Christianity 201

April 26, 2022

It’s Not a Revelation of End Times, It’s a Revelation of Jesus

A decade ago, on two occasions, we featured the writing of Allan R. Bevere, and it’s always encourage to go back years later and discover the individual is still faithfully posting resources online. You’ll notice two things right away. Allan lists the scriptures from the Lectionary, and he also places the prayer at the beginning of the devotional, which can be a great way of centering our thoughts before we begin reading.

Alan is pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Ashland, Ohio. Clicking the header below will take you the text of today’s devotional at Faith Seeking Understanding.

A Vision Focused on Jesus

Scripture

Psalter: Psalm 122

Old Testament: Esther 7:1-10

Epistle: Revelation 1:9-20

___

Prayer

Mighty God, in whom we know the power of redemption, you stand among us in the shadows of our time. As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life, uphold us with knowledge of the final morning when, in the glorious presence of your risen Son, we will share in his resurrection, redeemed and restored to the fullness of life and forever freed to be your people. Amen.

___

Reflection

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades (Revelation 1:17-18).

“Revelation changes the way we see and respond to the world,” says Joel Green (Reading Scripture as Wesleyans, p. 160). He elaborates, “As much as any book of the Bible, Revelation recognizes how the glasses we wear determine what we see and understand about the world around us” (p. 161).

In Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn says to a young Anakin Skywalker, “Remember, Your focus determines your reality,” or as is stated in C.S. Lewis’ Magician’s Nephew, “[W]hat you see and hear depends a good deal on where you’re standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are” (Green, p. 161).

The truth of the matter is that no one comes to the world from a neutral point of view. There is no objective account of reality. I remember listening to a sermon years ago. Near the end of the message the preacher said to the congregation gathered, “Now, when you leave the church and go out into the real world…” Such a comment is a great theological misstep. It is the conviction of the Bible that the real world is not “out there.” The world “out there” is a distortion of the true reality God has in mind for his creation. It is the church that is to glimpse that real world so the world will know what God expects of it. To be sure, the church so often falls short of reflecting that divine reality, but it is charged with doing so nonetheless. As Stanley Hauerwas states,

My claim, so offensive to some, that the first task of the church is to make the world the world, not to make the world more just, is a correlative of this theological metaphysics. The world simply cannot be narrated—the world cannot have a story— unless a people exist who make the world the world. That is an eschatological claim that presupposes we know there was a beginning only because we have seen the end … [C]reation names God’s continuing action, God’s unrelenting desire for us to want to be loved by that love manifest in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Hannah’s Child, p. 158).

Green reminds us that in his vision the author of Revelation is not located on an island in exile or in the middle of the Roman Empire, but, “[h]e stands in the heavens. He sees things from God’s perspective, so he sees things as they really are” (p. 161)

As we read through the symbolism and the imagery, we are also transported into that realm that is beyond and yet interwoven with human reality that we might see all things earthly from a heavenly “point of view.”—to see things as they really are. This is a most difficult thing, to be sure, but Revelation gives us a glimpse of the divine reality thus determining true reality because of our changed focus.

Joel concludes,

…through his [John’s] narrative, he invites us to accompany him, so that we, too, see things as they really are. To do so, though, we need not only to travel with him to the throne room of God but also to allow our patterns of thinking, feeling, and believing to be dismantled and reassembled through binding ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who is worthy to receive honor, dominion, and power by means of his humiliating death (p. 161).

It must not be forgotten that in the Book of Revelation, John is not offering us a secret road map to discerning the signs of the end time, but rather he offers his vision from the perspective of a pastor who is encouraging his hearers to change the focus of their reality as churches under the thumb of an empire that pretends to offer security and salvation in exchange for complete and total allegiance. Their response to the world should not be focused on the empire’s pretentious claims, but rather on the heavenly reality that is true on earth—Jesus is Lord.


An excellent book on the book of Revelation is Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation. It can be purchased here.

 

April 8, 2022

The Future Role of the Holy Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NIV.Rev.22.3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

Today we have a most interesting topic for your consideration, and a new writer to introduce. Nick Cady is part of the Calvary Chapel movement, is the lead pastor of a Colorado church, is the host of the Theology for the People Podcast, is the author of The God I Won’t Believe In, and had things gone differently, would have been involved in ministry in Ukraine this past month. He blogs at Theology for the People. We selected this article from his backlist blog posts, and encourage you to read it where we found it by clicking the header below, and then take some time to look around at other resources.

What is the Role of the Holy Spirit in Eternity?

Recently someone submitted this question:

Both God the Father and the Son have distinct and obvious eternal roles that we see played out in the Bible, with Jesus being more obvious, but as I was thinking through the role of the Holy Spirit in eternity, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete.
Could you give a brief overview of the roles of the triune persons of God as it pertains to eternity? I’m mostly interested in the Holy Spirit, but would love a pastor’s perspective on the other two also.

The “Ontological Trinity” and the “Economic Trinity”

There are two fields of discussion when it comes to the Trinity. The “ontological” and the “economic.” “Ontological” refers to who God is, i.e. that which pertains to being, whereas “economic” refers to what God does.

Specifically applied to the Trinity, study of the “ontological Trinity” is focused on those parts of the Bible which communicate that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet these three, while distinct persons, are one God. Study of the “economic Trinity” is focused on the passages in the Bible which tell us what each of these three persons does as their role in “the Godhead.”

So, ontologically, it is important to point out that eternality is part of God’s nature. God is eternal, and each person of the godhead is eternal. So, the role of God in eternity is merely a continuation of who God has been until now, and who God will forever be.

However, the question above is about the economics of the Triune God after this present age is over, and we have transitioned into what the Bible calls “the new heavens and new Earth.” What will the functions of the three persons of the Triune God be in “the age to come”?

The Role of the Son in the Age to Come

The Son, we are told, is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, and for eternity he will reign and rule as king over all of redeemed creation. (See Revelation 22:3)

Currently, Jesus is making intercession for believers, advocating for us, and is seated on a throne, but for eternity, all we really know is that he will be an eternal sovereign, ruling over a kingdom of righteousness and peace which will never end.

The Role of the Father in the Age to Come

Along with ruling over the redeemed creation from a heavenly throne, revelation tells us that God (not necessarily just the Father) will be a source of light, which will preclude the need for the sun to illuminate, since God himself will be our light.

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Age to Come

The one thing that sticks out about the Holy Spirit’s role in eternity, is that, whereas the Father and the Son have a throne in the New Heavens and New Earth, the Holy Spirit does not (Revelation 22:3).

Beyond this, I can’t think of any verses which speak specifically about a role of the Holy Spirit in the age to come – but that is not surprising, and here’s why:

What we read regarding the economic Trinity mostly has to do with the work of God to redeem human beings. Remember, the Bible is a book about Jesus: who he is, and how he saves us.

Since the Bible is focused on the story of the salvation and redemption of humankind, it does not tell us very much about what God did before creating the world, nor does it tell us much about what God will do after the redemption of the world is complete.

“The Great Story Which No One on Earth has Read”

This reminds me of the final paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ The Final Battle, which is the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, which is full of allegories about biblical passages and teachings.

C.S. Lewis poetically describes “the age to come” in this way:

“…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about what the three persons of the Trinity will do in eternity, because that is not the story which the Bible exists to tell.

God Will Do What God Did Before

Prior to the creation of the world, it is important to remember that God existed from eternity past. Without human beings to rescue, sanctify, and redeem, what did God do?

What we can be sure of, is that God was neither bored nor lonely.

From eternity past, the one God, who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed as a mutually edifying and glorifying community unto himself. Creation, was God inviting us to join in the “perichoresis,” the eternal relationship which exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as “the dance of God.”

In other words, in eternity, we can expect that God will do what God did before: delighting in himself, with each person fueling this mutually edifying and glorifying relationship.


Second Helping: By the same author, check out, Will We Really See Our Loved Ones In Heaven?


NIV.Rev.21.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

 

January 11, 2022

Humble Circumstances | An Everlasting Agreement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we have another double header for you!

Once again we’re back highlighting the writing of Jay Mankus at Express Yourself 4 Him. Among his accomplishments, Jay has written a film script of his own life story, which includes overcoming a speech impediment, and accomplishments in various sports. Click the headers which follow to read these devotionals at his site.

Humble Beginnings

King Solomon was the first to state what many people tend to think following an epic collapse or fall from grace in Proverbs 16:18. Pride does call before the fall and results in a reboot or as the Bible suggests a humble beginning. No one likes to start over. Whether this refers to a job, life or video game, being forced to turn the clocks back and start from scratch can be deflating. Yet, humility puts life into its proper perspective.

Let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his elevation [as a Christian, called to the true riches and to be an heir of God], 10 And the rich [person ought to glory] in being humbled [by being shown his human frailty], because like the flower of the grass he will pass away James 1:9-10.

One Old Testament prophet writes about the nature of death in Isaiah 40:8. Each spring flowers bloom, grass grows and trees become covered by leaves. Unfortunately, by the end of fall, lawns become dormant, leaves fall to the earth and flowers disappear for the year until this cycle repeats itself annually. If you own a house or maintain a property, keeping up weekly maintenance can lead to humble beginnings.

For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns]. 16 Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means that] I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. 17 However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of me  Romans 7:15-17.

Yet, beneath the surface of every human being, there lies an internal battle that never ends. The apostle Paul writes about this wrestling match in the passage above. Whenever you discover that you’ve become a hypocrite, doing the exact opposite that you want, conviction, guilt and humility will follow. In this age of mental health awareness, your own sinful nature is often the source of your problems. Therefore, the next time you mess up, use this humble beginning as a teachable moment to rise from the ashes of despair.

The Everlasting Agreement

There are various forms of agreements that you will make over the course of your life. This may be a handshake between friends, a business deal, a pledge you make to a local church or charity or a mutual consensus. Unfortunately, some of these agreements are temporary, contain escape clauses or are broken by someone who feels like they got the short end of the stick.

Now may the God of peace [Who is the Author and the Giver of peace], Who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood [that sealed, ratified] the everlasting agreement (covenant, testament). Hebrews 13:20.

The phrase “all good things must come to an end” comes from a medieval poet. The origin of this expression was first written by Geoffry Chaucer in Canterbury Tales. While this is true in the context of life and death, the Bible speaks of an everlasting agreement. The apostle Paul uses the analogy of receiving a gift in Romans 6:23. However, the key is accepting this free gift as your own by taking ownership of it.

And this is that testimony (that evidence): God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who possesses the Son has that life; he who does not possess the Son of God does not have that life. 13 I write this to you who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) the name of the Son of God [in the peculiar services and blessings conferred by Him on men], so that you may know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that you [already] have life, [d]yes, eternal life, 1 John 5:11-13.

First century Christians referred to this everlasting agreement as the gift of eternal life, John 3:16-17. In the passage above, one of Jesus’ disciples believed that you could know for sure about your eternal destiny. There was no hopefully or maybe, but an absolute guarantee based upon your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 10:9-11. As 2022 begins this week, make sure you secure this everlasting agreement.


For those wondering, the texts here appear similar to The Expanded Bible or The Amplified Bible but are either something similar, or the author’s own notes nested in-text.

December 12, 2021

Our Expectations of the World to Come

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A new writer today, Randy Livingston is a police chaplain in Florida who writes at From the Chaplain. In addition to quoted scriptures today a number are alluded to, and you’re encouraged to look them up. Clicking the header which follows will take you to where we sourced this, and you’re encouraged to read it there.

The Next World

The Scriptures tell us that after Christ was raised from the dead that the Father “set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come (Ephesians 1:20-21; emphasis added).  It is fascinating, engaging, and somewhat overwhelming to take note of the truth that there is another world yet to come!  We have only a brief exposure to it in the word of God, but there is enough there to convince us of its reality and a beauty that far surpasses our meager understanding or imagination.

One would expect it to be beyond our comprehension, and rightly so, because God himself dwells there (Revelation 21:3).  It will be characterized by righteousness because the Lord reigns there (Zechariah 14:9).  It will be a place of unsurpassable glory because God is all-glorious (Revelation 5:13).  It is a world that we aspire unto though we have not seen it. It is a place that our hearts long for because Christ himself is there and where Christ is there is righteousness, peace and joy unspeakable.

This sounds almost too good to be true were it not for the promise of Christ himself.  “I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).  Yes, friend, there is another world to come.  It is real; it is unimaginably joyful; and, it is forever!

We could spend more time filling in some gaps in our expectations about this world to come from what has been revealed to us in God’s word.  But the point of this writing it this – there is a whole new world coming after this one has expended its strength and vigor on wickedness.  Christ is coming again and when he does there will be peace and righteousness (Micah 4:3-4).  Truth and holiness will be the key characteristics of this new world order.  Note the contrast to this present world.

Our world is full of lies, unbridled wickedness (or so it seems), selfishness, hatred and every form of impurity the mind can conjure.  Would anyone debate that?  Do we really need convinced of man’s intrinsic wickedness and rebellion against God?

But when Christ comes he shall put down every resistance, silence every foe, root out and vanquish all wickedness (Revelation 19:11-21).  The inauguration of his kingdom shall be glorious indeed! Even so, not everyone will enjoy the benefits of this coming world.  It is a prepared place for a prepared people.  Only those who have washed their sins in the blood of the Lamb and are dressed in his righteousness will be able to participate.  The Apostle John tells us that “there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:27).

Is your name there?


Second Helping: When we’re checking out a devotional blog for the first time, there’s always that article that was the runner-up in terms of what we would have liked to share with you. The one today was about preserving the reputation and legacy that we leave on the day of our death.

December 7, 2021

Reconnecting with Friends in Heaven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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More than a dozen times we’ve quoted or re-blogged material by J. Lee Grady who writes at Fire in My Bones. He was editor of Charisma Magazine for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010 and is considered a bridge-builder between Charismatics and non-Pentecostals because of his balanced approach. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression. Click the header below to read this where it was sourced.

Will We Know Our Friends in Heaven?

J. Lee Grady

The year 2021 was a painful year for me personally because I lost three good friends. Robert died of lymphoma in February; Fernando died last week after a heart attack he suffered while on an international flight; and James died suddenly last weekend of heart failure. All three men left grieving wives and families behind.

To cope with my own grief, I’ve been looking at photos and writing down memories. But it’s hard. James and I talked or texted almost every day so it’s surreal to see his number in my phone with no “What’s up, bud?” or “You doin’ OK?” messages from Alabama.

One thing that has helped me so much in the grieving process is meditating on the reality of eternal life. We know the Bible tells us our loved ones go immediately into God’s presence in heaven when they die, if they were believers in Jesus. We love to tell our grieving friends and relatives, “He’s in a better place” or “She’s enjoying heaven now.”

Those words don’t always help me, to be honest. That’s great for them but what about those of us here on earth who are missing them? I know my friend James is in heaven but I can’t text him there. My phone plan with AT&T doesn’t include coverage in glory. (I would pay extra for that!)

What encourages me most is not that my friends are safely in the arms of Jesus but that when this world as we know it ends, I will be with my Christian friends again.

Some Christians have a weird idea that heaven is an ethereal, dreamy place that is more shadow than substance. They imagine that we all show up there as disembodied spirits, floating around in white robes while choirs sing 24 hours a day. Some Christians even believe we will have totally new identities and that our memories of this earth will be totally erased.

We would do well to read the last chapters of the Bible over and over until we understand that God has so much more in store for us than that. The last words of Revelation remind us of these truths:

This world will be reborn. After God judges the wickedness of humanity at the end of time, He will totally remake this earth and bring heaven down to this domain. It will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1, MEV), a paradise like it was at the time of creation. The new earth will have trees, animals, roads and indescribable beauty. And the glorious, heavenly city of Jerusalem, a new and perfect city, will be the capital of the new creation.

We will live and work with each other in a new world. Revelation 21:24 says “the nations” will walk by the perpetual light of the Son of God, who will rule from His eternal throne. There will be nations in the new earth. We will live as citizens of God’s glorious kingdom, in a world where there is no war, violence, tears, pain, pandemics or death (21:4). The Bible is not clear about what kind of work will we do but those who have been faithful to God in this life will be involved in management of the new world.

We will maintain our identities. We will have new bodies (1 Cor. 15:49) but that doesn’t mean we won’t be ourselves. Jesus said when we are in the new earth we will “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Matt. 8:11). These great heroes of faith will not lose their identities—they will still be themselves.

I will be myself, you will be yourself and we will have the opportunity to meet saints who lived in different time periods. I am personally eager to schedule appointments with Paul, Timothy, John, Ruth, Mark, Luke, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene, as well as William Seymour, Corrie Ten Boom, Charles Spurgeon and C.S. Lewis.

We will continue our friendships in the next life. When Jesus shared the Passover meal with His closest friends, “He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will never eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). Jesus was clearly stating that He would reunite with His disciples and they would fellowship together again.

When this world ends, I’m invited to the greatest party ever celebrated. I’m sure the food will be amazing and the music will be off the charts, but the joy will be uncontainable because all of our friends and relatives who loved the Lord will be in the crowd. We will dance, hug, laugh, share our hearts and visit each other’s new homes. And I plan to enjoy coffee—or some new, heavenly beverage—with Robert, Fernando and James.

I might also talk and text with them on some type of superior phones and I’m sure the signal will be perfect—with no spam, dead batteries or dropped calls.


Scripture texts marked MEV are from the Modern English Version.

November 17, 2021

Christ’s “More Excellent Ministry” Serving in the Heavenly Temple

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Heb.8.6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

NLT.Heb.9.11-12 So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.

In our daily quest to bring you new sources of devotional and study material, we landed at Bible Ask, a site which was new to us, in which you could easily get lost exploring a number of in-depth articles. The ministry is based about 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles. Their guiding verse is Proverbs 22:20-21 which reads,

“Have I not written to you excellent things of counsels and knowledge, that I may make you know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer words of truth to those who send to you?” (KJV)

By way of introduction, we’re bringing a shorter piece which appeared just today. Click the link in the header which follows to read this where we found it. Material on the site is also available in French, Spanish, Arabic and Hindi. [Note: linked scriptures provided by Bible Ask are to the KJV.]

Is Christ ministering today in the heavenly Sanctuary?

The Sanctuary – God’s plan of salvation illustrated

Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary (Psalm 77:13). God’s way is best understood in the place where He is worshiped. Every part of the sanctuary represents a facet of Christ’s ministry on behalf of men.  The earthly sanctuary, with its two apartments, and its services, is a “shadow,” of the ministry of Christ on behalf of sinners on earth (before His death) and in heaven (after His death). 

The earthly sanctuary – a model of the heavenly one 

God instructed Moses to build Him a sanctuary that He might dwell among people (Exodus 25:8). This sanctuary was made after a “pattern” that was shown to Moses “in the mount” (Exodus 25:9, 40; Acts 7:44). In heaven above, is found the original of which the earthly sanctuary is a “shadow” (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23).  

John writes of “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven” (Revelation 15:5). In that “temple” he saw the “ark” of the covenant (Revelation 11:19). He also saw the altar of incense (Revelation 8:3). And Paul, speaks of Christ our “High Priest” in heaven (Hebrews 3:1; 9:24), who has offered, once for all, the sacrifice of Himself, shedding His blood in behalf of repentant sinners (Hebrews 9:24–26; 10:12). 

Divisions of the Sanctuary 

The earthly sanctuary was divided into two sections (Exodus 26:31–37), in each, there were certain furniture. The first unit had the table of shewbread, the seven-branched candlestick, and the altar of incense. There, certain services were carried out every day. The second unit, contained the ark of the covenant. And there, a service was done only once a year on the Day of Atonement.  

From studying the earthly sanctuary, we can make specific conclusions concerning what goes on in the heavenly sanctuary. As the earthly service could not begin until the priest had made an offering of sacrifice, so Christ could not begin His heavenly service until He offered His body as a sacrifice on the cross.  

As the earthly sanctuary service had two stages, represented by the two sections, likewise, the heavenly sanctuary had two stages. And as the earthly service was in terms of the first stage until the Day of Atonement, even so the heavenly service was in terms of the first stage until that time, near the close of earth’s history, when our great High Priest started the second stage of His priestly ministry. The prophecy of Daniel 8:14 9:25, shows that Christ began that second phase in 1844. For more on the that prophecy, check the following link.

Christ ministering today in the heavenly sanctuary 

In New Testament era, the Hebrew Christians were greatly unsettled with the issue of how to relate themselves to the earthly sanctuary service that they and their fathers for 1500 years had regarded as central in their worship. Paul had to convince them of the superiority of the heavenly sanctuary and turn their eyes away from the earthly sanctuary to where Christ is actually serving after His death. 

The apostle Paul wrote about the work of Christ as our High Priest (ex. Hebrews 9), in the heavenly sanctuary. He tried to show them by parallels and contrasts, that the earthly sanctuary no longer should be the center of their worship, because the earthly sanctuary was merely a “shadow” of the heavenly one.

For example, Christ is deathless in comparison to the earthly priests (Hebrews 7:23, 24, 28), His offering was much greater than animal offerings (Hebrews 9:11–14, 23–26; 10:11–14), and the heavenly service is “more excellent ministry” than the earthly one (Hebrews 8:6). For these reasons, in the New Testament era, the believer is to come boldly and directly to Christ – the great High Priest in heaven (Hebrews 4:14–16; 10:19–22).


From the same website: A related question: Did Christ enter the Most Holy Place in the heavenly temple directly after His ascension? 

 

July 16, 2021

The Angel Taking Notes

Today’s devotional doesn’t have direct scripture references, but you’ll see allusions to key passages all over this piece of writing.

This is a poem written by Canadian pastor Craig Pitts. It’s been reprinted in a handful of other places by permission, so we’re taking the liberty of doing so here as we were unable to contact anyone directly.

God’s Eternal Ink

by Craig Pitts

I dreamed I was in heaven
Where an angel kept God’s book.
He was writing so intently
I just had to take a look.

It was not, at first, his writing
That made me stop and think
But the fluid in the bottle
That was marked eternal ink.

This ink was most amazing,
Dark black upon his blotter
But as it touched the parchment
It became as clear as water.

The angel kept on writing,
But as quickly as a wink
The words were disappearing
With that strange eternal ink.

The angel took no notice,
But kept writing on and on.
He turned each page and filled it
Till all its space was gone.

I thought he wrote to no avail,
His efforts were so vain
For he wrote a thousand pages
That he’d never read again.

And as I watched and wondered that
This awesome sight was mine,
I actually saw a word stay black
As it dried upon the line.

The angel wrote and I thought I saw
A look of satisfaction.
At last he had some print to show
For all his earnest action.

A line or two dried dark and stayed
As black as black can be,
But strangely the next paragraph
Became invisible to see.

The book was getting fuller,
The angel’s records true,
But most of it was blank, with
Just a few words coming through.

I knew there was some reason,
But as hard as I could think,
I couldn’t grasp the significance
Of that eternal ink.

The mystery burned within me,
And I finally dared to ask
The angel to explain to me
Of his amazing task.

And what I heard was frightful
As the angel turned his head.
He looked directly at me,
And this is what he said…

I know you stand and wonder
At what my writing’s worth
But God has told me to record
The lives of those on earth.

The book that I am filling
Is an accurate account
Of every word and action
And to what they do amount.

And since you have been watching
I must tell you what is true;
The details of my journal
Are the strict accounts of YOU.

The Lord asked me to watch you
As each day you worked and played.
I saw you as you went to church,
I saw you as you prayed.

But I was told to document
Your life through all the week.
I wrote when you were proud and bold,
I wrote when you were meek.

I recorded all your attitudes
Whether they were good or bad.
I was sorry that I had to write
The things that make God sad.

So now I’ll tell the wonder
Of this eternal ink,
For the reason for it’s mystery
Should make you stop and think.

This ink that God created
To help me keep my journal
Will only keep a record of
Things that are eternal.

So much of life is wasted
On things that matter not
So instead of my erasing,
Smudging ink and ugly blot.

I just keep writing faithfully and
Let the ink do all the rest
For it is able to decide
What’s useless and what’s best.

And God ordained that as I write
Of all you do and say
Your deeds that count for nothing
Will just disappear away.

When books are opened someday,
As sure as heaven is true;
The Lord’s eternal ink will tell
What mattered most to you.

If you just lived to please yourself
The pages will be bare,
And God will issue no reward
For you when you get there.

In fact, you’ll be embarrassed,
You will hang your head in shame
Because you did not give yourself
In love to God’s Name.

Yet maybe there will be a few
Recorded lines that stayed
That showed the times you truly cared,
Sincerely loved and prayed.

But you will always wonder
As you enter heaven’s door
How much more glad you would have been
If only you’d done more.

For I record as God sees,
I don’t stop to even think
Because the truth is written
With God’s eternal ink.

When I heard the angel’s story
I fell down and wept and cried
For as yet I still was dreaming
I hadn’t really died.

And I said: O angel tell the Lord
That soon as I awake
I’ll live my life for God-
I’ll do all for His dear sake.

I’ll give in full surrender;
I’ll do all He wants me to
I’ll turn my back on self and sin
And whatever isn’t true.

And though the way seems long and rough
I promise to endure.
I’m determined to pursue the things
That are holy, clean and pure.

With God as my helper,
I will win lost souls to Thee,
For I know that they will live with thee
For all eternity.

And that’s what really matters
When my life on earth is gone
That I will stand before the Lord
And hear Him say, well done.

For is it really worth it
As my life lies at the brink?
And I realize that God keeps books
With His eternal ink.

Should all my life be focused
On things that turn to dust?
From this point on I’ll serve the Lord;
I can, I will, I must!

I will NOT send blank pages
Up to God’s majestic throne
For where that record’s going now
Is my eternal home.

I’m giving all to God
I now have seen the link
For I saw an angel write my life
With God’s eternal ink.

Copyright © Craig F. Pitts

May 4, 2021

Watched From Above: By More Than God Alone

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today I want to introduce a new website to you which digs into weightier topics than many other devotional pages. It goes by the long(er) name (deep breath) Professing His Kingdom Come, His Will Be Done. The author(s) listing just says, “Professing Christians.” A day before the devotion we chose for today, there was one about The Rapture, or as they called it, The Plucking.

For this one, you can read here, or as you’re always encouraged, send some traffic to the writers featured here by clicking headers like the one which follows.

The Cloud of Witnesses

Those who read and study the New Testament know who the cloud of witnesses are: they are people in heaven, some of which quite possibly serve in the courts of heaven, that know what we are doing and what we are going through down here on earth. It’s always been a fascinating subject to me. But how can this be when scripture hints that there is no contact between those who have gone before us, and we who have not yet come to the next world or realm? (for lack of a really good word to describe what’s coming)

What first comes to mind is the certain rich man who goes to hell and asks for mercy from Abraham (also deceased). Jesus tells this story:

Luke 16: 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

Here it’s talking about those in hell can see those in heaven and can even communicate. Wow! So if they can communicate with each other through the ‘great gulf fixed,’ is it possible for either heaven or hell to communicate with us here? Let’s examine.

Necromancy (definition):

1 : conjuration (by magic or sorcery) of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events

Ok, so we know God condemns magic and sorcery AND trying to contact dead spirits. I’m pretty sure we all can agree on that. But what about this cloud of witnesses that seems to be involved in the lives of the saints?

Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter. The writer (Paul, James, or whoever it was) takes the entire chapter to talk about all those of great faith that have gone before us: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. But then the author says,

Hebrews 11: 39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (emphasis mine)

Hebrews 11 talks about great faith, Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about the promise of our being perfected. Apparently, patriarchs of old couldn’t be perfected without us and we can’t be perfected without their examples of faith, among other things as the Lord commands.

Hebrews 12: 1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about (Strong’s – encircled, bound with, hang about) with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God…

22 But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,

23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Have you ever noticed that, in the Bible, there are some who come to give a message to a prophet or person of God and they are described as men, and other times they are described as angels? Abraham entertained three men, one of which was the Lord; Joshua sent the two spies but later they are described as messengers/angels (Joshua 6:25); John, in Revelation 19:10, falls down to worship this magnificent being and he tells him not to, that he is of his “fellow brethren”? There’s some weird stuff going on here.

Angels are depicted as beings with wings in the Bible. They come and go in the second heaven, which is believed to be our atmosphere above the earth, where the demons roam, ascending and descending between our realm and the realm of the Father, to His throne. Other times they have to fight their way through, as in Daniel 10, by the way which is described as a man needing Michael’s (the archangel) help to bring Daniel the message! What is going on here??

Are they given the ability on assignment to come and encourage us here? Why are they described as “fellow brethren”? Angels don’t go through what we go through to be called the children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ. And being called “witnesses” too, doesn’t that mean besides giving their testimony for God, albeit in the Old Testament, that they need us to be obedient to our call so they can be perfected post-Calvary and therefore are working WITH us? Just some things to think about.

 

July 7, 2020

Heaven and The New Jerusalem: What’s the Difference?

Although some of the articles I have written here over the years get repeated occasionally, as a general rule, pieces written by third parties do not. However, I noticed this 2011 piece has had what is, for this site, a fair number of comments, including a recent question, and I thought we’d make an exception.


While the blog The Pursuit of the Deeper Truth and Proper Christian Experience has a rather long title, and a bias toward the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, here at Christianity 201, we’re an equal opportunity blog with a bias toward anything that gets us thinking and studying. In today’s spiritual climate, there is much interest in heaven and the afterlife, and it’s so easy to hear a phrase like “New Jerusalem” and rush to the conclusion “New Jerusalem = Heaven.” Thomas Marvin sees each differently and clarifies that with this post originally titled

Heaven or the New Jerusalem — Is There a Difference?

“And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev. 21:2)

Fundamentally Different, Not Just a Matter of Semantics

Many people unintentionally, mistake the New Jerusalem for heaven. When I was a child, I remember singing a song that says:

“I’ve got a mansion just over the hill top
in that bright land where we’ll never grow old
and some day yonder, we’ll never more wander,
but walk those streets that are paved with gold.”

I may have gotten a few words wrong, but the gist of the song is pretty clear. That is, that we’re going to heaven—“to that bright land where we’ll never grow old” and “walk those streets that are paved with gold.” However, in aspiring to heaven, the writer was, in referring to golden streets, addressing an attribute of the holy city, New Jerusalem.

In the many years since my childhood days of singing that song, I’ve never once read in the Bible where it says that heaven has golden streets. However, Revelation 21:21, in speaking of the New Jerusalem, does say “the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” You can see from this illustration, the thought of heaven having golden streets, is just one example of the confusion of heaven and the New Jerusalem.

Well, someone may say, “Aren’t they one and the same—heaven and the New Jerusalem? I say heaven. You say New Jerusalem. It’s all about the same.” However, the opening verse I referenced points to a distinction. In Revelation 21:2 it says that the holy city, New Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven. This verse directly indicates a difference, for the New Jerusalem to come down out of heaven indicates that the two expressions are not synonymous.

Then what is the distinction?

Heaven, God’s dwelling (1 Kings 8:50), the place of His throne (Isa. 66:1), and the place where Christ ascended physically after His resurrection (Acts 1:9-11) is no doubt a physical place. However, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place “to which we go” but the greatest sign in the entire Bible (see Rev. 1:1) signifying, God’s spiritual, eternal building of divinity and humanity. It is the eternal, consummation of all God’s work in humanity throughout the ages, a mingling of God and man to be the mutual dwelling place for both God and all His redeemed people for eternity.

What difference does it make anyway?

The view you have between the heaven and the New Jerusalem can change your entire Christian life. If your view is that a Christian’s eternal destiny is simply to “go to heaven” when we die, you may feel that as long as you are born again or regenerated, you are basically waiting to go to heaven. In addition, one with this concept might consider their service to God in this age ends with helping as many perishing people as possible to also go to heaven when they die. This heaven or hell gospel has unfortunately caused many a well-intended Christian to miss out on the deeper meaning of their Christian life on earth today. This kind of view of a Christian’s eternal destiny is “locational,” basically a change of place, from earth to heaven, instead of hell.

From Revelation 21:2, however, we can see that the New Jerusalem is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” From verses 9-10, we can see that the bride, the wife of Lamb is the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. I’d like to point out again that this city is “out of heaven,” so it is not heaven. Second, I’d like to point out that this city is married to the Lamb, Christ (John 1:29). Such a bride is adorned for her husband (v. 2). This implies that a process of getting ready is necessary. A bride must match her husband, to be his counterpart.

Likewise, we must be “adorned” to marry Christ, to be His corporate counterpart, His wife. Anyone you marry must be “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh,” even as Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:23). To be bone of Christ’s bones, and flesh of His flesh, we must be the same as Christ in life and nature. We also must grow up in His life unto maturity (Eph 4:13, 15-16). Christ, would be humiliated to marry an immature bride. He would rather wait. Such has been the case for nearly 2,000 years of church history. Christ is waiting for His bride to be prepared.

Where is the bride for Christ to come back for?

So to make my point, the New Jerusalem is not a “locational” matter—a change in location, but an “intrinsic” or “essential” matter—a change of essence or constitution. We’re not just going to the New Jerusalem, we’re becoming the New Jerusalem. To be in the New Jerusalem, one must first become the New Jerusalem. Through the process of God’s complete salvation—the regeneration of our spirit (John 3:6), the transformation of our soul (Rom. 12:2), and the glorification of our body (Rom. 8:30), we must become the same as Christ in life and nature but not in His Godhead, being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Such a change in essence requires that once we are saved, we cooperate with God’s central work, that is to allow God to work Himself into our entire being (1 Thes. 5:23; Eph. 3:17). Only in this way can we become the proper constituents for the building of Christ’s Body today and of the New Jerusalem for eternity. Only in such a way can we be Christ’s bride, adorned for our dear Husband.

How is this Bride-city being prepared today?

In between the type of Adam and Eve, the first couple, in Genesis 2:18-23 and the fulfillment of this type, in the eternal couple in Revelation 21-22, we have the process of preparation in Ephesians 5:25-32. Here we can see the church, for whom Christ died in the past (v. 25), being sanctified in the present (v. 26), and presented to Christ, as His glorious bride in the future (v. 27). If we see that our eternal destiny is to become Christ’s bride, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, we will not foolishly waste our precious time today. Rather we will redeem every day to pursue Christ (Phil. 3:12), to gain Him and be found in Him (vv. 8-9) and to be sanctified by Christ, by enjoying the daily washing of the water in His word (v. 26). In this way we will be daily renewed (2 Cor. 4:16) to become as “new” as the New Jerusalem.

Such a life of redeeming the time, by understanding what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:15-18), will bring us onward to God’s eternal goal and cause us to daily live a bride-preparing life, a life of preparing ourselves to become Christ’s bride, the New Jerusalem, for our eternal marriage.

I believe, I’ve made my point, that is, that we need to be spiritually preparing today for our coming marriage to Christ. For those who still have some concerns about believers going to heaven, and how that fits with the New Jerusalem, Witness Lee does a better job than I can of addressing the matter in chapter 18 of his book, The Church as the Body of Christ.


I’ve closed comments here this time, in order that you can respond if you wish at the original post, as it appeared in August, 2011. Click here. See especially the comment/question at #20

July 6, 2020

Found Naked: Paul’s Meaning in 2 Cor. 5:3

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
2 Corinthians 5: 2-3

Just hours before our 5:30 PM deadline, I received a letter from a cousin asking about a particular Bible passage. I don’t claim that this is the best answer you’ll ever find on the internet concerning this verse, but I also wanted to share my process with her when delving into difficult-to-understand verses.

Hi Paul,

I’ve been reading 2nd Corinthians chapter five, verse three and I have a question, so I thought I’d turn to you to get your take on this. In this verse it says “if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.”

This is not the first place in scripture that I’ve read a fear of being found to be a “naked or unclothed” spirit. My question is, what is so fearful about being found to be a spirit without covering? I think of spirit as being a kind of pure energy or light.  Not necessarily in human form. Genesis has some really interesting things to say about this as regards the condition of Adam and Eve after the fall, such that God covered them in skin (not skins).

Not the easiest question.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes:

Second Corinthians 5:1-10 is one of the most researched and written-about passages in Paul’s writings–and for a good reason. Paul is tackling the topic of the Christian hope beyond the grave, and more specifically, what happens to the believer at the point of death. In our culture the subject of death holds a certain fascination as well as repulsion. On the one hand, we try to mask the fact of death with euphemisms such as “he passed on” and “she went to a better place” and with funeral rites such as viewing the body, remarking how well someone looks and placing flowers on the grave. On the other hand, our culture, especially in recent years, has displayed an attraction to the topic of death in the form of accounts of near-death experiences, a resurgence of spiritism, the growing popularity of the New Age movement and the like… [continue reading here]

First of all, I don’t think on a basic reading of this verse I would go to the Genesis passage in parallel with this, for reasons too long to get into here.

There are some things you can do when you encounter a tough passage…

Step One: Establish the context.

With the possible exception of verse 3 (!) most people know this passage well as the one where Paul is describing — as only someone can who worked in canvas as he did — our bodies as a tent. So “when this tent is taken down” is talking about death. But here it gets tricky early on, because the word tent is reminiscent of ‘tabernacle’ so is this analogy just intended for believers? (See below.) Writing to the Corinthian church, this is a reasonable assumption. He’s talking about that covering or tent being removed, but then longing for a covering which is far better — a heavenly dwelling as the NIV puts it in verse 4. So it’s not that the metaphor is mixed, it’s just that it’s complicated; namely we do have a covering — and we are the tabernacle or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit — but we have a far better one coming. So we want to (at God’s appointed time) shed the former to put on the latter, we don’t want to be found without either. (More on what that would look like in step 3.)

Step Two: Let the translators do the work for you.

I think it’s interesting how the ‘freer’ translations are set up so the individual verses don’t show on BibleGateway.  You`re forced to read in a larger context. Eugene Peterson doesn’t (in my opinion) directly address the naked thing, but looks at the passage as a whole:

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

JB Phillips echoes what I said looking at the passage contextually:

We know, for instance, that if our earthly dwelling were taken down, like a tent, we have a permanent house in Heaven, made, not by man, but by God. In this present frame we sigh with deep longing for the heavenly house, for we do not want to face utter nakedness when death destroys our present dwelling—these bodies of ours. So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these “clothes” but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.

So what does this nakedness look like? I could see how it could be used as a pretext for annihilation; an entry into a period when the soul ceases to exist. That provides comfort for people who don’t believe in a ECT hell – eternal conscious torment – but it could just as easily describe other forms of an eternity without God. Again, see what follows.

Step Three: Study Bibles and Bible Commentaries:

Space is limited so I’ll just deal with one here. I’m very fortunate to have in my collection To Corinth With Love by the U.K.’s Michael Green, published in 1988. He deals with this on pages 139-160.

► First, he points out that the Corinthians were “resurrection” people. Each doctrine we stress is often at the expense of another doctrine. So death was a topic that was less-discussed and the Corinthians were less well-versed on what we might call a doctrinal position on death itself.

► But they were very much celebratory concerning the resurrection. Therefore, to get the bigger picture, 2 Corinthians 5 needs to be read in context with a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. (Space prevents a longer exposition.)

► There is a sense — gathered from Green’s writing but not expressed directly as I would like — that the danger might be in leaving this earth without making appropriate consideration for the next. In other words, the passage has an Evangelical urgency to it.

► However, nakedness is not the only metaphor. In writing to the Thessalonians, he describes the in-between stage as sleep rather than nakedness. See, for example, verse 16 of chapter 4. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. Again though notice the words in him. This echoes for me what I suggested in Step One, that these words are being spoken, if not to believers, to both followers and not-yet-followers gathered in the assembled congregation at Corinth or Thessalonica.

So there is the present age, an age to come, but also an in-between stage for those who die in Christ.

…I hope that points everyone toward the right direction on this one!

 

 

June 9, 2020

Jesus and the Kingdom: Matthew 5

I was really hoping at some point this month to share an excerpt from Skye Jethani’s new book, What if Jesus Was Serious? (Moody Press) and review it on my other blog, but after several attempts, it was not to be.

Still you can see some aspects of where I think he was heading in a 9-day reading plan that was posted at Bible.com several years ago. To read this click this link, and then cycle through the 9 days of devotions from The Sermon on the Mount along with the powerful hand-drawn images that Skye also uses in the new book. (These excerpts are from days 3-6.)

Skye speaks with a unique authority among Evangelicals, and the timeliness of these excerpts was not overlooked as I tried to decide what to include. See also the information below for the With God Daily Devotional, or click this link.

by Skye Jethani

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN HEAVEN IS ALREADY HERE.

JESUS REFERS TO HEAVEN regularly in the Sermon on the Mount, including in the opening sentence: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What is the kingdom of heaven? If we misunderstand what Jesus meant by this phrase, then we are likely to misunderstand the whole sermon— and probably Jesus Himself.

First, the kingdom of heaven is not the church. Some assume a local congregation is a “church” but collecting all the churches together is what constitutes God’s “kingdom.” But that is not what Jesus meant.

Second, the kingdom of heaven is not where God’s people go after death. Jesus was not speaking about the afterlife in the Sermon on the Mount. In English, the word heaven carries all kinds of supernatural and spiritual meanings, but the actual word used by Jesus was plural (literally, heavens) and more like how we might use the word skies to describe the atmosphere. The air isn’t a distant realm; it’s all around us. Likewise, Jesus used the word heavens to speak of the nonphysical, invisible, but very present realm where God dwells.

It is the realm where God rules and evil is powerless. Jesus announced that this kingdom was now “at hand,” meaning it is within our reach. The kingdom of the heavens has broken into our world, and a new way of life is now possible. In the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, Jesus is unveiling a new ethic for those who belong to a new kind of kingdom that is not of this world.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN WE WILL MAKE ROOM TO CRY.

IS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE only for happy-clappy people? Where are the doubters, the grievers…? While a church pastor years ago, I read a popular book at the time advocating for the best way to operate a church. The author insisted that all weekend gatherings be called “Celebrations,” and he said the tone of these gatherings should always be upbeat, energetic, and focused on the victorious Christian life. (It’s difficult to read a book that makes your eyes roll as much as that one did.)

The problem with this nonstop celebration model, apart from being inauthentic, is the way it ignores the example found in the Bible. The book of Psalms, for instance, served as the prayer book and worship liturgy for God’s ancient people. It’s the prayer book Jesus and His disciples would have used in their worship. Psalms includes many songs of celebration, but there are even more prayers of lament, complaint, and even cries for justice. “How long, O Lord?” is a frequent prayer in the psalms, and it shows that the human-divine relationship has many dimensions. Ancient worship, it seems, could be celebratory, angry, mournful, repentant, or contemplative. So why do we think our worship should only be one dimensional?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” This addresses those who are experiencing grief, but it can also include those who mourn alongside others in their pain. Where do we make space for this legitimate part of the Christian life to find expression in our communities? We must not fall into the delusion that God has called us to a perpetual state of ever-increasing happiness. Jesus reminds us that God is also with us when we mourn, and because this is a broken world mourning is to be expected. But we do not weep as those without hope.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN WE WILL TRUST GOD MORE AND POLITICS LESS.

WHO ARE THE MEEK and why will they inherit the earth? First, we must understand Jesus’ context and how His audience would have heard this statement. The word translated as “earth” can also be translated as “land,” which is probably a better reading. Throughout the Bible, the relationship between God and His people was linked to the promised land. Faithfulness to God meant they could dwell in the land in peace, but unfaithfulness to God meant losing the land and being forced into exile.

Centuries before Jesus, the Jews had returned from exile to the promised land, but they did not fully possess it. The Romans, who were pagans and idolaters, ruled over the land, which was unacceptable and humiliating to the Jews. In a sense, they were still in exile because they remained under the thumb of a foreign power.

This provoked a growing number of Israelites to become Zealots—violent revolutionaries. To the Romans, the Zealots were terrorists. To many Jews, they were freedom fighters. The Zealots believed in using the world’s violent ways to achieve what they believed were God’s goals. Their goal was to “inherit the land” by force. By announcing that the meek were blessed and would “inherit the land,” Jesus was condemning the tactics of the Zealots. He was proclaiming that it was not the powerful, violent, or angry who will accomplish God’s purposes, but the gentle, peaceful, and those who put their trust in Him rather than the sword.

This is an important reminder for those of us living in a divided land where everything has become politicized between “us” and “them.” Like the Zealots, we can be tempted to use the world’s ways—coercion, power, and fear—to “take back the land” for God. Instead, Jesus calls us to put such things aside and discover the power of God available through meekness. It is by trusting the Lord and the meekness of His ways, not through the sword of politics, that the land is won.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN A DESIRE FOR JUSTICE SHOULD BE AFFIRMED.

“IT’S NOT FAIR!” With three kids, I hear that a lot in my household. Although the phrase is often misapplied—a fact my wife and I point out often to our apparently persecuted progeny—it does not diminish the strength of their instinct for justice. We all carry a sense that the world is not what it ought to be, and we also have a profound desire for this wrongness to be made into rightness—or what the Bible calls “righteousness.”

The word is often used to describe a properly ordered relationship between God and His people. Violating this relationship makes one unrighteous, while faithfulness to God results in a declaration of one’s righteousness. The word, however, carries a much broader meaning. It can also apply to right relationships between people, between the government and the governed, and between humans and creation. That’s why the same words often translated as “righteousness” in the Bible are also regularly translated in English as “justice.”

…Jesus affirms our longing for justice: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” He equates the soul’s desire for justice with the unrelenting physical desire for food and water. It is an inescapable aspect of our human condition, and He promises that it will be quenched. We can be assured that, in time, God will set all things right. The desire that God placed in our hearts will ultimately be satisfied. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


Again, a reminder that these are excerpts from the middle section of a 9-day reading plan and are missing very helpful illustrations. To read the whole sequence, starting at Day 1, click this link.

Longtime readers here will also remember that for several years we carried a link in the sidebar for Skye’s With God Daily Devotional. It can land in your in-box daily for as little as $3 per month. Go to this link to learn more.

 

 

March 7, 2020

‘Spiritual Pursuits Cannot Be Reward-Driven’ – True or False?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are again highlighting the writing of Ben Nelson at Another Red Letter Day, who is wrote in November this while considering The Sermon on the Mount.

Let me also mention that Ben has an excellent piece from the end of December which I would have loved to include here, but it is quite lengthy. However, as we’re nearing the season of Passion Week / Easter, I strongly recommend you take the time to read ‘I Don’t Even Know the Man;’ a dramatized story of Peter having, as Ben puts it, “one of those days.”

You Can Take it With You!

Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12

As I come to the end of this beginning (the Beatitudes) I can’t help but notice once again the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells us that the proper reaction to persecution, insults, and harm done to us in His name is rejoicing!

I feel like–OK Lord, it is one thing for me to expect it, and be prepared for it, but rejoice? WOW–HOW?

As I mull this, I think how did Jesus demonstrate this? Check this out.

“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

It says He endured the cross with His eye on the prize, and that is what He tells us to do. Rejoice because of the “Great Reward.” Let’s think about this a bit.

Somehow Christians have in their collective heads (please forgive the broad brush stroke) the idea that spiritual pursuits cannot be reward-driven. It’s like, somehow, if we are doing something with a reward in view, it is unspiritual at best, or at worst sinful and selfish. Not so!

Think about this for a minute. Why were the disciples always arguing about who would be the greatest? Was it just testosterone-driven machismo? Or could it be that Jesus often taught about how to be great? He would say stuff like “He who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven…” or “…your reward in heaven is great.”

It may seem paradoxical, but Jesus actually encourages us to strive for greatness, as He defines greatness. That definition is for another post.

Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us:

And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  Hebrews 11:6

Have you read what David said before he decided to go after that Philistine Champion, Goliath. He asked, “What do I get if I take this bozo down? No more taxes and a beautiful wife! I’m in!” (my paraphrase)

So why is it OK–wait–let me fix that–why is it imperative for a Christian to pursue reward? Think of the snapshots we get of heaven. What is going on? People, saints, God’s children, assembled before His throne. Those who have received rewards have the privilege of laying them at His feet. The more you have received from Him, the more you can give back.

So what will you have to present to the Lord? If you sit back and fall through your life, you will have nothing to present to your King. We pursue spiritual reward so that we have a tangible way to honor our King when we stand before Him. This is the stuff that will make it through the fire. This is the stuff that you can take with you!

Excellence in your walk before the Lord will net you persecution, but with that is great reward.

January 31, 2020

Where are our ‘mansions;’ where is He taking us?

Like many of you, I’ve been greatly persuaded by the “New Earth” teaching of people like Randy Alcorn in the book Heaven. This idea somewhat refutes the idea of our next life being “up there, somewhere” but instead the idea of God establishing a new earth right here. Someone has tried to summarize it by saying, “God has too much invested in this piece of real estate to simply walk away from it.”

I’m not sure that argument is valid in and of itself, but Alcorn makes a strong case that God’s desire is to establish here the earth he always wanted us to have; the paradise he designed with the Garden of Eden, until our propensity to go our own way necessitated certain consequences, but also a masterful plan of redemption.

Again, for many, this means un-learning what we were taught in Sunday School about heaven being “up there.”

Yesterday I started digging into a passage which I feel is an exception that points more toward a distant heaven than a present new earth, John 14: 2-3.

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (NKJV)

It seemed to make the most sense to, instead of selecting some random commentaries online, see what Alcorn himself had to say about these verses. In his 1999 book, Perspectives on Heaven [excerpted here] he wrote something that made me wonder if his interpretation was less developed then before he published Heaven in 2004:

When we arrive there, Heaven will immediately feel like home because we’ll instinctively connect it to all we longed for and occasionally caught magical glimpses of while on earth. But in Heaven we won’t just look back; we’ll look forward to and anticipate all that’s ahead of us there. The longer we’re in Heaven, the more memories we’ll make and the more our home will be…home. It won’t lose its homeyness—it will always gain more. [Page 8]

He also wrote,

Apparently it’s within the vast and beautiful New Jerusalem we’ll find the personal dwelling places Jesus has prepared for us (John 14:2; Luke 16:9; Revelation 21:2). Like the current earthly Jerusalem, the city will be a melting pot of ethnic diversity, with those of “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9; see 5:9). But unlike today’s Jerusalem, all these people will be united by their common worship of King Jesus. [Page 30]

Our home is being built for us by the Carpenter from Nazareth. Building is his trade. A good carpenter envisions what he wants to build. He plans and designs. Then he does his work carefully and skillfully fashioning it to exact specifications. He takes pride in the work he’s done and delights to show it to others. And when it’s his own children or his bride he’s made it for he takes special delight.

Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “I’ve already prepared a place for you in Heaven,” but, “I am going there to prepare a place for you.” This means Heaven has undergone some remodeling between the time he spoke and the time we join him there. [Page 36]

In a 2018 blog post, he appears to use the terms Heaven and New Earth somewhat interchangeably:

Perhaps you’re familiar with Christ’s promise in John 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you” (v. 2, KJV). The Vulgate, the Latin Bible, used the word mansiones in that verse, and the King James Version followed by using mansions. Unfortunately, that rendering is misleading if it makes us envision having massive lodgings on separate estates. The intended meaning seems to be that we’ll have separate dwelling places on a single estate or even separate rooms within the same house.

New Testament scholar D. A. Carson says, “Since heaven is here pictured as the Father’s house, it is more natural to think of ‘dwelling-places’ within a house as rooms or suites. . . . The simplest explanation is best: my Father’s house refers to heaven, and in heaven are many rooms, many dwelling-places. The point is not the lavishness of each apartment, but the fact that such ample provision has been made that there is more than enough space for every one of Jesus’ disciples to join him in his Father’s home.” [1]

The New International Version rendering of John 14:2 is this: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you.” Place is singular, but rooms is plural. This suggests Jesus has in mind for each of us an individual dwelling that’s a smaller part of the larger place. This place will be home to us in the most unique sense.

The term room is cozy and intimate. The terms house or estate suggest spaciousness. That’s Heaven: a place both spacious and intimate. Some of us enjoy coziness, being in a private space. Others enjoy a large, wide-open space. Most of us enjoy both—and the New Earth will offer both.

But in this 2010 post he’s more clear:

The Bible teaches that our eternal home will be a place we’ve already been—earth. It will be a New Earth, a transformed earth. But just as I will be able to remember my friend Steve, who will be a resurrected Steve, so I will be able to remember my home world earth, which will be a resurrected earth. So, as Steve will be a person I already know, earth will be a place I already know. Then—and only then—does it make sense to think of Heaven as my true home, realizing that Heaven will ultimately be on the New Earth.

Human beings were made from earth, have always lived on earth, are geared to find pleasure in the things of earth. If we think of Heaven only as the realm where angels live, there’s a real problem. We were not made from the angelic realm, nor for it. We haven’t lived in that realm. It’s unfamiliar and undesirable to us. It doesn’t resonate as “home.” There’s one place that qualifies as the only home we’ve ever known—earth. It’s the home God made for us.

Do you picture yourself inviting friends to your heavenly home the way you entertain people in your earthly one? Alcorn sees it as a possibility in this 2019 blog post:

When we are in Heaven, we will welcome others into our dwelling places. Jesus speaks of the shrewd servant’s desire to use earthly resources so that “people will welcome me into their houses.” Then Jesus tells his followers to use “worldly wealth” (earthly resources) to “gain friends” (by making a difference in their lives on earth), “so that when it is gone [when life on earth is over] you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Our “friends” in heaven appear to be those who we’ve touched in a significant way on earth. They will apparently have their own “eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9 suggests these eternal dwelling places of friends could be places to fellowship and stay in as we move about the heavenly kingdom.

…What matters most

In Perspectives on Heaven he wrote,

What’s the most important fact about our future home? This is it: Heaven is the place God lives (Deuteronomy 26:15; Matthew 6:9). [Page 39]

In a 2004 blog post he wrote that heaven satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart:

“God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

People are made for the eternal and therefore cannot be ultimately satisfied by the temporal. We long for a future world of justice, purity and joy—and a King who will bring all of those. We therefore cannot be happy with the present world of injustice, impurity and suffering. True joy comes in anticipating, and living now in light of, the world yet to come and that world’s King, who made us for Himself. He who made us for another world is making that other world for us.

For more from Alcorn in much greater detail, consider this 2010 blog post.

November 19, 2019

God is With You, No Matter What

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:11 pm
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Today, a series of searches led us to this devotional, which, we discovered after a few minutes, was actually reblogged from an article by none other than Rick Warren. You can read more at PastorRick.com or click the header below to read this one at source.

God Watches Over Us

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

When King David declared that God’s goodness would pursue him, he wasn’t saying, “Surely only good things are going to happen to me!” He knew as well as anyone that bad things happen to good people.Instead, David was saying that only God’s goodness would follow after or pursue him. No matter how bad or evil or difficult something seems, God can work it out for good.

It’s one of God’s great promises that he’s given to believers: Everything that happens to us is working for our good—if we love God and are fitting into his plans (see Romans 8:28). If you’re a believer, the Bible says all things are working together for good—not that all things are good, but things are working together for good.

There is no difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in the life of a believer that God can’t ultimately turn toward his purpose.

Like goodness, God’s unfailing love follows us in life. King David says it pursues us!

Picture a parent following a little child around picking up after them. When we’re struggling with hurts, habits, and hang-ups, God is coming right alongside us, helping to pick up our messes and telling us that his unfailing love is always there.

So instead of entering into the future with a question mark, you can do it with an exclamation point! God will be with you no matter what happens. He will help you out: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

  • God’s goodness will provide and protect.
  • God’s mercy (unfailing love) will pardon and forgive.
  • God’s goodness will supply.
  • God’s mercy will soothe.
  • God’s goodness will help.
  • God’s mercy will heal.

Goodness is the fact that God gives us good things in life that we don’t deserve. Mercy means God holds back the condemnation we deserve.

When King David said he would live in the Lord’s house forever, he was saying that God had prepared a place for him in heaven.

That’s one of the most important connections we see in the Bible. It connects yesterday with today and then connects them both with tomorrow.

God says, “I’ve got this great life planned for you, and surely goodness and mercy will follow you through it, but that’s not the end! I’ve got something else at the end!” God builds it to a crescendo.

So David ends his psalm by saying, “We’re going to heaven!” Jesus saves the best until last. With God it just keeps getting better and better. The best is yet to come. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1 NIV).

Talk It Over

  • What are some ways that you see God’s unfailing love following you?
  • The Bible teaches that no matter how bad or evil or difficult something seems, God can work it out for good (see Romans 8:28). How does that truth affect your life?
  • How have you seen God use difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in your life—or the life of another believer—for his purpose?

PLAY today’s audio teaching from Pastor Rick

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Are Heaven and Hell Consistent with a Good and Loving God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for the future? It would be odd if you were considering the compelling reasons to trust in Jesus, but then upon asking about the afterlife you are told that you enter an endless cycle of being reincarnated as a bird if you receive Christ, and as a worm, if not. That should strike you as utter nonsense. Now what about Christian teaching? The idea that upon death we either sprout wings and play a harp while sitting in the clouds, or burn in an eternal fire, is for many people, too much to believe. Is the Biblical Christian vision for the future consistent with a good and loving God? Or is it nonsensical? When we hear what the Bible teaches about eternal destination, do we say ‘of course that is what a good God would do”?

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Here we have, not a hope of going up into heaven when I die, to spend eternity there, but something much grander. This is a vision of God’s re-creation of all creation. All of creation was negatively impacted by the sin of humanity (see Romans 8:18-23). All of creation will be positively impacted by God’s rescue of humanity.

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Here we are told of a city, not in the sense of roads and buildings, but in the sense of people. The holy city is the “bride,” that is, the people of God. Just as people are the focus in the creation account of Genesis, people are the focus of the re-creation account. God created humanity, the only creature we are told he created in his image, for a special relationship. That relationship is what is truly important.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

There is much in the Bible about separation from God being a huge problem for humanity. It begins with Genesis chapter three and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It becomes apparent at Mount Sinai when the people cannot approach the mountain on which God’s presence was made palpable. It is emphasized in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with the establishment of both the tabernacle and priesthood. While God was willing to dwell among his people, as symbolized through the pitching of his “tent” among them, God needed to remain separated from the people, for their sake. An unholy people cannot approach a holy God without becoming holy first. The sacrificial rigmarole of the priesthood was a constant reminder of separation from God and the need for atonement. The priesthood and the sacrifices pointed forward to something greater; God the Son making people holy through his sacrifice. In Christ the future of God’s people is wrapped up with being at home with God. There is no more separation from God.

The problems of this world, which separation from God creates, also are dealt with;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

The consequence of sin and separation from God is death. The consequence of being reconciled to God is eternal life. In Christ death is no longer part of the human condition. However the consequence of God’s grace is not just eternal life, but as we have already seen, eternal life with God.

In sum, the Biblical vision of the future is one of transformation, for all creation, for our bodies, and for our very selves. The transformation within us begins now through the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian is to look to God to fix everything in the future is compelling. The fact that the Christian need not wait for Christ’s return to fix everything in us is also compelling. The hope of meaningful change, not into brilliant cloud-sitting harpists, but into good people who dwell with a good God in a good creation, is consistent with a good and loving God.

However, is the future of those who reject God consistent with a good and loving God? The idea of being on fire forever does not seem consistent to many of us. In answering this we must first appreciate that the people of the Bible often speak in poetic ways, just as we do today. We sometimes pick apart the Bible as if we are in math class working out equations. Let us remember our English literature lessons and have an appreciation for the poetic and literary nuances which often escape the math whizzes. We will not dig into this too deeply, but it is best to take the language about hell, with the everlasting fire and torment, as poetic. The least poetic, the most matter-of-fact, the most precise and concise description of hell we have in the Bible is this;

9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NRSV)

What is hell? It is separation from God. What is it like to be separated from God? Thankfully, no one alive can truly tell, for to be alive at all is to experience a measure of God’s grace. However, we do well to remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). As you read through the Bible, watch out for how often salvation is spoken of as a matter of eternal life versus death. This is consistent with the Genesis account and the promise that death would occur if the forbidden fruit were eaten. What we can say with certainty is that to experience hell is to experience everlasting separation from God.

If hell is separation from God, then is separation from God consistent with a good and loving God? Consider first, the holiness and justice of God. That unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God is made clear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; at Mount Sinai, and through the establishment of the tabernacle and priesthood. God did not teach about His holiness and our sinfulness in the Old Testament then come to us in the New Testament and say “it doesn’t matter anymore.” It does matter, but God offers to make us holy in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. If you reject that offer of being made holy, then separation from God is a very natural consequence. The experience of death is a natural consequence of refusing the offer of eternal life. Therefore, the future of those who reject God is consistent with a good and loving God who respects the wishes of those who want nothing to do with him. Of course that is what a good God would do.

The Bible presents a compelling and beautiful vision for the future of those who receive Christ and accept God’s offer of relationship. While we might not use the word beautiful, the Bible provides a vision of the future of those who do not want a relationship with God that is consistent with His goodness and love. The consistency of the Christian vision of the future is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


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

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