overseas must be a ‘White Savior’. No-one is radical enough.

There is little room for grace.

On the right, conservative evangelicals are often just as bad. They want reports back with numbers of salvations, and to know whether the “gospel was preached” verbally in every situation. They want to know our theological position on this and that.

There is little room for grace.

Many of these critiques are valid and useful. Like I said, there is a time and place for critical thinking and strategic initiatives.

But not all the time.

Sometimes, we just do what we can. Especially when we are in Bethany.

Sometimes we walk in the footsteps of Mary, who didn’t have power, permission or support.

She took what little she had. And she did what she was able to do. Without paying attention to the armchair critics.

Nothing less. Nothing more.

And that was enough. More than enough. Because she was open to the weird and wonderful leading of the Spirit.

And Jesus said, “She did what she could.”

With a smile on his face.

Perhaps you need to hear that encouragement today.

Go ahead. Do what you can. It might not be much. It might be weird or insignificant or unstrategic. But listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. Step out. And do what you can with what you have.

I promise you. It is enough.

 

July 30, 2019

Putting God’s Grace in Perspective

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

  1. God’s grace is person specific and not blanket in nature. It does not rest on the community of a denomination but in the heart of the believer.
  2. People have been called to be holy and to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. The achievement of these objectives is accomplished through a personal relationship with Christ and must be worked out.
  3. The Lord determines the person and the manner to which his mercy and grace will be applied.
  4. God’s grace makes provision to escape judgment but does not eliminate it.

The Word of God has been presented as his truths to humankind. For millennia scholars have tried to understand its contents and from those the Lord’s expectations for the salvation of a people. Teachings concerning God’s grace have become foundational to the many denominational perspectives that have emerged.

God’s grace is just that, his graciousness as he applies it to individuals. Unfortunately, many people have limited their understanding to Christ’s sacrificial offering permitting the gaining of God’s heavenly kingdom through the imputation of his righteousness.

According to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, charis, the Greek from which grace has been derived, means, “graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude):—acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace(- ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank(-s, -worthy).” (#5485) God’s grace is his graciousness as applied through his divine influence upon the heart with its reflection in the believer’s life. Of course, the extension of God into the human heart is a gift; It is neither deserved nor can be earned. However, although God’s grace is his divine influence, it does not directly gift the believer with eternal salvation which is accomplished through obedience (Heb 5:9) to his divine influence (Rom 15:16; Gal 6:7−8), teaching believers to live “upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12) They must work out (complete, finish their salvation. (Phil 2:12)

Many will quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in (through) Christ Jesus or Lord.” Careful study of the word “gift” needs to be given in this passage. Although “gift” has been presented as the English translation of the Greek charisma, in ancient Greek it meant, “An extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit; the ability to influence without the use of logic; personal charm or magnetism.” (Glosbe, Ancient Greek (to 1453)) “Gift” was added to the definition following 1453. It is God’s influence through the Holy Spirit, Christ’s “personal charm and magnetism,” that has attracted people—believers—to follow his leadership that will bring about a person’s eternal salvation.

God’s revealed plan is to have a holy nation and a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9), a people conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) He is making a nation of those whom he finds acceptable to dwell with him. (Rom 15:16) Since people have been unable to achieve his righteous requirements due to their weakened sinful nature (Rom 8:3), God has sent his Son into the world to accomplish his purpose in their lives. (Rom 8:4) It is in this aspect, his divine influence, that his grace is realized. He delivers the willing from their evil imaginations and practices and transforms them into an offering acceptable for his kingdom. (First, he had to release them from the death that they had earned and from covenant law that presented his righteous requirements, so that they might be given the Spirit of promise. (Gal 3:14))

God will not select his people from a specific denomination, but from those individuals in many denominations who have met his requirements. They will have been persuaded by the attractiveness of his message and of his being and will have willingly followed his leadership. They must believe sufficiently (have enough faith) to cling to and to obediently follow him. (Jn 10:27)

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thes 1:8) Of course, those who do not know Jesus cannot be persuaded nor can they believe to the extent that they obey his gospel. “Know” however, has a deeper meaning. It means to understand or to appreciate the heart of Christ.

The Lord is changing individuals and those who will find a place in his kingdom will establish a committed and loving relationship with him; the accomplishment of becoming an acceptable offering is not a direct gift but is achieved by his grace as he, as Holy Spirit, helps the believer in his or her transformation. The need is not merely a pardon for sin; it is a changed heart. Each person will stand naked before the Lord, except for the covering of their righteous deeds. Each person will stand before him, not robed with their denominational teachings, but by themselves with their exposed hearts and on that basis will face judgment for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

God’s grace does not allow escape from the judgment seat of Christ, but it allows the believer to prepare for it. Of course, his graciousness (grace) is revealed through the many acts of his blessings upon a person’s life, as well.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

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

April 30, 2019

If You’re Pure, You’re Blameless

NIV.Ps.66.18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened

Today we’re again highlighting a new writer. Maryann doesn’t blog frequently, but the articles I read before posting this were very insightful and very transparent. As always, click the title below to read this at her blog, Searching for Treasures.

Pursuing Purity

I’ve just been thinking today that there are never any regrets for pursuing purity.

This morning, I came across, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord…The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4).

How do we get to hear God?

By pursuing purity in our lives.

Reading this verse reminded me of the time years ago when God really convicted me with it. At that time, I saw an image of a child walking on a path with Papa God, holding his hand. It was a leisurely walk down Sawyer Camp Trail next to Crystal Springs Reservoir. And I thought about how that was such a picture of peace. How incredible it would be to walk with God like that! And I recognized that I need to have the innocence of a child to walk with God in that way. How could I hold the hand of the Holy One with unclean hands? If I cherished sin in my heart, then the Lord would not hear me (Ps. 66:18), and I would not hear the Lord. Choosing purity would mean confidence of getting to hear God and confidence that God will hear me. It means having the confidence of a close and intimate relationship with God.

I have been really feeling convicted by this desire this week to seek purity and blamelessness before God, so that nothing would hinder me from hearing his voice and going his way.

Purity, to me, means blamelessness. Blamelessness looks like proactively seeking to follow God’s ways, proactively refraining from doing things that displeases God, proactively seeking to live and act in ways that honor God (e.g. if you know it’s wrong to steal, don’t steal; if you know you should forgive, then seek to forgive; if you’re prone to lusting, make a plan for how you’ll refrain from a “second look”, etc.).

We sometimes tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter if we don’t pursue blamelessness in our lives. God doesn’t see. God doesn’t know. God will forgive me anyway. But it does matter. It impacts our bond with God. He will forgive us, that is certain, but there’s a break in our communion with him all all the while that we are seeking our own way. When we seek HIS way, we have close and intimate relationship with him.

There is also something about seeking blamelessness that results in freedom. If I am doing what is right, I am free. If I’m not speeding down the road, I don’t have to keep looking in the rear-view mirror with anxiety that a cop will get me. My heart doesn’t have to race with nervousness about getting caught. I will get to live in freedom because I’m seeking to do what is right. This is where I want to be.

Though I know I can’t be perfect in my striving to be pure, I don’t want to give up on it before I’ve begun. I know it’s a worthy pursuit, because what I will get out of it is a deep and intimate relationship with God. I’ll get God out of it. And how could I ever regret that?


Secret Sauce Reveal: We discover new writers through a variety of means, but today’s author was discovered on WordPress Reader, using the tag “devotional.” Feel free to explore, but be discerning.

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


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

 

September 4, 2018

Spiritual Alignment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:06 pm
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Andy and Gina Elmes had a different analogy (or metaphor, if you prefer) which I found rather interesting.

Correct alignment is important

2 Corinthians 6:14, NKJV
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

Any Chiropractor or Physiotherapist will tell you that correct alignment in your body’s frame is very important for good health and optimum physical performance. I believe that God thinks the same about our whole lives – physical and spiritual – and is ever at work to bring correct alignment to the various areas of our lives that may have fallen out of alignment or become misaligned.

Naturally speaking, your body only has to be slightly out of alignment for it to cause great discomfort to your life. So it is with the unseen parts of who we are also. We can be out of alignment in our beliefs – you only have to be slightly wrong in what you believe to fall into a state of deception that can harm you and others. The Holy Spirit is constantly teaching us truth to bring good alignment to what we believe, so don’t resist His correcting hands. Relationally, bad alignment can be a very real issue too, especially when it comes to relationships being out of spiritual alignment.

Because God loves us and wants us to walk in correct alignment He can come sometimes like a Chiropractor to bring a healthy alignment to our relational structure. This can involve strengthening certain relationships, other times adding new ones, or even removing some. I have seen the Lord uncouple me from different relationships at different times, and though at the time it seemed confusing and uncomfortable it always brought about health and wellbeing a little later.

We often refer to God’s hands as the hands of the Gardener, or the Potter, but will you allow His hands to be like those of a Chiropractor in your life today, shifting and resetting things for your good? Don’t be surprised if you hear the sound of cracking and popping around your life at this time – that is merely the sound of things coming into better alignment. As it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual. You may well be sore for a couple of days during the process but after you will feel stronger and fitter. Commit yourself to His hands and trust Him to align your life correctly – He knows what He is doing.

Bring correct alignment to our lives, Lord. Amen.


Because their devotionals are shorter, we’re bringing you a bonus installment today!


Responding from a different spirit

Matthew 5:38-45, NKJV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;”

So we have established that, as Christians, we are people of a ‘different spirit’ and that when we realise this we can make the decision to respond to people and situations we face differently to those around us who don’t know Jesus. It’s this I believe that causes us to stick out in life, not the big Bibles we carry or the stickers on our car bumpers! It’s when people see us responding differently, or from a different spirit, that we catch their attention and cause them to want to know what it is that makes us different. This is a good thing that can point them towards the Jesus we love and serve.

Our text … is a sobering one, and is embedded in a section called The Beatitudes, which are the teachings of Jesus concerning the attitudes we should have as followers of Him. Notice that they specifically call us to be different in our responses, that when we face things that seem to strike us, take from us or put unreasonable demands on us, that we are to respond in a way that is completely different to how the world we live in trained us to respond. This, I believe, is where the rubber hits the road with our Christianity. If we just respond to situations mentioned in today’s verses in the same way as everyone else then we really are no different to anyone else. Yet the truth remains: we really are different, His Spirit now lives in us to enable us and empower us to do and respond like we could not do before. When, by faith, we tap into His Spirit within us we will be amazed at what we are capable of, in the way we handle things and respond.

Our standard must be Jesus

Let’s face it, none of us will ever face what Jesus did: the beating, rejection and humiliation He faced over the period He was judged and crucified was horrific and beyond anything we could fully comprehend. Yet, moments before He gave up His Spirit, listen to what He said concerning a humanity that did not deserve Him or what He was doing for them:

Luke 23:34, NKJV
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Even when it’s tough, even when it seems unfair, let us keep Jesus as our standard and example of how we are to respond. Let us dig deep and draw on His Spirit now within us to do what we never thought we could. As we do we will most certainly stick out and catch people’s attention in a world where people are desperately seeking something that is authentically different.


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June 23, 2018

When the Thief’s Heart Begins to Melt

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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We had a much longer post yesterday, so today, something shorter…

We’re paying a return visit to Patrick Hawthorne who writes at Serving Grace Ministries. This is an article that he’s used more than once, and we hope you’ll enjoy it here.

The Thief

The pain was excruciating! Like bolts of lightning, nerve endings screamed in a rhythmic tone as one wave of pain followed another.  Still, the thief pushed through the pain as he forced his body upright.  The need to breath was greater than the agony of the steel spike that had been thrust through his feet.  Pulling against the two other spikes, one through each wrist, he was able to fill his lungs with a fresh supply of air.

The sky was becoming darker, the wind picking up.  Although the steady gusts should have brought a modicum of relief, the air itself seemed to add more weight to his already weary body.  It felt as if heaven itself was crying.

“If you are the Christ, why don’t you come down off the cross and save us,” spat his companion mockingly.  Like the thief, he too was nailed to a wooden cross.  They both were paying for their crimes.  Thieves with no regard for human lives, taking and killing…leaches on society.  Now they were being crucified.  One to the left and one to the right of this man named Jesus.

Shut up!” The thief spat back at his companion.  “Do you not fear God?  We are getting what we deserve, but not Him.  He did nothing wrong!”  Looking to Jesus, their eyes met.

The thief’s mantra had always been, “An eye for an eye.” Not so with this man named Jesus.  Jesus was showing love where there should have been hate; forgiveness where there should have been cursing.  Surely his ears must have deceived him.  Was Jesus really asking God to forgive those who had beat Him beyond all recognition?  Yes!  He was.

Somehow, someway, the hardness of the thief’s heart had begun to melt.  He did not deserve forgiveness, nor was he asking for it.  Yet, each time he looked into the eyes of Jesus, he felt an inward calling…an unction that Jesus could grant him a future beyond the confines of this miserable life he had made for himself.

Jesus, my Lord, remember me when You enter into Your Kingdom.” At his words, the Roman soldiers laughed.  The thief did not care.  He felt a sudden release as the cords that once bound his cold heart were cut loose.  Eternal life had just flooded his spirit.

Through blood stained lips, Jesus smiled a weak smile.  “Verily I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Be Blessed.


 

April 15, 2018

May We Be Discontent to Live in Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re introducing a writer who is new to us. Sarah Jo writes at Blind Insanity. This is really part testimony and part teaching. I appreciate her transparency. To read this post at its source, click the title below.

Worship in Deed

[Friday] night, I went to a worship concert.

It was wonderful to worship with so many believers of Jesus. But as I looked around the auditorium, seeing so many hands raised, I was reminded of what Samuel said to King Saul:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Saul chose to disobey God’s commands, but he tried to cover up his disobedience with excuses. Obviously, God did not stand for his excuses, because He could see Saul’s heart. There was no excuse for Saul’s sin. He should have bowed before God right then and there, but he chose to stand in his sin.

Almost everyone at the concert raised their hands and sang praises to Jesus, but I know that so many of them choose to stand in their sin on a daily basis. They make excuses for their actions, so they worship God in vain, because they worship with their lips, but don’t bow down their hearts and surrender their lives to His leading.

How can I know that people are living in sin and rebellion against God? Because I am no different.

I believe in Jesus. I love Him. But so many times, I sin, and that, knowingly. I have the willpower to resist sin and do the right thing, but I still choose sin. By the grace of God, my guilt draws me back to Jesus, again and again, and He gives me grace upon grace. But His grace and His Holy Spirit are changing me; making me more like Him, teaching me what it means to be holy, and giving me the strength and will to follow.

I am only accountable for my actions and the condition of my heart, but I see a need for every professing believer in Christ to live a holy life before God.

Without Christ, righteousness is impossible, but anyone who has Jesus has put on His righteousness. Through Him, they are made righteous, and through His Holy Spirit, they are given the strength to live a holy life; to live in a way that glorifies Him. That means that, what would be seen as normal, and even “healthy,” by the world, should not be present in our lives.

Every form of sexual immorality, gossip, lying, hatred, drunkenness, cheating, and any other sin should no longer have dominion over us. That is not to say that we won’t struggle or that we won’t stumble, but we should grow to the point where we don’t fall into that sin again. And we should humble ourselves before God on a daily basis; asking Him for the strength to resist sin and live for Him.

We need revival in the Church. Revival starts in the heart, and it should produce good fruits that bring glory to Jesus Christ.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth Your praise. For You desire not sacrifice; else would I give it. You delight not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)

Abba, we need You to step into our mess and bring us to our senses. May we be discontent to live in sin. Teach us to be holy as You are holy; to be examples of You in word and deed. Please continue to shower Your grace and mercy over us, and may it be Your love that brings us to our knees and shapes us into the men and women that You intended us to be. Thank You for listening when we speak, and never forsaking us.
I love You, Jesus.

Amen.

September 27, 2017

The Fresh Start of Repentance

Life doesn’t always hand us an opportunity to redo every mistake we’ve made, but in Christianity, through grace and repentance we can go back to where we faltered, and ask God for a fresh start. But it’s more than just the confession of particular failings. It can also mean repentance of being on the wrong path, choosing an errant lifestyle, or even misunderstanding God’s truth.

We’re paying a return visit to Rick Joyner; click the title below to read this at source.

A Special Grace

Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to Thee in a time when Thou may be found;
surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him (Psalm 32:6).

There is often a tendency in Christians not to really seek the Lord until we get into a crisis situation. Then we seek Him earnestly. We see this same pattern with Israel in the Old Testament. This is a primary reason why many stay in a seemingly perpetual state of crisis. As we are told in Matthew 7:21-27:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven;
but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in Your name,
and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them,
may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house;
and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.

“And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them,
will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew,
and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”

As we read here, just calling Jesus Lord does not guarantee that we will enter the kingdom of heaven. We must do His will. To call Him Lord and not do what He says disqualifies us from being believers, and makes us obvious unbelievers. How could we really know the glorious King of kings and not do what He says? To know that He is God and not obey Him is an ultimate delusion. This delusion leads to many tragedies and failures when the floods of life come.

One of our ultimate quests should therefore be to hear the words of the Lord. As we are told in John 10:4: “When he (the good Shepherd) puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” The obvious counterpoint here is that if we do not know His voice we will not follow Him. However, hearing His words and obeying them are two different things. Many glory in how well they hear the Lord, but they do not do what He says. We must count His words as the unfathomable treasures that they are. When the Lord gives us direction we should write it in a journal, reviewing it often to see how we have complied with our King’s directives.

If you are in confusion about how to hear from the Lord, go back and review the things that you know He has directed you to do. These are things like prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship, etc., all of which are directives that are clearly given to us in Scripture. As we obey these we will begin walking in the light, and the light will make our paths, and His voice, increasingly clear. As we are told in Proverbs 4:18:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.

If we are on the right road, things should be getting brighter. If we are on the wrong road, things will be getting darker and more confused. If our path is not getting brighter and clearer every day, then we have departed from the right path somewhere. In the Lord the wrong path never turns into the right path. The only way for us to get back on the right path is to go back to the point where we made the wrong turn. That is called repentance.

Repentance is not only a good thing—it is one of the greatest Christian truths. In Christ we can actually go back to where we made a mistake and start over and get it right. In Acts 11:18 we read the response of the Jewish believers after hearing Peter’s testimony about going to the house of Cornelius: “And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’” Eight of the most powerful words in Scripture are found in this verse: “God has granted . . . the repentance that leads to life.” Repentance is a special grace that God grants, and it leads to life.

July 28, 2017

When People Disappoint

James MacDonald is the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the host of the weekday radio program Walk in the Word and blogs at Vertical Church Blog where this first appeared. Click the link to read at source.

Dealing with My Biggest Disappointment

The psalmist said, I have been young, and now am old . . . (Psalm 37:25), and that is how I feel. Fifty-something is not over the hill, but it is surely down the road—and now that I am down that road I see things a lot differently than I did when my shoes were new and I hadn’t broken a sweat. Back then I was filled with convictions that have lasted and idealisms that have not.

I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is God’s Son—the One who made atonement for sin and exemplifies righteousness—that the Bible is God’s Word revealed to us in perfection and sufficiency, that heaven and hell are real, and that God’s glory is the only thing worth fighting for. But I am less convinced about methods—mine or yours. I am not persuaded that my way is the only way, or even the best one in some instances. And I have lost my naivete about people. I frequently doubt when a person expresses their sincerity, their longevity in leadership, or their commitment to do as they say they will. It’s so shocking to look back and see how frequently people are excited about accountability until they are the one who needs it.

And it’s not just others I am disappointed with, it’s myself. I see how often I have failed to be all that I wanted to be for God and for others. Without question my biggest disappointment is with people—you and me, the whole bunch of us. On our best day we are incredibly flawed, and the harder a sincere person tries to push the blame on others, the more they should feel the weight of their own shortcomings . . . what “I” should have done differently.

But here’s the thing: give others the grace you know you need and move on in the lessons you have learned. Too much navel gazing and wallowing in disappointment hinders the work of God in and through you. The Christian life requires forgetting those things which are behind (Philippians 3:13). If your focus is on the rearview mirror today, I challenge you to lift your eyes to the road ahead and leave your disappointment with people behind you.

HOW???

Jesus had disappointments with people, right? With the religious leaders who attacked Him, with the family members who first rejected Him then fought for their own prominence when His popularity was on the rise. Where were they at the cross? Then the disciples—Peter denied, Judas betrayed, the rest ran when the Savior needed them most. Or did He? Of course Jesus loved people, but did He need them? An interesting verse in the opening of John is a lesson I could have used a lot earlier.

After many were flocking to Jesus and “believing in Him,” John 2:24-25 says: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Jesus was neither cynical nor naive. He loved people without entrusting Himself to them, and He served people without exposing himself to their faults or failures. Are we so attached to one another that we set ourselves up to be shattered when the inevitability of our fallenness comes to the surface? Are we so in need of affirmation and acceptance that we find ourselves ‘wheels up’ in the ditch when a friend or colleague denies or betrays? Loving people, yes. Living in community, yes. But attaching ourselves to people in a way that we lose our footing in following Jesus when they stumble or trip us up? No!

Let’s fix our eyes squarely upon the only One worth following—praising God for the blessing of people, but refusing to attach ourselves in a way that puts our faith/following at risk. Looking back, if I had been a little less euphoric in the glory days with any particular person, I would have been less crushed by disappointment when I discovered their feet of clay . . . no doubt they would say the same of me. Only Jesus on the pedestal, the rest of us on level ground, looking up. That’s how I deal with disappointment.

John 21:21: “Peter . . . said to Jesus, ‘Lord what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘. . . What is that to you? You follow me!’”

July 16, 2017

Make an Effort

by Russell Young

How disturbing it is to hear the proclamation that everything has been done for the believer and that all that is required of him or her is to sit back and enjoy the ride. The Lord said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV)

The teaching of God’s “sovereign grace” has pervaded the thoughts and teachings that are being directed to those who sincerely want to gain God’s eternal kingdom. The term “sovereign grace” does not exist in the Word; consequently, its understanding is a construct of man. Certainly, God is sovereign over all things and over the application of his grace. In this sense, God’s grace is really God’s sovereign grace. The problem is that the interpretation and application of grace has evolved into an understanding that may not be biblical.

The Hebrew word often accepted as applying to grace is chen which means,

1. Favor, grace, charm
• a. favor, grace, elegance
• b. favor, acceptance (biblestudytools.com)

The Greek term for grace is charis and has been defined as, “the unmerited or undeserving favor of God to those who are under condemnation.” (Paul Enns, Moody Bible Handbook of Theology, 196) A common understanding may be “unmerited favor,” but that can have a very broad application, or a very narrow one. Many New Testament scholars have accepted that God has completed the eternal salvation of the confessor because of his or her belief. Even in this, however, the understanding of belief varies from person to person.

The Lord taught that an “effort” was required. This thought is often dismissed because an effort is not consistent with the understanding of God’s sovereign grace, and implies “works” which is clearly presented as being ineffectual in the achievement of the believer’s eternal hope. Somehow the requirement of ‘effort’ must be understood in relation to both grace and works.

Peter wrote that “[Christ’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Pet 2: 3─4 NIV) He has identified that it is through his “precious promises” that we may “participate in” the nature or soul-likeness of Christ and by so doing escape the corruption caused by evil desires. It is through the knowledge of his promises that a person can become like him. Knowledge in itself does not accomplish anything; knowledge must be used or correctly applied before it can have an effect. The application requires “effort.”

Although many teach that eternal salvation was accomplished at the cross through belief in the efficacy of the blood of Christ, Paul taught that through his sacrifice Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law…so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13─14 NIV) Every person carries the sentence of death because he or she has transgressed the law. Christ bore our sins and the penalty attached, restoring fellowship with God so that he might gift the Spirit. The Spirit is Christ in the believer. (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3:17, 18) This is grace! Freedom from deserved death and the gifting of Christ as Spirit.

Paul tells us that “the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4 NIV) Living according to the Spirit takes effort. The Spirit is given to enlighten (increase knowledge), to lead and to empower for righteousness. The writer of Hebrews states, “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) Obedience requires commitment and effort. Paul also taught that “if you are led by the Spirit are not under the law,” (Gal 5: 18) and that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14 NIV) Further Paul wrote that we shouldn’t be deceived because the way we live could result in eternal life or destruction. {Gal 6:7─8) There are many other commands for obedience and by definition, obedience requires effort.

Obedience should not be confused with “works.” Works refers to unassisted efforts of humankind, and specifically refers to the works of the law or the completion of the law of Moses. Paul wrote that because of the weakened sinful nature humankind could not complete it. The hope of the believer is accomplished through faith in Christ, through conviction of his ability to meet the believer’s need.

The great requirement of humankind is to be transformed into the divine nature of Christ so that we become like him. (Rom 8:29) This transformation demands the practice of death to self-interest and to the evil interests of the flesh as availed through Christ and by the submission of the believer to his rule so that the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) might prevail and the narrow door entered.

June 27, 2017

The Waterfall of Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Living by Faith blog by Steve Fuller. This is their all-time most popular post, from 2013. Click the title to read this on the blog itself, and then check out the right-hand column for other popular posts.

Can I Deliberately Keep Sinning And Still Be Forgiven?

A Waterfall Of Grace

Imagine that it’s 120 degrees outside.  Hot.

But then imagine that you are standing under a waterfall — cool, clear, and refreshing.  Aaaah.

Through trusting Jesus Christ you are standing under a waterfall of grace —

  • All your sins are forgiven — past, present, and future.
  • You are seen by God as clothed in Jesus’ perfect righteousness.
  • God is your Father — loving you, guiding you, providing for you, satisfying you in Himself.
  • God continues to forgive your sins day after day, year after year — forgiven, forgiven, forgiven, forgiven.
  • God will keep you persevering in faith so you will surely enter heaven.
  • God will supply everything you need for the rest of your life.
  • God will ordain everything in your future to bring you the greatest joy in Him.

A waterfall of grace.

But This Raises A Question

Does grace mean someone can deliberately keep sinning and still end up in heaven?

One passage that speaks directly to this question is Hebrews 10:26-31.

Verse 26 is sobering —

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

What Does That Mean?

What does it mean to go on sinning deliberately?

“Sinning” means disobeying clear commands of Scripture — which would include unforgiveness, sexual immorality, and love of money.

So — if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, does that mean you can never be forgiven?  Not at all.

Notice that the author is not just talking about “sinning.”  He’s talking about “going on sinning deliberately.”

The words “going on” and “deliberately” mean that you are continuing in this sin without confessing it, without sorrowing over it, without battling it.

So if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, but today confessed that to the Lord and by faith fought to overcome it — then you are NOT “going on sinning deliberately.”

But — if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, and today you are continuing in that unforgiveness without confessing it and without fighting by faith to forgive them — then you ARE “going on sinning deliberately.”

Which means that unless something changes, there no longer remains a sacrifice for your sins.

What Does That Mean?

The author explains in the rest of the passage.  If, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, you go on sinning deliberately, then —

  • V.27 says you would face “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire.”
  • V.29 says you would face a “worse punishment” than death.
  • V.30 says you would face God’s “vengeance,” and that He would “judge” you.
  • And v.31 says “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

I don’t see any way around it.  If, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, you go on sinning deliberately, then you will not end up in heaven.  You will face God’s judgment forever.

But Be Careful

At this point you could draw a very wrong, and very dangerous, conclusion.

Let’s say you are NOT going on sinning deliberately.  Not that you are perfect, but you are trusting Christ, which includes fighting sin by faith.  You often overcome sin.  And when you do sin, you turn back to Christ, confess your sin, and return to the fight.

So you are NOT going on sinning deliberately.  But you could let this passage make you fear that someday you might start going on sinning deliberately, which would mean facing God’s judgment forever.

But I’ve got good news for you.  If today you are trusting Christ — then YOU WILL NEVER FACE THIS JUDGMENT.

Because if today you are trusting Christ, which includes fighting sin by faith, that shows that God has saved you. And because God has saved you, He will —

  • complete the good work He started in you (Phil 1:6),
  • keep you from stumbling so far that you face eternal judgment (Jude 1:24-25),
  • not let anything (not even you) snatch you from His hand (John 10:28-29).

So no one who is saved by God will experience the judgment described in Heb 10:26-31.

But you might wonder — hadn’t the people described in Heb 10:26-31 been saved?

Hadn’t they “received the knowledge of the truth” (Heb 10:26)?  Yes, but that does not mean they were saved.  Because the parable of the four soils shows that there is a shallow way to receive the word that does not include faith in Christ (Mark 4:1-20).

And hadn’t they been “sanctified” (Heb 20:29)?  Yes, but that also does not mean they were saved.  Because the word “sanctified” can mean something less than salvation (see 1Cor 7:14-16).

So how can anyone know for sure they have been saved?  We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9).  So, to be assured of salvation, turn from whatever else you have been trusting to satisfy you, and trust Jesus Christ to forgive you, strengthen your weak faith, help you battle sin, and satisfy you in Himself.

If your trust is sincere, then you will want to fight sin by faith, and you can be fully assured that God has saved you.  Which means He will keep you persevering in faith to the end.  Which means you will never face the judgment described in Heb 10:26-31Never.

But What If You Are Not?

What if you are not fighting sin by faith?  What if you are going on sinning deliberately?

Lord willing, I’ll talk about this more in my next blog post.

But for now, understand that if you are going on sinning deliberately, then unless something changes, you will face God’s judgment forever.

But — if you will turn to Jesus now and confess your sin, admit your helplessness, ask His forgiveness, and trust Him to forgive you, strengthen you, help and satisfy you — He will.

And you’ll be under the waterfall of His grace — and kept there — forever.

December 15, 2016

The Prayer That Looks Inward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:25

So far we’ve said there are two nouns which are repeated in the common recitation of The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. But there’s also a third word, a verb, which you could argue appears twice; its repetition necessary to the simile it sets up.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.– Matthew 6:12

I want to focus on the word forgive today, so try not be distracted by whether or not you prefer debts or trespasses.

A few of the translations play around with the verb tense on this, but they are fairly unanimous in keeping the word forgive. (Exception is The Jubilee Bible: “And set us free from our debts, as we set free our debtors.”)

  • And forgive us our debts, as we also forgave our debtors. (DLNT)
  • and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (ESV and others)
  • And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something. (Voice)
  • Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

There are several petitions in this prayer — for daily bread, to not be led into temptation, to be delivered from evil — but the request for forgiveness is conditional. The best example of a conditional promise is 2 Chronicles 7:14

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

There God is telling his people that if there is a drought, or if there is a plague, if they do X first, God will do Y.

This is also reminiscent of Matthew 10:8, but in the reverse.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (NLT)

In this case it is implied that God has already done Y and now invites you to be an agent of X being received by someone else.

But we can’t twist that into a principle that would apply here as God saying something like, ‘I’ve already forgiven you so now you can freely forgive others.’ Rather, the text would point to something closer to, ‘If you want to experience my forgiveness, you’ll have to know first what it like to have forgiven others.’

There is of course the grace which goes before; what is termed prevenient grace. GotQuestions.org defines it as

a phrase used to describe the grace given by God that precedes the act of a sinner exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. The term “prevenient” comes from the Latin and means ”to come before.” By definition, every theological system which affirms the necessity of God’s grace prior to a sinner’s conversion has a type of prevenient grace. The Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace is a type of prevenient grace, as is common grace.

Romans 5:8 reminds us that in terms of big picture forgiveness, what we experience when we come to Christ for the first time, God has already made the way; the pardon and peace is there, we just need to claim it:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Back to our primary text.

The Message version of the Lord’s Prayer verse is probably the best as it would indicate an ongoing process, a chain of grace, where we are constantly experiencing forgiveness ourselves, and meting out that forgiveness to others.

There’s also a sense here that, ‘you know (hopefully) what it is like to forgive someone for something, so you know how God forgives you.’

Again, while we’re looking at a New Testament text, Jesus was teaching this prayer in an Old Testament world. We’ve been using BibleStudyTools.org for this series, and the entry for the Hebrew word Callach meaning both ready to forgive and forgiving makes reference to Psalm 86:5

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.

God’s predilection for forgiveness is something he is ready to do. But how long do we keep forgiving people who owe us (debts) or have injured us (trespasses)? Jesus answers that in Matthew 18:22

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The NIV rendering of Luke 17:4 is even more explicit on the degree of forbearance being demanded of us:

…Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Paul echoes this in Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Proverbs 19:11b reminds us that the quality of forgiveness is an essential part of our character:

…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense

Finally, James 2, 11-12 reminds us that it is essential to be an agent of mercy if we wish to experience it ourselves:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who received immeasurable forgiveness but failed to do the same for one who owed him a lesser amount. May that never be said of us.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Scriptures all NIV except where indicated


Darlene Merenick is a Canadian singer who died all too young a few years ago. I was able to hear this song performed live several times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2, 2016

The Limits to Mercy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Occasionally we get a referral to an article on a blog which is new to us, only to discover the author has stopped writing. Still we wanted to share this February article with you today. This is a simply written response to a tough question that acknowledges its complexities. To read this at source click the title below. The author is Albert Wagner.

Is There A Limit To God’s Mercy?

This America can be a messed up place.

You can witness it on any given day.

People, while claiming to have their own reasons, go and repeatedly do the wrong thing – willfully and stubbornly, sometimes – while knowing deep down it is wrong.

They continue this process with the thought that a loving God will forgive them, because it states that in Scripture.

Sometimes the sin is minor (such as a white lie) and sometimes it is more significant (such as repeated cheating on a spouse).

But, in this case doing the wrong thing means the person knew better deep down. It might harm them financially or regarding their health, to use a few other examples, but it does not matter to them.

Some go to church on Sunday and ask for forgiveness and some don’t.

But the question for a spiritual blog is this:

Will God keep forgiving the same sin, or there a limit to God’s Mercy?

Jesus And Forgiving Sins

To begin with, here might be the thought process (for a Christian).

The Bible says that God forgives sin through the work of Jesus Christ. God is loving and wants his Creation to be saved.

1 John 1:8 reads,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus was asked by the disciples how many times they should forgive someone. Jesus said,

I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

 So, there it is in the Bible. It sounds like God will forgive your sin, as long as you repent.

After all, sinning is often the easier choice, even if it means pain later.

People might think that as long as they end up in heaven in the long term, then what does it hurt anyone to sin now? They think in their minds that, as long as they end up in the same place, what does it hurt to sin?

A Life Of Sin

So what is there to stop you from going and sinning repeatedly, with the idea that you will be forgiven?

Limits to God's MercyIn fact, Scripture is clear those who do not live a changed life and habitually continue in sin are not true believers.

There is also a matter of interpretation.

Take Matthew 12:31, which reads,

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

And, though this is a hard verse for some, one interpretation states this is speaking of those who do not repent. That means sincerely repenting, changing what you do and living a life of faith. It involves more than sitting in a church pew for one hour a week on Sunday.

Another relevant verse pertaining can be found in Matthew 5:48, where it reads,

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Please also remember that Scripture mentions the concept of hell in several places. However one interprets this idea, it sounds like God does have some limits on those who repeatedly do the wrong thing.

And, please remember: A person can have eternal salvation, yet still experience consequences of sin. Humans might not understand how that works, but it is important to consider.

In addition to these things, It is also said if you are aware of your sins and they bother you, then the Holy Spirit is working and speaking to you. This is a good thing. It is better to have your sin bother you than to sin with no remorse.

All in all, one should be careful in ascertaining these things, as your eternal salvation is dependent on it. That might sound obvious, but it might be worth pondering.

Scripture is not intended to be black and white, but something to be pondered.

You still have time to change, because as humans we are all probably guilty of this at one time or another.

Yes, God wants you to repent. However, he also wants you to continue to live a life of faith like he directed in the Gospels.

In the end, though, God is the judge and it is not based on human reasoning.

The opinion of the author is to try to be aware of your sins and repent.

 

June 1, 2016

Ending Well With Difficult People

•••by Clarke Dixon

How do your encounters with difficult people end up? Is there a fitting conclusion to such encounters? By difficult people we mean the kind of people that stress you out, or have wounded you in some way. And by an encounter we don’t even need to think of actually meeting the person, it may be an online encounter, or even just an encounter in our imagination. In fact if the truth be told, don’t the difficult people in our lives end up taking up too much space in our heads? We give them so much time and mental resources and they may not even know it! So is there a fitting way to conclude every such encounter?

If there is a group of Christians that could earn the title “difficult people” for the apostle Paul, it would have to be the Corinthians. From reading Paul’s two letters to Corinth we learn of the divisions he must address, the false notions he must put right, the crooked practices he must straighten out, and the fact that some of them evidently thought Paul himself was not worth listening to. And so with that in mind, listen to his last words to the Corinthians:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

First, notice what’s at the last; “be with all of you.” Not just “the people I like”, not just “the people who like me”, not just “the people who are good to me”, not just “the people who are mature”, but “all of you.” Even the difficult people. Here is a fitting conclusion for every encounter with all the people of our lives, even the difficult people. Whether we say it or pray it, we can desire it. Let’s dig a little deeper into Paul’s desire.

Paul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace is undeserved favor and the greatest symbol of grace is the cross where the Greatest ever died on behalf of the least. Notice Paul does not just say the grace of Jesus. Jesus is Lord, that is, the One who has the power and authority to condemn. Yet He is the One who stood on trial, innocent, but condemned. That is grace. Jesus is also the Christ, or in another language, the Messiah. He is the focus of God’s plan of salvation revealed through the events and pages of the Old Testament. That is grace. Paul knows first hand that he does not deserve that grace. So when he thinks of those difficult people in Corinth who do not deserve that grace, he is reminded of himself. When we think of the difficult people in our lives who do not deserve favor, do we remember that we are difficult people who have not deserved God’s favor? Having experienced the amazing grace of Jesus, how could we not desire it for everyone and anyone?

Dealing with Difficult PeoplePaul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “love of God.” God is love. And Paul has a good understanding of that love. It is not the warm-and-fuzzy-feeling kind of love that we may think of. Neither is it just being nice. The Hebrew term for God’s love includes the notion of loyalty and faithfulness. God’s love is more a “faithful in marriage” than “smitten in dating” kind of love. The Greek word for God’s love is marked with overtones of commitment and choice. It is not “how could I dance with another, when I saw her standing there” kind of love, which can end up being a selfish kind of love. It is more “I will ask her to dance because I care for her and a dance would be good for her.” When we say that God loves you, it is not because you are amazing, it is because He is amazing in His capacity to love. Paul knows that he himself is not amazing. Paul knows that he is in exactly the same boat as the difficult people in Corinth who are not amazing. Do you know God’s love as the difficult person you can be? Can you desire that the difficult people in your life know it also?

Paul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “communion of the Holy Spirit.” This can be interpreted either that they will enjoy good relationships with one another as the Holy Spirit makes possible, or that they will each experience the Holy Spirit personally. Perhaps we should take it as meaning both since an experience of the fruit of the Spirit in your life will come along with better relationships. This desire for the Holy Spirit can help us get over two speed bumps we might come across as we desire something really good for those people we may consider to be really unworthy.

  • Speed Bump #1 — Thinking: “This person has always been difficult and always will be difficult.” But not if the Holy Spirit takes control of their lives! Think of the most shady characters throughout history. Now think of the benefit for many, many, many people had the Holy Spirit taken control of their lives. How would history have been different if they had the communion of the Holy Spirit so that their lives would show the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV) To pray for difficult people to experience communion with the Holy Spirit is to pray “Thy Kingdom come.” It is to pray for good things, not just for the person experiencing communion with the Holy Spirit, but for everyone who experiences the person experiencing the Holy Spirit!
  • Speed Bump #2 Saying: “I just can’t do it – I just can’t desire good things for a certain person in my life.” You can’t or you won’t? Remember the communion of the Holy Spirit is available to you also, God is working a transformation in you also. In fact it is the difficult people in our lives that God uses to change us into the likeness of His Son who bore the cross for difficult people. God does not stretch your forgiveness and grace muscles through perfect people. Difficult people can be the heavy weights of a good muscle developing workout.

So how do your encounters with difficult people end up? With awkwardness, bitterness, or grudges? Paul’s conclusion in his second letter to the Corinthians provides us with a great conclusion to every encounter with the difficult people of our lives.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

Even if we do not say it, we can pray it, we can desire it. It won’t just change their lives. It will change ours.

 

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