Christianity 201

May 25, 2021

Choosing the Better Part

NIV.Luke.10.38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I spent a long time today trying to locate just the right devotional reading for us. This one is from Nehemiah Zion and the blog Raising Zion. This looks like a good resource, and you can start discovering more by clicking the header which follows.

How To Get Far Better In Life?

What does it mean to get far better? There are two kinds of Christians, one that seeks God more, another that seeks everything else more than God. Mary chose a far better thing by sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha was loving too, but her concern was carnal rather than spiritual. (Luke 10:42)

We get far better in life at the feet of Jesus

What do we get at the feet of Jesus that makes us far better in life? I’d like to share five things we receive which makes us live a far better life in Christ.

Word of God (Deuteronomy 33:3) (Hebrews 4:12) (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

“Yea, he loved the people; All his saints are in thy hand: And they sat down at thy feet; Every one shall receive of thy words.” (‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:3‬)

Forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:47)

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭7:47‬)

Deliverance from bondage (Luke 17:12-14) (Luke 8:35,36)

“And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭17:12-14‬)

Exposed self (Revelation 1:17)

“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:” Revelation‬ ‭1:17‬

John beheld the glory of Jesus and fell flat as dead. It reveals how frail and undeserving we are of even being in His presence. Isaiah reveals how he was exposed of his unholy natures in the presence of God.

Rejoicing = worshipping (Matthew 28:9)

“And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.”(Matthew‬ ‭28:9‬)

There is adoration, and freedom at the feet of Jesus. Mary and the other Mary’s immediate response was worship as they saw their loving Saviour. As I write this my heart leaps in joy trying to visualize the scene. The very presence of Jesus is one of great peace, rest, joy and love.

As believers we live in the utmost joy that can come only from heaven. Believers who are unable to enjoy God’s presence are often found focused on carnal thinking and outward displays. So many are busy bodies (spiritually) but have zero fruit. Constantly quarrelsome and bitter in their hearts. Such can never begin to understand the joy of God’s presence.

Get down, let your tears wash the feet of Jesus. Spirit baptized believers are betrothed to Christ, eagerly awaiting His coming. Maranatha, Praise God and Amen!



Bonus item: This from Wisconsin writer Glenn Hager at his self-titled blog. He is the author of two books about his own journey An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.

Christianity in 100 Words

Saw this somewhere and decided to take the challenge.

Jesus. Christianity is based on Jesus, not a church or a prescribed set of beliefs.

Love. Christianity is based on love, loving God, loving others (especially those we do not understand), and loving ourselves (in a healthy, non-arrogant sort of way, since he loves us).

Life. Christianity is woven into our lifestyle, not something tacked on, not something to sign off on, not something that happens on a special day or in a special place.

Grace. Christianity is based on grace, grace that always gives us hope, even in our darkest hours and deepest failures, and is extended to others.

March 18, 2021

Is Suffering Proof that God Has Cancelled Us, or that We Should Cancel God?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Has God cancelled us? Should we cancel God?

There is a lot of talk about cancel culture in our day. The idea is that when someone does something offensive, their influence is stripped away. They fall from everyone’s radar. Perhaps we feel like we have disappeared off God’s radar. Perhaps there are some who think God should disappear from theirs.

When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like God has cancelled us, that He has abandoned us.

Jesus encourages the disciples knowing they will soon feel abandoned. As related in John chapter 14, Jesus knows the disciples will be troubled when he tells them that he is going away, so he begins:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:1-3 (NRSV)

The disciples are going to feel at a loss, like Jesus has abandoned them. Jesus will go to the Father, but they will still be left behind in the same old dark world, where pain and suffering still happens. If anything, their suffering will increase as they begin to speak about Jesus to people who do not want their comfortable status quo disrupted. In some ways it may seem like nothing has changed at all.

But Jesus tells them to not be troubled, to trust in God, to trust in himself. He tells them that there are many rooms in the Father’s house. That particular verse has often been translated rather poorly. The ‘many rooms’ or ‘many mansions’ idea comes from the ancient practice of building extra ‘rooms’ onto a home to accommodate a growing family. When your son grew up and got married, he wouldn’t necessarily leave home, but rather he would get married and bring his wife home. ‘Rooms’ would be added onto the house to accommodate everyone. What Jesus is saying then, is that though you may feel I am abandoning you, we will be together again, in fact together with the Father. This is a growing family and there will be room for you and many others when you come home!

But that is not all:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

John 14:15-17 (NRSV)

Though Jesus is going away, the Spirit will be near, in fact very close, indwelling the disciples even, including we who become his disciples today. Taken together, God has prepared a home for us, and has made himself at home within us.

Now let us consider the promises of Jesus here. Jesus did not promise to protect the disciples from all difficulty or suffering. They were left in the dark world like everyone else, just as we live in a dark world today. In fact Jesus warns them that they will suffer more, because of being Christians:

As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Mark 13:9-11 (NRSV)

The early Christians were not bubble wrapped by God. Neither are we.

The laws of nature still impact Christians, like they do anyone else. When I dumped my motorcycle a few years back, I hit the ground as hard as the motorcycle and as hard as anyone who is not a Christian. If we, who are Christians, are not careful around a contagious virus, we will catch it like anyone else.

The promise of Jesus is not to shield us from all harm, though there are moments that does happen, but to walk with us through difficulty and suffering when it comes.

When we face trouble, it is not evidence that God has cancelled us or abandoned us, it is evidence that we are human beings living in a beautiful, but broken, world.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27 (NRSV)

Jesus told the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled because he knew that would be the very thing that would happen. The light of the world was leaving them in a dark world. It should be no surprise that there will be times our hearts may be troubled, for we too live in that beautiful, yet often dark and difficult world.

Let us be encouraged by the promises of Jesus. We will be at home with God someday. God is very much at home with us, even within us, on the journey home.

When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like cancelling God, like abandoning Christianity.

Can we cancel God? We can, and often do, take offence at the suffering in the world, and the seeming lack of answers to our prayers. The writers of the Psalms did not hold back a similar disgust in their prayers.

However, what we have already looked at is applicable here also. Jesus did not promise the perfect life, free from troubles. In fact, when we look at the testimony of Bible as a whole, we see that troubles happen for people from Genesis right through to Revelation. We should not be surprised when troubles happen for us now.

If we think that Jesus promised a trouble free life, then when a crisis hits we will either doubt ourselves, that we don’t have enough faith or enough holiness, or we will doubt God. We would be better to doubt our understanding of God’s promises, our theology of how things work.

God does not promise the perfect, trouble-free life, but his presence through a predictably troubled life.

God promises to be present to a people he should cancel! Far from cancelling us because of our sin, he embraces us in all our messiness, then he invites us to walk with him. We get to decide if we are going to walk with him. Or reject him.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (NRSV)

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, there can be no other way for reconciliation with God apart from God reconciling us to himself. We can never be holy enough on our own, we can never cover over our sins on our own. We need help. God gives that help. We can reject God, we can reject Jesus, we cannot cancel Him.

In our cancel culture, careers are trashed and friendships are ended as people are cancelled. We can think of all kinds of celebrities who are no longer getting big roles. We can try to cancel Jesus, but he is still Lord, he still has the greatest role. He is the way, the truth and the life. And he still offers to walk with us as a friend.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (NIV)


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor whose sermon blogs are republished here each Thursday. The full video of the sermon can also be seen as part of this online worship expression”.

November 14, 2020

If You’re Going to Give Reluctantly, Don’t Give at All

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is our eleventh time with veteran Christian musician and author John Fischer who writes faithfully at The Catch. I hope you’ll click through today because John’s ministry is currently in a fundraising campaign and you’re welcome to donate. (I realized after typing this that this bit of information may be seen as coinciding with the subject of today’s devotional, and I assure you I only noticed this after!)

Click the header below to read at source.

A Harvest of Generosity

God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. (2 Corinthians 9:7 MSG)

It is very clear, in all the biblical teachings on giving, that God doesn’t want gifts that are begrudgingly given. He doesn’t want pain in my heart as I give. He wants joy. In fact, if that which is brought is brought reluctantly, God would rather not see it. After all, He already owns all things anyway, so God is actually more concerned with what the gift does to us than anything it will address in the real world. It’s not like we have to give God a helping hand poor God out here. He doesn’t need it; we need it. We need to give. God is seeking our joy. He knows all about the joy of giving; He wants us to know it, too. Give, or shrivel up in selfishness.

To be sure there were needs to be met with the funds that were given when Paul wrote this. The early churches were mostly poor with lots of persecution going on. There were plenty of needs everywhere, but God was certainly capable of meeting those needs. He was seeking, more importantly, the benefit to the giver, as Paul goes on to write: 

For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous(2 Corinthians 9:10-11)

See what’s happening here? There’s joy all around, and an increase in generosity.

It’s the biblical principle of giving. When you give, more will be given to you. I am not talking about prosperity doctrine – that doctrine of great material wealth to the giver as a motivation to give. That is the wrong emphasis, yet it grows out of an overwhelming amount of evidence, in both the Old and New Testaments, of the blessings of giving. It’s just that we are not to seek the blessing, but the giving itself, the joy of giving, and an overwhelming appreciation for the amazing grace of the Giver who makes it all possible. God brings increase with joyful giving so we can give more.

God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). The word “cheerful” is the Greek word from which we get our word “hilarious.” Thus, God loves a hilarious giver, and the reason for that hilarity is manifold, but my favorite is the hilarity of God’s grace to me. When I take a good long look at the fallibility, frailty and downright foolishness of my human nature, and then I grasp the fact that God loves me and has bestowed His grace upon me in abundance to where He sees no flaws in me, the true reaction to this is comic. It is astonishing. It is improbable and impossible. It is nothing short of hilarious. As Robert Capon calls it, “the grandest joke ever told.”

And when you realize you are the recipient of this bold, audacious grace, and you are filled up with God’s undeserved favor and love, you can only laugh hilariously at your incredible good fortune, and give it out to everyone around you.

I remember the day I realized God wanted me to live – no, I wasn’t recovering from some life-threatening illness, I simply realized that God wanted me alive on the earth so He could know and love me – I had an uncontrollable urge to walk up to everyone I saw, hug them, and tell them that God wanted them alive, too! That’s just what the Spirit of God does in us — He fills us up and spills over into everyone around us. When we submit to the Holy Spirit, we become completely and utterly vulnerable, and there’s no telling what might happen then. We might just become a hilarious giver!


Bonus item: Here’s a classic song from John Fischer’s 1982 album Dark Horse.

Only a few enter the small gate
Only a few walk in the narrow way
Only a few taking the long road to life
Only a few hearing the Savior
Only a few doing his favor
Only a few changing the darkness to light

 

November 13, 2020

What He’s Promised; What He’s Already Given

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re grateful to our friends at HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Zondervan and Thomas Nelson) for allowing us to occasionally share content from their authors (and explaining to us how and when we can do this). This one actually appeared today at Devotions Daily (see link below to sign up; it’s free and you may unsubscribe at any time).

This is an excerpt from a newly-published resource, The Weekly Gratitude Project: A Challenge to Reflect, Journal and Grow a Grateful Heart. The book is described as, “a 52-week guided gratitude journal that offers a life-changing journey through reflection prompts and inviting questions to guide you into a deeper relationship with God. This yearly gratitude journal features beautifully illustrated journaling pages that will help you discover more intimacy and joy in your spiritual life.”

Gifts: What He’s Given

Looking ahead to what He has promised can help us. It can center us in the good to come, no matter the bleakness that sometimes darkens our hearts or fills our days. But we don’t have to look ahead.

Good things are all around you right now!

What He’s already given is more than what He’s promised to give in the future.

Consider, for instance, the gift of grace, which Paul said “is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This grace is already yours in Christ. You are already a new creation because of it, able to live a better life and make better choices than you’ve ever made before.

Consider the gift of hope. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said we could “rejoice in hope” (Romans 12:12). This reason to rejoice is not yours to come. It’s yours now. It’s why you can open your eyes right now — in this day — with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

Consider what Paul described as “the greatest” gift of all (1 Corinthians 13:13). If God’s love is already — and always — for us, what other gifts could we possibly need?

When packing your bags for a vacation, you’re likely to include a camera, or at least, you’re sure to pack a phone. This is because you anticipate seeing something worth capturing, something worth turning into a memory because of its uniqueness or beauty or both.

What if we approached every day this way?

But, instead of with a camera, what if we approached each day with a focused heart? What if we adjusted our lens so we could see the gifts God has placed all around us — little and big, invisible and visible, spiritual and physical, recurring and unique to today?

We have countless reasons to be thankful — but do start counting! Open your eyes to all He has given and give thanks.

Grace

In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. — Ephesians 1:7 NIV

Grace — it’s the best gift we have and maybe the hardest gift to understand because it’s so unlike anything else. It never wears out. It never quits working. It’s ours, even though we don’t deserve it. It’s ours, even when we forget we have it. It’s the ultimate reason to be grateful.

Describe “God’s rich grace.” What is it? What has it done for you? What does it continue to do?

Is God’s rich grace a gift you can share with others? How?

Hope

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel. It’s what keeps us going when the days are hard. It’s what keeps us believing when valleys are long. It’s why we get back up, pushing on in faith, expecting better days to come. And they will. Because our hope is anchored in the One whom hard days and long valleys can’t touch:

In Christ we have hope. — 1 Corinthians 15:19

The book of Hebrews talks about all the “better” things Christ brings to life — both here and in heaven. How has Christ already made your life better?

What’s something in your life that you hope is made better in the future?

We don’t know how some things will turn out, but we do know about others. What do you hope for that’s “sure and steadfast,” promised to come about in Jesus (Hebrews 6:19)?

Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel to carry us to tomorrow; love is a gift to carry us through today. Whatever we’re facing, whatever we wish we had or wish we didn’t have, whatever trouble or pain comes today, love comes too. It’s higher, wider, and deeper than any other thing.

And it’s here to stay (Romans 8:38–39).

Why do you think Paul said love is “the greatest” in 1 Corinthians 13:13?

What are you facing today that’s troubling you? Write about it, and then on top of what you’ve written, around and all over it, write the words “I am loved.”


Taken from The Weekly Gratitude Project, copyright © 2020 Zondervan. Used by permission.  www.zondervan.com


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October 22, 2020

Working Out Our Salvation, or Working For Our Salvation?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling . . .

Philippians 2:12 (NRSV emphasis added)

This is a verse we can take in a wrong direction, and if we do that, it just might take us in the wrong direction. The idea that we must work for our salvation can have dire consequences in our relationship with God. To give an example, what would it be like for be a young child to wonder each day if she had earned a place at the family dinner table? Does she belong? What does it feel like to constantly wonder if we have earned a spot at God’s table? Do we belong? Is that how love works?

This statement from Paul to the Christians in Philippi is a much more positive statement than “work for your own salvation.” It can help us get to a far more positive place.

The first thing we want to do is read these words in the context of the entire Bible;

  • where we see that life is a gift in the first place. Adam and Eve did not earn their spot in the Garden of Eden. God placed them there out of his desire for relationship.
  • where we see that life continued to be given, not because of the perfection of humanity, but because of God’s desire and promise. The story of Noah and the rainbow come to mind.
  • where we see that the patriarchs were called, not because they had earned it, but according to God’s desire and promise. Jacob being chosen over Esau comes to mind.
  • where we see that the Israelites were rescued from Egypt, not because they earned a rescue, but according to God’s desire and promise.
  • where we see that the Israelites settled in the promised land, not because they earned it, but according to God’s promise.
  • where we see that though God let the consequences fall on his rebellious covenant people, there was always to be a future, not because they deserved it, but according to God’s desire and promise.

We are not even into the New Testament yet, and already we are seeing that people do not earn their place in God’s presence, but rather it is out of God’s desire, God’s promise, God’s love.

Now we get to the New Testament where we see that God came to us in Jesus, and died for the forgiveness of sin, not because we earned it, but because of his desire and promise.

The entire Bible teaches us that salvation, rescue from death and reconciliation with God so that we can live in relationship with God, is not something we work for, but something God works for us. That is one of the great themes of the Bible from beginning to end. Therefore “work out your own salvation” does not mean “work for your own salvation.”

The second thing we want to do is read theses words in context of what Paul is saying to the Christians in Philippi. We can note the “therefore” of “Therefore . . . work out for yourselves,” and we can look back to see what it refers to:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

Philippians 2:5-12 (NRSV)

Since we are to have the mind of Christ, and since Christ died for our salvation, and since Christ is risen and is now Lord, therefore, figure out what it looks like to have the mind of Christ, figure out what it looks like to be in relationship with Christ as Lord and Saviour. We are saved, not by works, but by the grace of God, so now we can get on with it, living out the being-saved life, the being-rescued life.

To give an illustration, sometime ago I bought my dream bike which I thought I would have for the rest of my life. But then I got married, we started having children, so I did what mature people do and sold it. Fast forward fifteen years and I just happened to come across it in Kijiji. My wife just happened to buy it back for me.

I didn’t earn the privilege of having the bike back, it was a gift. Sandra did not say to me, I will buy you this motorcycle if you always keep the grass cut short, always put out the garbage, do your fair share of the cooking, which I do not do much to the relief of our children, and so on. There were no conditions. I found it, Sandra made sure I had it.

But now that I have that gift, however, I need to work out how life looks with that gift. I have a motorcycle, now I need to ride it. I also need to maintain it, to not hesitate in getting my hands dirty for routine maintenance. Since I have a motorcycle, I now get on with being a motorcyclist. Really it is about leaning into and living out a new identity.

This helps us get at what Paul is saying. Since we are to have the mind of Christ, and since God has given us salvation as a gift, and since Jesus is Lord, we now live as people for whom all that is true. We lean into and live out a new identity. We are not to be afraid to get our hands dirty, making the adjustments necessary along the way, checking where our minds are at. Do we have the mind of Christ when it comes to our attitudes, our goals and aspirations, our relationships, our sexuality, and everything else in life?

That might seem like a big task, but we have God’s help along the way:

. . . for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13 (NRSV)

As we figure out what it looks like to have the mind of Christ, as we lean into our salvation, our lives will reflect a new reality:

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.

Philippians 2:14-15 (NRSV)

Here is an allusion to the Israelites, who murmured and argued in the wilderness after being rescued from Egypt. Remember that they were rescued, not because they earned it, but because of the desire of God. Having been rescued, instead of murmuring and arguing they should have spent that time in getting to know God, in getting to know what it looked like to be in relationship with God. The same holds true for us today now that we have been rescued.

As we work out our salvation, as we work out what it looks like to have the mind of Christ, we will be different and “shine like stars in the world.”

The early Christians were different, noticeably so, and positively so. It was a beautiful difference. The early Christians did not look like they were straight out of the novel and tv series “A Handmaid’s Tale,” that is, under a very oppressive religious system. Indeed they looked like people who were freed from oppressive systems and ways of thinking. They looked like people who were rescued from the things that plagued society.

Are we noticeably different in our day? Does it look like we have been freed from gossip, lies, hatred, apathy, faithlessness, greed, and the like?

As Christ followers we do not earn our salvation, our rescue from death and sin, our reconciliation to, and relationship with, God. We never could, and in Christ it is accomplished for us as a gift of God, as the working out of his will. Our salvation is what God desires. He wants us at his table.

We have the wonderful opportunity to get on with the life of a rescued-from-sin-and-death-and-now-in-relationship-with-God person. God has offered us a covenant of love, now let’s lean into it. God has given us the motorcycle, now let’s take it for a ride. God has prepared a seat for us at his table, now let’s sit in his presence.


The full reflection can be seen as part of Clarke’s church’s “online worship expression” from October 4th.

October 21, 2020

Before and After Times in Bible Narrative History

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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The title of today’s devotional suggests something quite profound, so off the top I have to say that I might disappoint some of you. Like everyone else who writes devotionally, I try to ensure that what is posted here – both by myself and others – is Biblically and doctrinally sound, but today’s is more of a concept I was playing with and I invite you to do the same.

John 1: 16-17:

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
 (v.16 NIV)

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.
 (v 16 NLT)

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
 (v 17 NASB)

I was thinking about the idea that while the Israelites dramatically escaped Pharoah’s army in Exodus 14 and celebrated this victory in Exodus 15, they had not yet received the law until Exodus 19 with what we call The Ten Commandments — which can be read as up to 14 commandments (or this approach), 613 if you prefer — given in Exodus 20. They weren’t a “Ten Commandments” people because Moses had not been given the law.

Okay those first two links that weren’t to Exodus are too good to pass over (no pun intended).

David Lamb‘s article notes:

…Traditionally, the 14 commands are divided into 4 commandments that focus on “loving” God (Exo. 20:2-11) and 6 commandments that focus on “loving” humans (Exo. 20:12-17) for a total of 10.  In the first section focusing on God, the English phrase “You shall…” is repeated 6 times (all imperfects in Hebrew).  The command “Remember the Sabbath day” is unique (an infinitive absolute in Hebrew).  So there are 7 commands in Exo. 20:2-11 in a six and one pattern. (The two other verbs in 20:9, “you shall labor and do all your work” appear to be descriptive, not prescriptive, and therefore aren’t interpreted as commands.)…

while the website Knowledge Nuts has a different solution:

…Within these longer commandments lie other orders that could be sub-commandments or whole new laws. The section on not worshiping false idols, for example, contains four separate commands: not to worship other Gods, not to make images of them, not to bow down to them, and not to serve them. Same with the section on the Sabbath: We’re ordered to both keep the Sabbath holy and not to work on it.

To add to the confusion, Exodus 20:18 is traditionally seen as the end of the commandments. However, it’s really more of a break. After describing how the Israelites cowered with fear, the author starts commanding again in Exodus 20:22. Some of these new decrees are repetition, but some—such as a prohibition against having your genitals on display as you approach the altar—are a whole new ball game…

Okay, so now you’re wondering what’s in Exodus 20:22ff, right?

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’

(Wait, what?)

But that answer is too simplistic because — remember, the chapter divisions are arbitrary — Exodus 21 continues in a sense in which the list of laws starts to grow, approaching the 613 number, as do chapters 22 and 23…

…My original point however is that Israel enjoys all the blessings of liberation from Egypt long before they kept the law.  Of course this because they were under covenant. There was the Adamic covenant and the Noahic covenant and the Abrahamic covenant, etc. (Some lists omit Adamic — though some have it — but most add the post-law Mosaic and Davidic.) …

…I tried to find a parallel with this in the New Testament. The time period between the ascension of Jesus and the Apostles and disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit is a matter of mere weeks, but there is a parallel with the completion of the Biblical canon, though it doesn’t always sit well with some people.

In theological terms biblioatry is an extreme devotion to the printed scriptures. It is extremely difficult for some who fit into this mindset to comprehend that there was a time when the Bible was not in the form we now find it. How would people be saved?

For me this like believing that the Jewish people didn’t have a history pre-law; pre-Moses. They would be the first to tell you that’s not true.


Related: From a 2011 devotional here:

…If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God.  The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God.  While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc.  That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation.  So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God…

 

September 23, 2020

It’s About Grace, Not Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you who we discovered through a WordPress feed. Mathew Simon lives in North Carolina with his wife and three children and has written several articles on the subject of works (trying to achieve standing with God based on what we do for him.) Back in July he wrote:

If we are judging others based on our good deeds, length of prayers, the donations we give, or the number of times we go to Church, then we are boasting in our own self-righteousness. But Jesus said that the sinner who comes to Him with sincere repentance and faith is the one who is justified (made righteous).

Today we’re highlighting his writing with two shorter, more recent articles. Click the titles below of each of these to read at his page.

Making Jesus Lord by works? The false gospel of Lordship salvation

There are some Churches that say that unless you “surrender” your life and make Jesus your Lord and do the works, then you cannot be saved.

They say that a “saving” faith needs good works to prove that Jesus is your Lord and not just Savior.

They use these scriptures:

Matthew 7 “21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “

James 2 ’17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.”

Ok, let me ask you this, how many works do you need to prove that Jesus is your “LORD” ?

According to Jesus’ own words, He said this:

Luke 14 “26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…..33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up EVERYTHING you have cannot be my disciples.

So Jesus said to FORSAKE EVERYTHING and SELL EVERYTHING to the poor to be His disciples!

Luke 12 “31 But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. 32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. 33 Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys.

OK how many Christians are disciples of Christ according to those verses? ZERO.

That shows that no Christians are doing the “works” of the Law commanded by Jesus to Israel.So then how do we really make Jesus the LORD.

It is not by anything we DO.

Jesus is ALREADY LORD.

He is the CREATOR of all things.

He does not need your works to become LORD of your life.

He created you and is GOD already.

This is how we ACCEPT Jesus as LORD – that you BELIEVE that He is LORD and GOD who died for your sins and rose from the dead!

Romans 10 ” 9 that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart, one believes resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made resulting in salvation.”

John 20 “28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

This is the WORK that you need to do to be SAVED – SIMPLY BELIEVE in Jesus for your own salvation. So simple.

John 6 “28 They said therefore to him, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

The work of faith is when we stop doing the actual works to attain salvation and simply TRUST in what Jesus has done for us.

Romans 4 “5 But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…..who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.”

Jesus carried the cross for believers so we don’t have to!

Before the cross, when Israel was still under the Law, our Lord Jesus Christ told the 12 apostles to carry the cross.

Matthew 16 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”

So then Peter and all the apostles promised to be with Christ even unto death.

Luke 22 33He said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” 34He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will by no means crow today until you deny that you know me three times.”

Mark 14 29But Peter said to him, “Although all will be offended, yet I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Most certainly I tell you, that you today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he spoke all the more, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” They all said the same thing.

The disciples promised great things for the LORD but they could not even stay awake with Him while He prayed!!

Matthew 26 40He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?

But as we know, all the disciples ran away and Peter denied Christ three times.

Matthew 26 ” 56But all this has happened that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”Then all the disciples left him and fled.

The truth is that none of us can carry the cross or follow Jesus – because in our flesh we are not righteous at all – But we need Jesus to die for our sins!

At the cross, we see that there was a thief on the cross who did nothing good at all. He did not promise to follow Jesus or do any big works! He was a sinner condemned but then He believed in Christ to be saved by GRACE through faith without any works!

Luke 23 “42He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”43Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Everyone who believes in Christ without trusting in their works is forgiven ALL sin and given the free gift of His righteousness to go to heaven forever! AMEN.

September 2, 2020

Your Soul Isn’t Quarantined

Six months ago we introduced you to Lauren Jensen and today we returned for another visit. In an article posted shortly after the lockdown began she described her house as it “looked like postponed performances after months and months of rehearsal.” You probably have similar metaphors. For the piece I’ve chosen for today, click the header below to read this on her site.

Your Soul Isn’t Quarantined: Living Free From the Condemnation of “Not Enough”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

I’ve held off posting to the blog during COVID-19. I released one encouraging video on Instagram back at the beginning of this whole deal, but then remained pretty silent overall, only sharing personal stuff to my personal page. Because let’s face it, the internet is really noisy right now. Noisy in a way I could never have anticipated. And sometimes it’s just too much.

So privately I did what I assume most people did. I had a series of small identity crises. I clamored for control in a situation over which I literally had zero control. I prayed, read, gave it to God. Gave it to God again. And again. Wash rinse repeat.

I made small discoveries about the people I live with. Maybe not so much discoveries, I always knew their tendencies and inclinations, but now their tendencies and inclinations were all up in my face all the time. And then I adapted and learned to live with them, or to just go for a walk.

And then I hopped on social media where I saw all the good being done. Good that was posted to encourage. Good that was meant to inspire. And inspire it did. It inspired me to think, Wow, they are so much better than me. Why aren’t we doing that? I found myself almost wishing that our situation was worse so we could overcome and inspire others to be all inspirational like us.

It’s gross when I type it now. That I would even think that hopefully gives you a clue as to how shallow I am. On the inside. I keep my pride well hidden. At least I think I do.

But have no fear, this post isn’t all doomy-gloomy woe-is-me. In the midst of rooting out the poisonous weeds in my heart, God is revealing life-giving, freedom-winning truths too. Like this one:

Do not submit to lesser condemnations.

But wait. In light of all that is being revealed in my heart, the pride, the jealousy, the shallowness, the judgment, isn’t a little self-condemnation justified? Maybe even required?

Listen, I’m not saying we take pride in our sinfulness. I am just saying what the apostle Paul tells us: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) And as if those words aren’t liberating enough, he continues.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:2-4 (emphasis mine)

God knew we were weak. Maybe at this time you think you are discovering things about yourself you don’t like. I know I am discovering and rediscovering “new” weaknesses weekly (daily?). But my incomplete discoveries aren’t discoveries to God.

He knew we were weak. This was not news to Him.

And He knew that weakness in our flesh demanded condemnation. So He did it. He condemned our sinful weakness in His Son. So you and I could be free.

God’s not a holy thumb-twiddler who waits to figure out our next move so He can respond. He isn’t asking us why we can’t be more like our brothers and sisters over there, doing that thing. As if the things they are doing are being done in their own strength. As if the desires and thoughts of their hearts are pure, while ours are weak and sinful.

God is an all-consuming fire fiercely pursuing the hearts of those who desperately need Him. He is the Living Water, the Bread of Life for the spiritually starving. He is the Physician on the front lines everyday saving lives and souls. He is a relentless abolitionist, freeing the slaves and captives.

We are those captives made free in Christ Jesus. All those lesser condemnations, the ones we heap on ourselves, those are us- not God. When we contemplate our unworthiness to the point of emptying the cross of its power, when we stand in judgment and declare “guilty,” we shackle our hearts to an idol that looks remarkably like ourselves.

Look at the cross and toss the idol. Jesus makes a better God than we do anyway. The debt has been paid. Let’s start living in the good news already.

And for those of you who are like me and so sick you decide to condemn yourself for things that aren’t even sins, hear this: those are choices. Some things are just choices. None holier than another. She isn’t holier because she made that choice, the same as you aren’t holier because you made yours. Get over it already. Life demands choices. Do the best you can and give glory to God.

OK that’s it for now, friends. I hope you found these words liberating. I wrote this for myself too, in case you couldn’t tell. We are definitely in this together, so let’s offer grace and lighten the load. Love you all!

August 27, 2020

Forgiving Our Debtors Doesn’t Come Naturally

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Matthew 6:12

Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. (Phillips)

Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we ourselves
    release forgiveness to those who have wronged us. (Passion Translation)

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NRSV). It is added to “forgive us our debts” as if it is a matter of fact thing, something we have already done like it was no big deal. Forgiving someone, however, can seem like a big deal, or even an ordeal. Here are three things we may think about forgiveness which may add to the struggle.

We may think, “I am just not good at forgiving people.”

Forgiveness is not a skill. Rather, forgiveness flows out of character. Consider sailing. Without wind, all the skills and techniques of an accomplished sailor come to nothing. The sailor will struggle to sail. Without character we struggle to forgive.

Forgiveness flows out of a character marked by grace. It is not so much that we learn how to forgive, but rather we become people of grace. We experience God’s grace in Christ. Having experienced great forgiveness from God we become people who want to forgive.

We become people enabled to forgive. The Holy Spirit works in us, growing the fruit of the Spirit within us. Are we growing in our character such that forgiveness is just something we do?

If we are really struggling to forgive someone, maybe we can take a breather from trying so hard. Maybe we can focus on the offense less and God’s love for the offender more. Maybe we can focus on our relationship with the offending person less, and on our relationship with God more. Then we can go back to that person from a different place, as a more Christlike person growing in grace.

We may think “I tried to forgive and forget, but there is no way I can ever forget what they did to me.”

We have some good news; forgiveness is not tied to a superpower called forgetfulness. My Mum, who now lives in a nursing home, has that superpower. You know who is not at all worried about the pandemic? My Mum. You can tell her there is a pandemic and in five minutes she will have forgotten all about it. While I am happy my Mum is quite happy, none of us want that superpower of forgetfulness and all that goes with it.

We do not normally get to choose our memories, but we do get to choose what we do with them. When we forgive someone we may not forget the offense, but we can channel every memory of an offense into a gracious and wise response.

In some cases, it is unwise to forget the offense, good memories are necessary for health and protection.

Think of the example of a husband who abuses his wife. A wife with an unforgiving spirit might say “Though you have apologized I hope you go to hell for the hell you put me through.” A spouse with a forgiving spirit, but a “forgiveness = forgetfulness” kind of thinking might say, “since you apologized again, let us start over again as if nothing has happened.” A spouse growing in grace, but having a wise memory might say “I hope you get help, repent, and become a better man. I hope you live and die in the arms of Jesus. But if you raise a fist against me again, you will not live and die in my arms. You have apologized and I forgive you, but the past offenses are in my memory and my memories lead me to put boundaries in place for my safety.”

Forgiveness is not to be confused with forgetfulness. They are two very different things. If we struggle with trying to “forgive and forget,” perhaps we should stop trying to forget. Instead let us focus on responding with grace and wisdom when we face offense and when we remember.

We may think, I alone have difficulty forgiving others.

Notice that Jesus teaches us to pray in the plural. It is not “as I have forgiven my debtors,” but “as we have forgiven our debtors.” We are in this together.

There are many of us learning to forgive. There are many of us growing in grace. There are none of us who have arrived. You are not alone on the journey. This is why the experience of Christian community is important. We support one another on the journey. If we are struggling to forgive, let us take a deeper dive into meaningful relationships with people who are walking with Jesus and growing in the Spirit.

We thank God for forgiveness we experience in Christ. We thank God that he grows our capacity to forgive through His Spirit. Let us be so growing in our relationship with God in Christ that we pray “as we have forgiven our debtors,” and not “as we struggle to forgive others.”

(Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The message portion alone can be seen here.)


We have two articles in this series from Clarke this week. Watch for the second one tomorrow.

April 27, 2020

We Don’t Deserve It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NLT II Tim. 1:9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.

Sometimes people will tell you they’re reading and a verse “just leaps off the page.” I’ve known that to be true, but I also find in a world of podcasts, audio books and sermon videos, sometimes a verse that someone is reading hits you as though for the first time.

It’s often because the person reading really knows the verse or passage in question and are able to bring it with the authority the writer intended.

That was the case with today’s opening verse. I can’t remember who was speaking, but I quickly set the playback a few minutes so I could hear it again and write down the reference. This verse in 2 Timothy reminds me of another passage that has been meaningful to me in more recent years.

CEV Titus 3:4 But “when God our savior’s kindness and love appeared, 5 he saved us because of his mercy, not because of righteous things we had done. He did it through the washing of new birth and the renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 which God poured out upon us generously through Jesus Christ our savior.

(We looked previously at this passage in this article.)

The key phrase in both verses speaks to the idea that we did nothing to deserve this favor or mercy. “Not by works of righteousness that we have done” (the Titus passage in the KJV) and “Not according to our works” (the Timothy passage, in the NASB).

In Romans Paul says the well-known words, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8) Eugene Peterson in The Message renders these words as,

MSG Rom. 5:6-8 Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

(This passage was actually the text of the sermon we heard preached in the Spanish church we visited in Cuba a few months ago.)

– o – o – o –

So why is there a stray quotation mark in the Titus passage? It appears in verse 4 and (for you OCD people!) the quotation continues to the end of verse 7. In the NLT the passage is indented. In the NIV, there are no such notations in the text.

Furthermore, N.T. Wright and Michael Bird, in the recently released The New Testament in its World introduce the idea that a majority of scholars feel Paul didn’t write the pastoral epistles at all, but two sentences later includes Titus 3:5 in a short list of passages that are “quintessentially Pauline.” (p.362)

I spent a long time online and with most of my go-to print commentaries seeing no mention of this.

The key is apparently verse 8:

This is a trustworthy saying

But then Ruth suggested the NET Bible notes which say,

Verses 4-7 are set as poetry in [certain original manuscripts]. These verses probably constitute the referent of the expression “this saying” in verse 8. This is … a single skillfully composed sentence in Greek showing the goals of God’s merciful salvation…

This would make it similar to the Philippian Hymn of Philippians 2 which is more commonly indented in a larger number of translations. So if we use that passage as our guide, and say, ‘This was a hymn that was commonly known to the people to whom Paul was writing,’ we would have to say the same thing here.

Or conversely, Paul may have been doing a centuries-ahead-of-his time thing that the manuscripts the NET Bible translators checking the early manuscripts observed, and that is including what we today call a “shout out” or “call out” in the text to highlight a particular word or phrase. Remember, they had no bold face font, no italics, no large font, no underlining and no colored ink process at their disposal. If you were trying to make a point, you either made in prose or poetry or by the sheer force of the words themselves.

It makes the passage more noteworthy, and that means it bears repeating here (and may I suggest bears memorizing), all the way to the end of verse 7 and with this we conclude, quoting from the NET Bible itself.

4“when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.”

 

 

 

April 22, 2020

The Forgiveness/Bitterness Dichotomy

Simon the Pharisee throws a party: The painting, Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee by Rubens, c. 1618. (via Wikipedia) Notice the woman at Jesus’ feet. See scripture below.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer (in the Sermon on the Mount)

“Detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.” – Lord’s Prayer as translated from Aramaic (full text in C201 1.27.19)

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Also Sermon on the Mount

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians (4:32, NIV)

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”
Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. – Dialog found in Matthew’s Gospel (18:21-22, The Message)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Jesus teaching, as recorded by Mark (11:25)

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” – Luke’s account of Jesus responding to Simon’s objections to Jesus reaching out to a disreputable woman at a party Simon was hosting. (Full account in 7:36-50)

So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him...
When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
– Paul, in a second letter to the Corinthians on reshaping their approach toward a man in the church who was the object of church discipline. (2: 8,10,11 NLT)


Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your back yard, in which to bury the faults of your friends. (Henry Ward Beecher)

Many suppose forgiveness has been granted by making a pronouncement to that effect. Proclaiming forgiveness is easy; forgiving is difficult and a challenge to a person’s soul. The practice of forgiving requires a poor memory. – Russell Young (C201 9.5.17)

Maybe we’re afraid that by demonstrating grace and mercy we will seem weak on sin. Need that be so? Jesus spoke to the heart, not to the behavior. As demonstrated in the John 8 story, He told [the woman caught in adultery] to sin no more, but by His act of mercy, He also demonstrated love! – Rick Apperson (C201 1.18.15)

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship… – Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship


A year ago we introduced you to the writing of Matt Tullos and today we’re back at his site again.

Forgiveness is More about You Than Them

All was well in the Amish community in Lancaster Pennsylvania until a deranged man mercilessly shot 10 Amish girls and then turned the gun on himself in 2006. How did they respond to this shocking loss? Amazingly, the Amish community didn’t blame. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family. They understood the importance of forgiveness, not for the killer’s sake. He was dead. But for themselves. Why? Because living in unforgiveness is debilitating.

Most of us will not have to endure that depth of offense. Most bitter people didn’t become a bitter person through the act of a single dagger. Most bitter people are dying from a thousand paper-cuts. The girl that rejected him… The backroom deal in the company that cost him a promotion… The humiliation experienced years ago from a father’s rage… Whether we can reconcile the relationship or not, we must forgive.

We get stuck. We fantasize about vindication. We look at relationships surrounding the offense with malice. We cling to bitterness as our beverage of choice. We talk about it to people who have no business hearing of it. We dream about going back, doing things differently, saying something more damaging, or avoiding the offense. For many, this becomes a lifestyle that poisons every relationship they enter. It’s insidious.

Jesus is clear on this. In order to be forgiven, you must forgive. That’s easy to say but hard to do. And yet this is a primary hallmark of Christian manhood. It’s a heart issue. Who knows? Forgiveness might just save your life.

“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” – George Herbert


 

April 21, 2020

We Live Our Lives Both as Offended and Offender

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our third time visiting The Serener Bright written by Ian Graham, pastor of the church Ecclesia, located in West Trenton, New Jersey. As always, bless our contributors with some traffic by clicking the headers which appear below these introductions to read at source.

Psalm 35: Enemy Intelligence

If you’ve ever felt like the world is aligned in a conspiracy against you, Psalm 35 is for you. David doesn’t so much write as he shouts protests:

They hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.   (7-8)

For many of us, we read Psalm 35 and feel like telling David, “Look, man, you’re just having a bad day, the lady who told you you need two forms of verified ID at the DMV is not a cosmic enemy plotting alongside Satan to ruin your life.” Our modern way of naming enemies is by establishing who’s in our camp and who’s not. The people on the other side of the spectrum are the bad, nefarious people while those within our state borders are given the benefit of good faith and good intentions.

Psalm 35 affirms our suspicions that enemies are a part of life. David doesn’t call role, naming these individuals but he identifies them by their injustice and their glee when troubles befall him:

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
 They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.   (11-12)

David promises that he will delight in the Lord and rejoice in his salvation (v. 9), but these unnamed enemies glean their joy from sorrow in David’s life (v. 15). They are mockers, slanderers, engaging in the verbal pornography of gossip and secretly fist-pumping when they get a report that something ill or painful has befallen David (vv.15-16).

You may or may not be able to name people in your life who fit this description. Psalm 35 is acknowledging that this is the way of the world, a way of conflict and alienation. This leads us to the second way that Psalm 35 bears witness to us in how we are to live and move in a world fraught with enemies.

Notice how David responds to the presence of his enemies. He does not lash out in anger and righteous retribution. He goes to great length to describe his own innocence, even noting how when he got updates on those who now mock him, when he heard that they were in anguish, he mourned alongside them, as if he were grieving the loss of his own mother (vv. 13-14). We love nothing more in our society and in our stories than when a person, a people, or an entity get what’s coming to them. We say yes and amen to vindicating vengeance either by the law or other means. But David doesn’t become a vigilante for his own victimhood.

Rather, David prays to God. He acknowledges that God is his judge and deliverer. David opens with the plea:

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me. 
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid. 
Brandish spear and javelin
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”   (1-3)

David knows that he is imperiled because of his enemies but he also knows that only the Lord can release him from their snares. He foreshadows what the apostle Paul will instruct the Roman church to do in Romans 12vv17-19:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus will tell those listening that they are not simply to refrain from vengeance, they are to love their enemies. Psalm 35 is a long way from the way Jesus will unmask our true enemies (sin and death) but it gives us a way to live in the world that is often contentious, where people wittingly and unwittingly often live as our enemies.

But in light of Jesus’ teachings, Psalm 35 leaves us with a much more haunting question. Jesus says, don’t look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring that there is a 2 X 4 sticking out of your own eye (Matthew 7). Jesus compels us to reread Psalm 35 asking ourselves not simply how have we been wronged by others, but how have we, ourselves, been an enemy to others? You see, we live our lives as both offended and offender, and the witness of Jesus declares to all, there is grace for both—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us (also, providentially, Matthew 7).

April 8, 2020

Jesus Took His Place… and Mine

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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An astounding 30 of the 89 accumulative chapters in the four gospels cover the period beginning with Christ’s Triumphal Entry through His resurrection and post-resurrection appearances. Mathematically this means that approximately 33% of the written material in the Gospels deals with a mere .05% period of His life! In the providence of God we have a much greater proportion of Scriptural revelation dealing with God’s greatest act of mercy in providing our redemption.

-Daily Encouragement


Today we’re back with our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net … click the header below to read this at source, where you’ll also find another perspective on the story.

Barabbas

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“Then he (Pilate) released Barabbas to them” (Matthew 27:26).

“Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).

But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18).

“Not this man, but Barabbas” (John 18:40).

…When we were young Christians back in the seventies we were blessed by a song with the intriguing title, “I Should Have Been Crucified” written and sung by Gordon Jensen. The song is enjoying a resurgence by various Southern Gospel artists, and once again the words speak directly to our hearts.

The lyrics bring about a great message about the Biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement. But only one person in history could have sung or spoken that message in a literal sense; Barabbas, who was released from prison in exchange for Christ who took his place. Throughout the remainder of his life Barrabas could have said, “I should have been crucified”, and perhaps he did.

I should have been crucified,
I should have suffered and died.
I should have hung on the cross in disgrace,
But Jesus, God’s Son, took my place.

The Scriptures tell us very little about Barabbas and nothing about what became of him following his brief appearance in the Gospels as Christ’s substitute. He was a “notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16) who had been involved in murder and sedition (Luke 23:19). John 18:40 reports that he had taken part in a rebellion so in Roman law he deserved to die.

But he was released at the trial of Jesus, as the crowd clamored, “No, not him. Give us Barabbas!” I wonder what ran through his thoughts when he heard the crowd’s demands?

Since he was in the city it’s not unreasonable to assume that he witnessed the crucifixion, or at least the events leading up to it. What did this murderer think? When he was sitting powerless in the prison day after day, surely his mind had traveled numerous times to the place of execution where he would soon receive the death penalty for his sins.

What kind of emotions welled up within him as he witnessed Christ taking his place? Was his heart changed after seeing an innocent man die in place of a guilty man who was now set free? Did he eventually turn to the Lord who had become his literal physical substitute on the cross? Heaven will have many of “the rest of the stories” that we’ve only been privy to in a few chapters here on earth!

Bible teacher Donald Grey Barnhouse writes these thoughts concerning Barabbas:

He was the only man in the world who could say that Jesus Christ took his physical place. But I can say that Jesus Christ took my spiritual place. For it was I who deserved to die. It was I who deserved that the wrath of God should be poured on me. I deserved the eternal punishment of the lake of fire. He was delivered up for my offenses. He was handed over to judgment because of my sins — Christ was my substitute. He was satisfying the debt of divine justice and holiness. That is why I say that Christianity can be expressed in the three phrases: I deserved hell; Jesus took my hell; there is nothing left for me but His heaven.

In several ways Barabbas is a type of the redeemed through all the ages.

  • We, like Barabbas, are guilty, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23).
  • We, like Barabbas, justly deserve death, For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
  • We, like Barabbas, are essentially passive as Jesus takes our place. There’s no suggestion that Barabbas had anything at all to do with his release. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

What was done to Jesus should have been done to Barabbas—and to each one of us. We can all rightly declare, “I should have been crucified.”  But Jesus, God’s Son, took my place! Today, let us renew our commitment to this marvelous Savior and reaffirm our faith in Christ, who was crucified for us!

 

March 10, 2020

Those Early Church Descriptions in Acts 2 and Acts 4

Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You’re read them.

I’ve read them.

Those classic descriptions of the early church that we find first in a section at the end of Acts 2, and then repeated more concisely at the end of Acts 4.

The early Christians would have trouble relating to so much of what preoccupies us, particularly in North America: Multimedia, megachurches, massive programs for children and youth. They simply met from house to house.

It was what Catholics might term, “the parish system,” but not because you were expected to go to the church closest to you (or the church in your parish) but because you couldn’t realistically go anywhere else in a world without mass transit.

Your churches were in homes because you were a small upstart group of rebels who followed something called “The Way” and believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Anointed One, the long awaited Messiah.

At our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I recently wrote about how a thing so simple as the automobile sets us apart from the modus operandi of the church we visited in Cuba.

But here at C201, there’s something else in that description I discovered on the weekend in the shorter passage in Acts 4.

Acts.4.32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34a that there were no needy persons among them.

The verse numbering system is unfortunate here because it breaks up a phrase, in verses 33b and 34a, but on the other hand, that’s what drew me to the phrase,

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

Listen to how some of the other translations render this…

Phillips: a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship
The Living Bible: there was warm fellowship among all the believers
NASB: abundant grace was upon them all
The Passion Translation: great measures of grace rested upon them all
God’s Word Translation: God’s abundant good will was with all of them
NLT: God’s great blessing was upon them all.

Despite the variety shown here, the word grace is most often repeated among the English translations.

The overall picture is painted of a people who are recipients of grace, but are also issuers of grace. Grace flows through them.

Years ago I attended a fellowship in Toronto called “Reach Out.” The motto: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.” Reach Out was based in I Cor. 14:26 which says, “When you gather together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (My paraphrase.) So people would jump up — sometimes suddenly — and say, “I have a Psalm;” and then read it; and other would jump up and say, “I have a teaching;” and would give a 60-second teaching; etc. They always said at the outset what it was they were going to say.

But their motto extended into being involved with their community as givers of grace. A place where you received grace and then extended it to the people in your own world; your personal sphere of influence.

At Thinking Out Loud last October, I also shared about the idea of being part of a chain of grace and offered three different models of what this phrase might describe.

Is the place where you worship a place people go to be the beneficiaries of grace and to be equipped to be distributors of grace? I hope so.

 


Postscript: Acts 4 also has another two of my favorite verses:

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

 

November 2, 2019

God’s Kind of People

This is our 3,500th post! A special thanks to our subscribers, web visitors, and also the authors who faithfully write devotional material at their own sites on a regular basis.

Today’s devotional is a scripture medley based on a tweet by Matt Smethurst.

What kind of people does God

see?

Is.66.2b “These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word.

save?

Ps.76.9 when you, God, rose up to judge,
    to save all the afflicted of the land.

accept?

Ps.51.17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise

pardon?

IIChron.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.

live with?

Is.57.15a For this is what the high and exalted One says—
    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit…

regard? 

Job.37.24 Therefore, people revere him,
    for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart?

lead?

Ps.25.9a He guides the humble in what is right..   

teach?

Ps.25.9 He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.

revive?

Is.57.15b “I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit…
to revive the spirit of the lowly
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.

uplift?

Ps.147.6 The Lord sustains the humble
    but casts the wicked to the ground.

gladden?

Ps.34.2 I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

grace?

James.4.6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

exalt?

James.4.10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Answer: The humble.


Related devotionals at C201 on the subject of humility:


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

 

 

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