Christianity 201

May 24, 2017

Listening

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from a newly published book by Paul J. Pastor, The Listening Day. It’s a 90 day devotional which follows the format used in other books (Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling) with what God is saying to us written out as though God is speaking in the first person; with the difference that this book includes interjections on behalf of the reader. I’ll have a fuller review of it in a few days on my other blog. Clicking the title below will take you to Zeal Books.

Luke 8:15 NIV But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The Needed Thing

Luke 10:41-42 NIV ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

The life of God, of truth and understanding, lands in your heart with the fragility of a seed.  It is possible it will wither, be crushed, be pecked and torn, be strangled by lies.

The same word is sowed to all.  Christ the Sower shows no favoritism, respects no person above another.  The truth is the truth, as a kernel of wheat is wheat indeed, and an acorn is only and always the seed of the ancient oak.

The human heart is a fickle field, rocky and weed-laden. Your own heart makes it hard for truth to take root. Too often you work, when you ought to surrender, then give up when you ought to be working.

Your way is not easy, Lord.

It is better than easy. It is life.

What do I need to do?

Today, quiet your heart. Look inside. Consider the growth of the word in you. Where is your soil stony? Where do the birds ravage my tender promises to you? Where do the thorns and poisonous vines sprout?

Listening is the needed thing. Sit still at the feet of Christ. Silence fears. Cease frenzied activity. Stop your mouth. Breathe in the presence of the Quiet Planter. Listen to the voice of the one in whom is all truth and every understanding. You may keep whatever treasures you gather at the feet of your simple King.

Lord, you know that many things trouble me, from outside my heart and from within it. Help me quiet myself today, to truly listen and receive your word, allowing your truth to bear fruit in my life. Amen.

April 9, 2017

Their Hearts Were Hardened

by Russell Young

The Lord had hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his officials when Moses asked for the freedom of God’s chosen people being held captive in Egypt. This hardening was done to accomplish his purposes. The purpose for hardening their hearts was so that the story of his miraculous signs would be relayed through the generations of Israel that they might know that he is the LORD. (Ex 10:1) He has hardened hearts throughout history in order to accomplish his purposes. However, Christ also spoke of the hardness of people’s hearts that inhibited or prevented the furtherance of the gospel and the hope of salvation.

Having a “hard” heart or a hardened heart means that a person’s heart is fixed on an issue as engraved in stone. It is not a heart of flesh that is malleable and can be influenced. A hard heart is not sensitive to anything other than its own interests and goals. It is not a humble heart but is often one that is prideful. As stated, God can harden a heart, but so can individuals. People can have hard hearts in relation to the Word and in relation to others.

The Lord stated that the hearts of his disciples were hard at times in referring to their lack of comprehension or understanding. (Mk 6:52; 8:17; Jn 12:40; Eph 4:18) It is troublesome when the hearts of believers have become hardened and fixed concerning others in the family of God so that they will not even examine the convictions of one another to discern underlying truths. God does not want his created people to have hard hearts and no one can come to him whose heart cannot be molded into the likeness of that of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

It is easy to find people with hardened hearts. They cannot conceive of the truth of God’s sovereignty over the world and all that is. They are not willing to see the divine hand of God in creation or in the miracles about them. They have trouble listening to or considering others and their opinions. They are often selfish and self-centered. We should be careful about applying the label of hardheartedness to others, however, until we have considered our own state. Most people have areas in life where a stubbornness and dogmatism persists and where the heart is no longer malleable and the Spirit’s influence is resisted. This does not mean that a person’s values and “truths” should be easily altered. The gospel is truth, after all, along with the rest of God’s Word; however, only God knows pure truth.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) ‘Listening’ is the sign of a receptive heart, a heart eager to absorb or accept the Lord’s teachings and directions. Obediently ‘following’ is indication of a sensitive heart. Paul told the Ephesians that they must “no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their heart. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Eph 4:17─19 NIV) Their hardening prevented the knowledge of truth and the presence and leading of the Spirit for righteousness.

Every believer should examine himself or herself to check for hard spots in their heart. Honesty might reveal that there are more than they would like to accept. Regardless, Christ condemned blindness and ignorance to his teaching. He requires obedience to the Spirit; hearts that are sensitive and able to be led. It is easy to dismiss one’s ungodly attitudes and behaviors if they are common to those around, even the ungodly. Society gives many permissions that the Lord does not and one day all of those who call themselves by his name will have to answer for their rejection of his righteous standards. He knows because he is in the believer trying to lead and to gain victory. “[T]hose who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14 NIV) Victory cannot be gained by those who have hardened their hearts to sin, and particularly to a favorite sin.

The hearts of the Israelites were hardened and they could not understand or accept God’s righteous requirements. The writer of Hebrews cautioned his readers: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of testing in the desert.” (Heb 3:8) Accept it or not, those who belong to Christ today are wandering in the desert with the aridness of sin and deceit all around them. They have pledged that Christ was their Lord (Rom 10:9) and he desires to lead them to victory to the promised land, but they must have hearts that are sensitive and are prepared to obediently follow. (Heb 5:9)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link

March 15, 2017

Right Results, Wrong Method

Numbers 20 (NIV):

1In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

This passage contains an interesting sequence of events:

  • The people are thirsty
  • God reveals to Moses that water can be obtained by speaking to a particular rock
  • Moses hits the rock instead (this worked before)
  • Water gushes forth

Maybe God had His instructions wrong, or maybe it applied to some other rock? After all, the water issued forth and the thirst of the people was satisfied.

Hardly. Moses was angry. “…Listen you rebels…” In anger he struck the rock.

In Moses defense, he was using a tried and true formula; see Exodus 17. And he got the desired result. No biggie, right?

The point is that Moses disobeyed; he did God’s work in a sense, but didn’t do it God’s way.

I find myself often guilty of this. I can justify something done in anger because it produced results. I’ve even said to myself, “I think sometimes you just have to get mad enough about something and then God uses that anger.”

Yes. I’ve really thought that. More than once.

And there is such a thing as righteous anger. But it is characterized by being shaped over a long-term, not a short-term; and by its righteousness more than its anger-ness.

James 1 19b & 20 (NIV)

…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Whether or not you feel like you are more a product of the information age or the industrial age, either way you are probably results oriented.

But just because it worked doesn’t mean that God was in it, or that He was pleased, or that you were obedient. Even if the “worked” in question seems to bear the mark (vs. 11) of the miraculous.

And a great danger lies in trusting in what worked before, when God wants to lead you into something new.

And like Moses (vs. 12) by doing it our way, you and I may be missing out on God’s greater blessing and the fullness of God’s highest goal for our lives.

~PW


*Reader mini-survey:

Just curious… Have blog posts here resulted in you making the author’s blog part of your daily or weekly routine?  My hope is that in introducing you to a wide variety of Christian devotional and Bible-teaching bloggers, some of them will resonate with you to the point you bookmark their sites and/or subscribe, making their writing a regular habit.

January 21, 2017

You Can Be The Someone in Anyone’s Life

As I explained last year at this time, for several years I received a devotional booklet in the mail from James MacDonald and Walk In The Word titled Our Journey. After calling a local Harvest Bible Chapel, I learned that the devotional is now an online resource, and today, a year later, we pay a return visit.

That Special Someone

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19–20, ESV).

“Anyone,” meet “someone.”

The beauty of this passage from James 5 is evident in God’s personal care for His children as He matches up a “someone” with an “anyone” for a life-saving mission.

As you think today about those you know who aren’t living for God as they once did, the name that most likely comes to mind is someone close to you—a family member, longtime friend, or workplace associate. Perhaps, in fact, every time a sermon or small group discussion poses a similar type of question, this person has been your immediate answer for as long as you can remember.

“What an answer to someone else’s prayer you could become by obediently following up on a spiritual nudge from the Lord.”

You’ve probably made several attempts through the years to try persuading them to take God’s Word more seriously. Apparently to no avail. And sad to say, they may be closed off to hearing it from you at this point. Experience tells us they’ll respond best hearing it from somebody else now, some other way. And while you can (and should) stay persistent and faithful, always ready to lead them lovingly back to Christ, begin trusting God now to put this person of yours on some other believer’s heart who can represent Him to them with a fresh face and approach.

But don’t consider yourself a failure, ineffective, or out of a job . . . because there’s someone else who’s in your shoes today, who’s weary of trying and failing to get through to a loved wanderer. And they’re praying for someone like you to come along.

Unlike them, your relationship with this person who’s most on their heart is not as a spouse or sibling but is more coincidental. Maybe you went to high school or college with them. Maybe you used to work out at the same gym. Maybe their family and your family once lived on the same street and had kids the same age. But you knew then, or you’ve heard since, that they stopped walking with the Lord. And lately, as you’ve been open to the Spirit’s stirring in your heart, this person’s name and memory keep popping up—unexpectedly, yet with a certain weight and frequency.

Eventually, “someone” is going to bring them back. “Someone” is going to find this “anyone” that the Spirit is working to help you acknowledge. But why should “anyone” wait any longer when “someone” like you is already primed to be thinking of them and praying for them? Finding them may take a bit of work, especially if it’s a person you haven’t seen in a long time. But what a pleasant surprise for them if they were to hear from you. And what an answer to someone else’s prayer you could become by obediently following up on what you know to be a spiritual nudge from the Lord.

When the Bible says to go after “anyone” who’s wandered from the truth, you can never say a person is too far gone to be reached, or that the situation is too messy and complicated to get involved. And when the Bible says “someone,” you know that any of us should be expecting His call at any time. He wouldn’t be alerting you about it if making this connection wasn’t part of His plan, if He wasn’t actively extending His grace to this individual and wooing them back into fellowship with Him.

Don’t underestimate the urgency of your mission. Be the “someone” to go after “anyone” today.

Journal

  • Who comes to mind when you think of “someone” who influenced your decision to embrace Christ as savior, or to return from wandering?
  • Ask the Lord to give you “anyone” to pursue for His sake. Who does He bring to mind?

Pray
God, in this moment I ask You to stir in me such a burden that I cannot escape it. Touch my heart with someone that I can reach out to with renewed friendship and grace. Let my obedience not be determined by their response, but by the overflow of love and mercy You’ve poured out on my heart and life. Even though I have my own burdens, cause me to know that when I take up what matters most to You, You will meet my needs in ways that are beyond what I could ask for or imagine. Use me as You see fit, for Your glory alone. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

January 1, 2017

Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolution

resolutionsby Russell Young

Blessings to you in the new year! Many welcome the new year with resolutions and great intentions.  Research shows that most resolutions will not be realized.  The University of Scranton has stated that 39% of people in their twenties will achieve their resolution each year while only 14% of people over 50 years of age will achieve theirs. Perhaps greater success is achieved by younger people because of the nature of their resolutions, that habits are more entrenched in older people, or it may be that younger people are more determined to achieve their resolutions.  Regardless, change in behaviour is difficult to accomplish.  Some changes require the development of a completely different perspective, and all require motivation. Resolutions are not made concerning a single happening, but are intended to alter a developed pattern of action or attitude; they have become patterns because they have brought satisfaction or pleasure to the person who has adopted them.

Paul has shed some light on this aspect of the human condition. Although many accept that eternal salvation comes from pardon for sin, it really comes from the product that the Lord is able to accomplish in the transformation of a person; it is the result of sanctification by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5─6; 2Thess 2:13) making the believer a sacrifice acceptable to God. (Romans 15:16) A person’s transformation/sanctification requires a great deal of work and power.  Paul addressed the dilemma that he faced concerning his own inadequacy in the taming of his body.  He wrote: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death (that causes death)? The flesh is weak! 

Paul followed up his predicament with its solution. “Thanks be to God—through Jesus our Lord!” (Rom 7:21─25 NIV) “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son…” (Rom 8:3 NIV) The reason why human resolutions and the laws of God are often not fulfilled is because their completion rests in a weakened sinful nature. Resolutions are made with good intentions but the weakness of the flesh often dooms people to failure.  Those who resolve to adjust their habits intend to do so…they want to keep their resolutions; the body just does not accommodate.

Try as one will the realization of a resolution cannot often be accomplished without divine help.  If the believer is being impressed with the need for change, the prompting for change probably came from the Holy Spirit. Change is not easy and should not be accepted as being easy, but it can be done.  Victory lies within the grace and power of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the believer’s commitment to honour the Spirit’s calling.  It is often the lack of motivation and the weakness of the flesh that brings failure.

The Spirit is Christ in the believer (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18) and he will lead and empower for victory, but those seeking victory must engage the battle with him. Prayer and commitment to honour the Lord through the successful completion of a resolution can never be abandoned. To do so means that the “believer” has fallen under the slavery of the weak, old nature and has relented to serving the flesh rather than God’s Son. If a person relies on his or her own strength for victory, they will revert to the old nature and to old patterns.  Victory demands a struggle with an objective, a determination of the will, and the power provided by the helper, the Lord.

Resolutions can fall into many categories but often they are related to expressing love and kindness toward a family member or brother in the Lord, or they may relate to gaining victory over habits that are offensive to others.  They may involve better financial management necessitating a reduction in love for the world and the things in the world.  They may also be related to issues of forgiveness.  Many resolve to treat their bodies with greater respect in some manner. These are all issues that deal with the development of the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal 5:5) They are issues important to Christ.

Since righteousness is not a trivial matter, neither should be the believer’s approach to its development.  Even in matters that might seem trivial, the faithful will bring their need before God in prayer, with commitment, and in expectation. Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me…” (Jn 10:27 NIV) It is through the practice of obedience that victory can be gained. To hear requires listening. The voice of God often comes through the quiet whisperings of a person’s conscience and the one seeking success will not dismiss these.  The Word promises that believer will not be faced with temptations from which a way out will not be provided, and states that he or she will not face temptations that are not common to man. (1 Cor 10:13) Even though a resolution may not seem to require victory over a “temptation,” it may have been induced through an issue that the Spirit has brought to mind and he is always ready to help the humble and submissive to enable victory over any issue that is in keeping with his will for that person.

New Year’s resolutions are important to the one making them and they may be important to God. Self-discipline and the leading and the power of the Spirit can assure that they are realized.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

October 25, 2016

Choosing Between Being Useful to God, Or Not Being at All

Today’s thoughts are from Joe at the blog As I Learn to Walk, which came suggested to us. Click the title below to read at source.

Usefulness or Death

Jim Elliot has done it again.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, a wise former pastor of mine gave me a copy of The Journals of Jim Elliot. I don’t read it often, but, when I do, I find that God uses it to challenge me more than almost anything else. This experience was no exception.

I picked up Elliot’s journals yesterday and read the following words:

“I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things – either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me.” (From his entry on October 28, “Senior Year, 1948, 1949″).

The very next entry, dated only four days later, records a prayer to God wherein Elliot simply admitted that he felt death would be best, for he feared dishonoring the Lord in his life (From his entry on November 1, same chapter).

I look up to Elliot, but I struggle to pray such a prayer. I imagine that many others do as well. This man’s faith shines with a genuineness, a sweetness, and a humility beyond any I’ve known. Though he felt inadequate upon seeing the extent of his inability, he surrendered himself to the Almighty, trusting God to lead and to work according to his perfect power and plan. Though he saw his weakness, he trusted in God’s strength. And because of God’s work in his life, he would rather die than fail to glorify his Lord. He never wanted to be a useless vessel.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15-16

Paul, too, recognized his weakness, his complete inability to accomplish the mission in his own power and strength. But he recognized something more than this: he understood that his very weaknesses served to show God’s strength. As people looked at him, knowing his past, knowing his sin, they would realize that his transformation could only have been accomplished by God. They would know that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5). Paul’s life was a living testimony to God’s grace and mercy.

Eventually, Paul would give his life for his Savior. Many years later, Jim Elliot would do the same. Each man resigned himself to die for the one who died for sinners. Each man gave up what he could not keep and gained something he could never lose. Each man ran the race well.

The hip hop artist Lecrae echoes Elliot’s prayer when he cries, “Lord, kill me if I don’t preach the Gospel” (From “Go Hard” on Lecrae’s Rebel album). This idea haunts me, but in a good way. It challenges me to discipline myself in godliness. It challenges me to give less time to the things that won’t last. It challenges me to look at the world as Jim Elliot did, as Paul did, and as Jesus did. May I be so committed to Christ. May I allow God’s strength to be displayed through my weaknesses. May I be found faithful.

June 12, 2016

The Conscience: God’s Operative Tool

•••by Russell Young

The Word of God often speaks of the need to be led by the Spirit in order for a person to be eternally saved.  How does the Spirit lead?  The answer is that God uses a person’s conscience to guide him or her.  The conscience is really God consciousness within the believer.  Where the conscious is strong, that person has a strong awareness of the presence of God.  Where it is weak, the bearer has only a weak or limited knowledge of God’s presence.

Following the believer’s confession of faith and of Christ’s lordship, the new believer is given the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead in obedience to the Word and will of God.  Regarding the Spirit Christ said, “But I tell you the truth:  It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:7-8, NIV) Conviction takes place through a person’s conscience, and the conviction of the world of sin applies to all sinful activity-its practice in the lost and its practice in God’s children.

Christian conscienceA person’s conscience is his moral consciousness. And the writer of Hebrews has recorded that it is the Spirit that cleanses our conscience or moral consciousness from interest in performing those acts which lead to death. (Heb 9:14)  The result should be that a person’s awareness or consciousness of those immoral acts which might tempt him or her should alert them concerning the danger before them.  The Old Covenant Israelites did not enjoy the privilege of the Counselor to guide them but had to rely upon the law and their own sinful nature in order to live righteously.  They could not do it.  The conscience not only alerts the believer of dangerous temptations but also disturbs him or her when sin has occurred so that the sinner, including the believer, might repent and seek forgiveness for cleansing by the blood of Christ. (1 Jn 1:9)

The Holy Spirit uses the conscience to reveal dissonance between God’s Word and will and the believer’s heart and practices.  Paul was able to boast that he kept his conscience clear. “Now this is our boast:  Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in holiness and sincerity that are from God.  We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” (2 Cor 1:12, NIV) John stated, “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God…because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 Jn 3:21-22, NIV)

The Holy Spirit is active in the lives of believers.  He enlightens them to sin and alarms them when it occurs.  Without his ministry in this regard, transformation into a holy mind and the development of righteous practices could not occur.  When the conscience is troubled a person can know that he or she is acting outside, or about to act outside, the will of God.  The conscience is the warning bell.

The Spirit, or warning bell, can be quenched, however. (1 Thess 5:19) That is, by consciously and repeatedly ignoring the Spirit’s alerts the heart will become hardened to the issue involved and the alert will no longer be heard.  The development of a sensitive Spirit or strong God consciousness is the most important tool the believer has to aid in living a righteous life.

Repeated quenching of the Spirit can lead to the conscience becoming seared; that is, a person’s conscience will no longer work to reveal sin and he or she will a become hypocritical liar.  “The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teaching comes through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as by a hot iron.” (1 Tim 4:1-2, NIV) A seared conscience leads to powerlessness, and to an unholy walk and possibly to the abandonment of faith. Special care should be taken not to sear the conscience concerning “pet” sins. The sins that a person has a tendency to rationalize or excuse.  The believer is to be careful to follow the Spirit’s leading if he or she is to remain faithful and develop the holiness that leads to eternal salvation. (Heb. 12:14)

In respect to the Spirit’s leading, it must be remembered that each person is God’s masterpiece or workmanship. (Eph 2:10) He is working to make them a sacrifice acceptable for God’s kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Christ said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10:27, NIV) The Lord’s sheep or children will listen to and follow him, and when they do they will be conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

The Spirit uses the Word of God to enlighten the believer in regard to sin and righteous living and the Spirit instructs the conscience.  Those who neglect to bathe themselves in God’s Word will be unable to effectively fight the battle against sin and to achieve his or her necessary transformation.  In his study the believer has a responsibility and the privilege of knowing the heart of God on all manner of issues.  The conscience is God’s operative tool consequently, the believer should develop and protect it.

December 19, 2015

Does Your Hearing Need Healing?

A shorter reading today, but one rich in application This is from Adrian Plass, from the book You, Me and Mark (previously published as Never Mind the Reversing Ducks).

Mark 7:31-37New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cures a Deaf Man

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

adrian plassSensitive as ever, Jesus takes this deaf man well away from crowds and noise so that he will not be overwhelmed by a cacophony of sounds when his hearing is restored.  Are the fingers in the ears and the spitting on the tongue part of the healing process, or, as seems more likely, was Jesus simply miming what he was about to? Another interesting but unanswerable question.  But here is one indisputable fact.  For this man, the first sound to emerge from a lifelong well of silence was the voice of the Son of God.  Not a bad way to start, was it?  For as long as he lived he would never forget the voice that called him out of silence and bewilderment into a new way of life.

It may seem blunderingly symbolic to say so but many of the Christians that I meet have forgotten the tone and content of the voice that first called them to follow their master without question.  There are so many other voices that come crashing in with opinions and doctrines and advice and temptations and distractions.

Move away from those other sounds to a private place away from the crowd.  Close your eyes.  Listen hard.  Do you hear that voice coming out of the silence, the voice that first commanded your eyes to be opened and your ears to be unblocked?  Do your vision and your hearing need to healed again?  His gentle touch is upon you.  Open your eyes and listen with your ears.  There are old and new things to see and hear.


I want to know you; I want to hear your voice…


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!

October 10, 2015

Running on Your Strength, Not God’s

Romans 8:13 For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.…

Today we pay a return visit to Zech Newman, who we’ve featured here before. In general, his blog is directed toward business entrepreneurs, but from a decidedly Christian perspective. In that world, “hustle” is the name of the game. It’s in that context that he wrote the following this summer; click the link below to read at source, and pass this site on to a business owner who might appreciate reading it regularly.

4 Signs You’re Into Works of the Flesh

There is a difference between hustling really hard and getting into works of the flesh. I am sure that like me you want to not only include God in your dreams and aspirations, but you want to do what He has for your life. It is quite simple to slip into works of the flesh and try to do things on our own strength. Heck it’s not just easy, but natural to operate in the works of the flesh. What feels unnatural to us is being led by the Spirit. Although this feels unnatural it is the only way to have true peace.

Getting into works of the flesh is a common problem for all of us. It is not cut and dry because you can be Spirit led and work really hard and can also barely work and be into works of the flesh. To help you on your journey here are 4 signs you’re into works of the flesh.

1. Out of priority. The moment we get out of alignment is a sign that we are into the flesh. Your priorities should be God, then spouse, kids, the body, and then your career. This is a life priority, not a time allocation. When you notice that you are out of priority quickly realign your life back into “balance.”

2. Jealousy/comparing. Both of these go hand in hand with each other. We compare to show how we are better than someone else or we compare to show how we are more “spiritual” than someone else. Comparing your hustle or work to others is a sure-fire sign that you are operating in the flesh. It is hard for me to not get into comparison and jealously. I often struggle with the thought of, “What does he have that I don’t?” When I have a thought like this, I am focused on myself and not on Christ.

3. Loss of peace. One of the attributes of being plugged into Christ is peace. No matter what the storm is in your life you can have peace. It is overwhelming and passes understanding, however, it is ever-present when you are plugged into the vine. It is an impossible peace to describe until you encounter it when everything around you is falling apart.

4. Mental weariness. When you are operating in the flesh you are trying to figure things out and rationalize life. The ways of God will not always make sense. Mental weariness comes in when we try to “figure it out.” Trusting God is moving when He says move and not going around and around in your mind. Get off the mar-a-go-round in your mind and trust God!

Galatians 5:19-21 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In the end, the moment we start to get frustrated is the point at which we move from working in the Spirit to working in the flesh. You can be working 100 hours in a week and be working in the Spirit or you can be working ten hours a week and be working in the flesh. Being led by God will have fruit that is of God. Not fruit of strife and confusion. If you are off the path get back on with Jesus.  Be blessed on your journey.

How do you recognize when you need to readjust? 


Go Deeper: Here is a message outline at Sermon Central on knowing the 17 Works of the Flesh (3 pages)

 

 

September 11, 2015

Becoming an Engaged Preaching Audience

“He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9).

Today, we pay a return visit to the Christward Collective website. When you are given the opportunity to deliver a sermon, there is no denying that an unusual adrenaline rush takes place. This probably happens to some degree in any public speaking situation. But in a church context, there is the additional rush (for lack of a better word) that you can experience as the Holy Spirit gives you things to say that weren’t in your written notes.

Sadly however, the audience is often very passive. You see people yawning, or reading their bulletin, and wish that every person in the congregation could be as engaged as you. (That’s the dynamic of small group situations that many find so stimulating.) The author below paints a vivid picture of a church service where everyone is equally energized and in a sense part of the teaching taking place.

Of particular interest here is a link at the bottom of the article. Don’t miss this. It’s to a book A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in the Worship of God, published in 1835 and photographed for the archives of Princeton Theological Seminary. (Click the pages to turn.) If nothing else, read the table of contents to see the various aspects of the study the author made of this.

Meanwhile, click the title below to read today’s thoughts at source.

He Who Has Ears

Some accuse the Protestant emphasis upon the preached Word as pastor-centric and non-engaging, but such an accusation assumes too little about the listener’s responsibility in corporate worship. Every individual in the congregation has responsibilities when the Word of God is preached. As we listen to the Word preached we want to aim at listening to it astutely, attentively, reverently, prayerfully, and responsively.

Astutely: As listeners of the Word, we must insist upon the sound preaching of the Word. We dare not fall into the ways of those who have “itching ears” and accumulate for ourselves “teachers to suit our own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). The temptation to do so is great and subtle. The Word is our nourishment, we live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Our souls and hearts will languish apart from “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The pastor who enters the pulpit should not be able to satiate us with stories, jokes, wandering tales, or dispassionate reflections. We want to hear from God, so we will listen astutely for that living Word (Hebrews 4:12).

Attentively: Our worship is never passive, but active as we engage with the Word preached. Of course, it is not our “laboring” that makes the Word preached effectual; that is the work of the Holy Spirit as He attends to the Word and works faith in the listener (John 3). But a disengaged and passive listener to the Word is no listener at all. As the preacher is accountable for what he says, so the congregation is accountable for its faithfulness in listening.

Reverently: God is speaking to His people and so we are to receive that Word reverently. With the Psalmist, we would say, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak” (Psalm 85:8). The most blessed of sermons occur when the listener begins to forget the preacher and finds their mind filled with the Word of God, their heart moved with love for Him, and their affections running after Him. We are on holy ground in worship and knowingly hang on the edge of our seats as we long to hear the next words from our Heavenly Father. He speaks and we listen.

Prayerfully: The Spirit must attend to the Word, so we labor prayerfully in the pew as much as the preacher labors at preaching in the pulpit. Prayer paves the way for the Spirit’s effectual moving. We want our hearts to be fertile soil (Mark 4) for this eternal seed of truth. Even as our ears and mind our being stirred with the Word, so we are stirring our spirits in prayer.

Responsively: As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of Man.” The Scriptures demand response: faith and obedience. We are to be “doers of the Word and not just hearers” (James 1:22). The fault lies with us if we emerge from a service asking, “Did you get anything out of that sermon?”  Rather, we desire to respond with, “I will believe what God says and will obey Him.” The sermon will never be perfect, because the man preaching it is never perfect. Yet, if the text was read and the text was preached, there is always something for the listener to respond to. Searching our thoughts and lives for where the Word preached that morning is speaking needed truth in my life marks every faithful listener. We dare not excuse ourselves, focus on how much others need to hear this truth, or think we have heard this message too many times. None of us are perfect in any area of our Christian lives, we are all straining forward, pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Dear Christian, you may be sitting in corporate worship while the pastor is preaching, but this is no idle exercise. We are to be engaged with the Word. The little effect many sermons have upon listeners is less often due to the preacher’s lack of skill in preaching, but rather due to our lack of effort in listening. Listen astutely, attentively, reverently, prayerfully, and responsively. “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9).

 

Richard Steele, A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship

Joel Beeke, The Family at Church: Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer

 

 

January 23, 2015

God Wants to Use Non-Professionals, Non-Experts

38 Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. 39 David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before.

“I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. 40 He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine.

if you’re not familiar with the story click here to read the full chapter

Today’s thoughts are taken from Eugene Peterson’s book Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, which is a study of the life of David. So many times in church life we think we have to leave certain responsibilities to the pastor. Depending on where you worship, there are often limits on what non-clergy — the laity — can do. This often transfers to a belief that if you are empowered to carry out a task, you have to do it in a certain, prescribed way. You find yourself often imitating the person who usually carries out that task, because that is what is expected.

Those of us who have worked vocationally in Christian ministry often use the two word shortcut code “Saul’s armor” to describe these situations. We’re being asked to perform in a way that is simply not us.

Eugene PetersonOn the near side of the valley, King Saul is worried over this kneeling David.  He has just tried his best to be of help by outfitting him with his own armor.  He set his bronze helmet on David’s head, wrapped him in his coat of mail, and handed him his sword, which David strapped around his waist.  David had never been dressed like that before.  And it seemed like such a good idea.  Saul’s Armor!  The king’s weapons!  If there was anything that would fit him for the task ahead, it was certainly this.  Was there a man in Israel who wouldn’t have counted it the highest privilege to be so equipped?  But when he tried to walk, he couldn’t move.  Weighted down under the cumbrous metal, he was reduced to a stiff and awkward waddle.

There was no question but that Saul was well intentioned.  He wanted to help and was helping in the only way he knew:  pile on the armor, protect yourself, get a weapon with proven effectiveness.

This is a common experience in the Valley of Elah, when an amateur ventures into a field dominated by professionals.  All around us people who care about us are suddenly there helping – piling armor on us, dressing us up in equipment that’s going to qualify us for the task (even though it didn’t seem to be doing them much good).  We get advice.  We get instruction.  We’re sent off to a training workshop.  We find ourselves with an armload of books.  These people are truly concerned about us, and we’re touched by their concern, in awe of their knowledge and experience.  We listen to them and do what they tell us.  And then we find that we can hardly move.    (p. 42)

As I read this, I was reminded of an earlier part in the book where Peterson talks about how we tend to defer everything to pastor, priest, rector or minister:

Most people who venture upon a life of faith are laypersons.  Why do so many of the habitually and pliantly take a subordinate position under the certified experts in matters of faith – that is, the clergy?  As a pastor myself, I’ve never gotten over either my surprise or my dismay at being treated with doggish deference by so many people.  Where do all these Christians, who by definition are “new creatures in Christ” and therefore surely eager to taste and see for themselves (a universal characteristic in newborns) that the Lord is good, pick up this deprecating self-understanding?  They certainly don’t get it from the Bible or from the gospel.  They get it from the culture, whether secular or ecclesial.

They get it from leaders who love the prerogatives and power of expertise and bully people by means of their glamorous bravado into abdicating the original splendor of a new life in Christ and declining into the wretched condition of the consumer.  The consumer is passivity objectified:  passive in the pew, passive before the TV screen, vulnerable to every sort of exploitation and seduction, whether religious or secular. (p. 21)

As I read these words several days later, I am reminded that there are likely people reading this who, while they long for a deeper walk with God, settle for a church life that reflects the passivity Peterson speaks of.  When needs are mentioned, they assume someone else will answer the call. Someone more gifted. Someone more intellectual. Someone who has the particular expertise they think is needed.

It’s common today to be in a room and you hear the sound of a cell phone ringing and you ignore it and then suddenly realize, that’s my ringtone. Of all the people in the room, it’s me they’re calling. Perhaps that’s true in Christian service as well. Appeals are made but few take the time to say, that call is for me.

It may be that someone is reading today and God has a calling on your life to step out in faith in what we would call a ministry, but an inner voice halts you from making the first move:

  • I’m not trained
  • I’m not a Bible scholar
  • I don’t know Greek
  • I’ve never taken any Bible college courses

Now by all means, if you can, take some courses, get some training. But God may be wanting to use you, right now, the way you are — imperfect, tempted, broken, unschooled — with no armor, just the five stones in your hand.

Your posture as a warrior for God may not include armor, helmet and a sword. You may be kneeling at the brook, looking to all the world like you’re playing in the water, when you’re actually gathering stones, formulating a plan and acting on a vision.


December 22, 2014

He Knows His Own

In revisiting one of the writers we’ve used previously here, we discovered the blog She Reads Truth. There was so much material here to choose from; this certainly is a website we can recommend. We ended up with this post from October, which is part of a series on I & II Peter, this one authored by Debbie Eaton. Click the title to read at source and then take a few minutes to look at what the various writers at that site are studying.

She Reads TruthHe Knows His Own

Text: 2 Peter 2:1-9, John 10:27-30

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment
2 Peter 2:9

A couple weeks ago I was able to spend time with a dear friend who has brain cancer. The day was beautiful in Southern California and there was an ocean swell creating huge waves at the beach. I decided it would be a great outing for us to walk the beach and witness the power of nature. It was spectacular.

I did not expect that our conversation would explore the deep meaning of life.

Does God know and love me?
Do I believe in God?
Do I have a purpose?
Why do bad things happen to good people?

In our most difficult times we seek to understand who God is. We seek to know our purpose and place at this time in history.

The dilemma today is that we are influenced by so many voices — the media, magazines, celebrities, spiritual leaders, politicians, bloggers, Facebook and Twitter, to name just a few. Unfortunately, God’s truth can be diluted or falsely negated in the midst of these loud voices. God warned us that there would be false teachers who would tickle our ears and have us believe that we can solve our own problems, that we can pick and choose the theology that fits our needs and justifies our choices. These false teachers twist the teachings of Jesus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”
John 10:1

Jesus warned that there is a thief and robber who will steal, kill and destroy. The Thief’s voices are alluring and seductive and we must stay on guard, as we are susceptible to listen and even believe. It is critical that we know the Savior’s voice.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
John 10:27-28

Jesus came for all, and He will pursue each lost soul to come and know Him, to know His voice. He knows us by name, He chooses us to be His own and His love will never fail. The Lord also will judge the unrighteous and rescue us from our trials. God’s promises remain true forever!

Tune into the voice of God today. In God’s Word and in the counsel of the Holy Spirit you will find wisdom, discernment, protection, shelter, security, comfort, conviction and, most importantly, TRUTH.

My friend knows Jesus. Her future is unknown and so is mine. That day at the beach we spoke about how life seems unfair, yet how grateful we are for knowing the Savior’s voice.

Do you know and hear his voice?
What voices crowd out God’s voice in your life?

 

December 20, 2014

Patterns in the Revelation Church Letters

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Rev. 1:4 John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Today’s reading is from the website Blogos which features a variety of writers. Today we’re presenting a post by Laurel J. Davis:

(Click the title to read at source)

Hearing God's Voice at Matt Glover dot comAre You Listening?

What does the word of the Lord mean to you? Are you hearing the Lord? Are you listening? Are you allowing His Word to minister in your life? To lead you? To uplift you? To correct you? To guide you into all truth?

In the Book of Revelation Chapters 2 and 3, John records the Lord Jesus’ individual messages to seven churches — Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Four key statements appear in all seven messages that should make us in the Christian church today stop and really listen to the voice of God:

1. These are the words of Him who…: Every message to the seven churches starts with this phrase, and then goes on to attest to Jesus’ status as Almighty God — His power, His authority, His infinite nature, His marvelous glory, etc.

The message to today’s church is: Remember who and what God is. When He speaks, remember His power and authority over all of creation – including you. Meditate on His awesomeness. Rest in His faithfulness and truth, remembering that it is impossible for Him to lie. When God speaks to you — to your heart and mind in compatibility with His Word — remember that He holds your very life and breath in His hands.

2. I know your works [or, deeds]… : That’s the next thing Jesus says to every church. As the One with all power, authority, glory, faithfulness and truth, Jesus is omniscient. He knows all things. There is nothing hidden from His sight — not what you do, and also not why you do it. He is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart just as much as He sees all of your actions, both good and bad.

So, when Jesus speaks to you, be encouraged to know your good deeds have not gone unnoticed. You will be rewarded in due time. Know too that He wants to bring your bad deeds to your attention so that you can seek His forgiveness, repent, grow and ultimately overcome.

3. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear: After telling each church what their works, good and/or bad, have been, Jesus punctuates it with an exhortation to really get what He is saying. Do you have an ear to hear what God is saying to you? Enough to get it and do it? Are you a doer of what He’s saying, or just a hearer only?

Almighty God, who holds all power, authority and truth, and whose glory is unmatched, and who knows all things – does He have your ear? Are you willing to listen and then be accountable to follow through? We all get tempted to turn a deaf ear to the Lord sometimes, especially with the tough stuff. But think about those people who don’t have an ear to hear? What is it about them that let’s you know they don’t? Don’t be like them.

4. He who overcomes…: Jesus closes His individual messages to the churches with a promise for those who do have an ear to hear and who correct their deeds accordingly. Blessing comes with staying the course God has set before you and accepting His correction if you get off track along the way. Sometimes that blessing may not come right away, or even in this lifetime, but it is a promise nonetheless and will come to pass because it comes from the One who is all-powerful, all-knowing, deserving of all glory, and most faithful and true.

 

The words to the four churches of Revelation should make Christians stop and listen.tweet

So, stick with Jesus. Hunger for His authority in your life. Receive His Word in your heart and endeavor to live honestly by it. Be assured of your reward. Listen to His voice (as expressed in His Holy Word) and heed it. For in Jesus Christ alone, you can overcome.

October 12, 2014

The Shepherd’s King

Today we look at the basics of Psalm 23. The author is Allan Connor, author and retired missionary. This is actually the first three of a number of shorter devotions; we’ll run the balance as Allan makes them available.

sheep in green pastureDavid, great King of Israel, had known the rugged life of a common sheep farmer – the hectic, 24 hour-a-day lambing season at the end of winter; the search for good summer pasture on far away fields, bedding down in a make-shift tent; the care of sick and wounded sheep; the never-ending battle with wild animals. He had cared for his sheep. Now, in the 23rd Psalm, he sees his experiences as a metaphor for God’s care.

The Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version of the Psalm provides a fresh translation so I thought it good to include it in full. Read it slowly and refresh your spirit. Take a few minutes to reflect on how these verses apply to your own life over the years.

“You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.
You let me rest in fields of green grass.
You lead me to streams of peaceful water,
And you refresh my life.
You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.
I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.
You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.
Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life,
And I will live forever in your house, Lord.”

Note the words “shepherd’s rod” in verse 4. The Hebrew text actually mentions two items carried by the shepherd: a club to defend against wild animals and a long pole to guide and control the sheep.


David writes in Psalm 23 that the Lord leads him “along the right paths.” But look how it’s done – from the front! When the shepherd has brought his sheep out of the sheepfold, “he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). No cajoling or beating here; just solid leadership. The sheep follow automatically because they have learned to trust their master.

Think of the meaning for us! The great God, the God who built the universe and everything in it, will go on ahead of us, if we are his sheep. He’ll search out the places and the circumstances so nothing happens by accident. What a tremendous comfort – being in his will! But there is an important caution: The shepherd must have control. Here is a story:

John D. Rockefeller, America’s richest industrialist, owned a large oil refinery in Cleveland, Ohio. Not far away stood a shabby wooden shop where an older man sold peanuts and penny candy. As Rockefeller passed the store day after day, he felt sorry for the vendor. One late afternoon he stopped for a chat.

“My good fellow,” he began, “why don’t you come and work for me. I’ll give you a decent wage, holidays with pay, health benefits and a pension.” “I don’t know,” the man replied. I’ll have to think about it.” Rockefeller’s brow registered his surprise .

“Alright, take your time, then.“ Rockefeller answered.

A couple of week later, the industrialist stopped in again. “So,” he said, expecting a positive answer this time, “what’s the verdict?”

“Well, sir, it’s like this. Your offer is a fine one but I have to turn it down. I’ve decided that I want to run my own business.” Rockefeller knew by the tone that persuasion would fall on deaf ears. He pulled at the brim of his hat and strode briskly to the door. Now compare this:

Jim Elliot, while studying at Wheaton College in 1949, wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim was killed in 1956 by Huaorani Indians of Ecuador , the very people he had come to share the Gospel with.


King David tells us, “I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe” (Psalm 23:4). David may well have been thinking of the numerous times his enemies had tried to kill him; yet he wasn’t afraid. He knew how to deal with fear. How does this apply to us?

We don’t have to face such life-threatening situations. But there is a universal fear that can harass us. It crosses all human barriers; no social group, class or country is immune. It is the fear of death.

The CEV translation above uses the words, “valleys as dark as death.” This phrase may also be rendered, “valley of the shadow of death,” as in the King James Version. The fear of death really is more like a shadow – it hangs around. It clings.

So how do we shake this fear? What is the shepherd’s rod that makes us feel safe? We get rid of the fear of death by receiving life – the life that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, will give us under his own terms.

John 3:16 is one of the best known verses of Scripture. Here it is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” For years I read this verse thinking only of its application to death and eternal life in heaven. It means that, of course; it is the Shepherd’s rod. But it also means much more.

The apostle Paul says, ”if anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). I receive this brand-new life the very moment I place my faith in Christ as savior! So it’s like a two-for-one deal! I become a child of God, receive a new nature and at the same time don’t have to wait to become comfortable with death. As I learn to trust Jesus on earth I become comfortable with trusting him about my eternal life in heaven.

~Allan Connor

March 23, 2014

What Does a Carpenter Know About Fishing?

If you go back to the first couple of years of C201, you know we often linked to Kevin Rogers’ blog The Orphan Age. Kevin has been very faithful to his ministry in southwestern Ontario, Canada, and has updated his blog almost daily for years and years! This post was originally titled Another Option.

Our greatest answers may sometimes come from unexpected sources. Consider the seasoned fishermen taking advice from a stranger on the shore.

John 21:

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

These first century fishermen had one lake. All of their experience came from fishing with tried and true methods. From years of successfully harvesting the lake, they knew how to recognize its seasons, currents and conditions. They knew what sort of fish swam in its depths. Perhaps, they had reached a point where they were experts and could laugh at the new, inexperienced people starting out.

Still, their nets were empty this night. As experts, they could probably explain why there was no catch tonight.

The stranger on the shore asks if they caught any. “No.” It’s a one-word answer that may reveal that they are tired and defeated. It’s time to quit and head back to land. They have nothing to show for their time spent. They are returning empty.

In the state of emptiness, is it possible that we will consider a voice that we might ignore when full?

If the story had gone that they had a full catch and the stranger suggested throwing the net on the other side; who would have listened? Emptiness and humility may be necessary for us to hear truth coming from unexpected places.

Empty Nets If a church is to hear what the Spirit is saying to it, there will need to be a condition of heart that is open to suggestion. How might Jesus speak to us expert believers and tell us to drop net on the other side?

Could it be that we sometimes pull in empty nets to prepare us for listening to unlikely counsel? In the boat, they did not recognize that God was speaking to them from the stranger on the shore. But when the nets filled on the other side, they realized that Jesus was the stranger. It is a reoccurring story in the gospels that people did not recognize Jesus until something happened. We may miss Jesus’ voice and presence many times until we awaken to Him.

The fishermen thought it was a hopeless night and did not realize that success was right under their noses. The success was waiting where they were not going on their own.

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