Christianity 201

January 16, 2022

Crucified in the Flesh

Gal.2.20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Gal.5.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Rom.6.6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Eph.4.22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Col.3.5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Mark.8.34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Rom.8.13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

At the website, The Jesus Question, Victoria Emily Jones starts us off*:

… These…verses seem to suggest that self-execution is a one-time thing that happens when you first come to know Christ. But when read in light of other Bible passages, we see that dying to self is actually an ongoing task.

In 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul says, “I die daily.” Although he was referring to the physical threats on his life, Christians often receive this verse as a reminder of the importance of daily self-denial. This application, however, is more accurately gleaned from exhortative passages like Matthew 5:29-30, in which Jesus tells his listeners in graphic metaphor to cut off any part of themselves that keeps them away from God. Or Ephesians 4:22-25, in which Paul counsels the Christians in Ephesus against sins such as lying, stealing, and bitterness by telling them to put off their old sinful habits and to put on new ones. 

Once you become a Christian, it doesn’t mean that all sin will automatically disappear from your life. It has to be excised, bit by bit. Then after you remove it, it often comes back, and you have to take out the scalpel again. It’s a painful process. That’s why Paul compares it to surgery. And to crucifixion…

…So how do we crucify the flesh? By living in the Spirit…

At the website, Daily Manna, it’s noted that in the KJV, the Romans passage (above) uses the phrase, “mortify the deeds of the body.”

…The word mortify means to kill or to make dead. Galatians chapter 5 list out the fruits, or characteristics,  of those who act upon the flesh, and the fruits of those that walk in the spirit. We can not walk in both, we are either being ruled by our flesh (the sin nature), or we are being ruled by our spirit (the God nature). So how then do we mortify the flesh? We crucify it…

Though death is assured in a crucifixion it is rarely instant. It’s a constant barrage of assaults that the body does not like, until it finally gives up. So how does this apply? It’s simple. If you are being ruled by your flesh (carnal wants and desires that oppose the will and word of God) you have to kill it, but it won’t usually die instantly or easily.

The best way to crucify the flesh is simply to starve it out. If you starve the flesh while feeding the spirit, the spirit will begin to overpower the flesh. This is the essence and power of fasting, you are literally starving the flash while feeding the spirit with prayer, Word, submission, humility, and obedience. You are training your spirit to tell the flesh, “no.” …

Click the link to explore more about the relationship between fasting and crucifying the flesh.

What about those who might say that various applications of crucifying the flesh is slowly drifting us toward a more works-based Christian life? BibleRef.com offers a concise response:

…Those who truly understand what it means to trust in Christ’s death on the cross to pay for their sins understand how destructive their sins truly are. After all, our sins were the reason we stood condemned to die by the curse of the law. That’s why Paul writes that those who belong to Christ gave up trying to defeat their sin on their own. Instead, with gratitude, we performed a kind an execution of our sinful desires when we trusted Christ to die for them. We gave up the right to keep holding on to our sin and indulging in it and enjoying it.

There’s a fine line here, though. In most cases, those who trust in Christ do not immediately and completely lose our desire or instinct to do sinful things. The “want” to sin is not entirely gone. Paul has written, though, that two significant things do change when we are saved. First, by definition, we recognize that sin is eternally fatal. By trusting in Christ, we reject sin as a path leading to death. Second, God gives us the power in His Spirit to win the battle against our sinful desires (Galatians 5:16–17)…


*You’re encouraged to click the three links in today’s devotional and read the articles in full.

 

 

 

December 4, 2021

Free of Slavery

Last year at this time we introduced you to Carolyn Kincaid who writes at Carolyn Kincaid’s Potpourri for the Soul and today we’re back with both parts of a short two-part devotional. You might asked why, if it’s short, she spread it out over two days. The purpose was to create a pause where readers could ask themselves “Is it possible that I am enslaved?” To read this at source, click both parts of the header which follows.

Freedom vs Slavery / Breaking Free

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. – I Cor. 6:12 NLT

I live in the freedom of Christ. I’m not bound by rules of don’t do this and don’t do that. That’s a legalistic mindset and I won’t allow myself to be enslaved by a bunch of rules. As we can see this way of thinking is nothing new. I think a seed of this is intrinsic in our human DNA—the way God made us. He made us for freedom, but we as a human race have allowed ourselves to become enslaved in our desire to have a blank check on the way we live.

As Paul says, we have privilege—the right to do anything we desire, but not everything we might desire is beneficial for us. All things might be lawful, but all things are not helpful. I like the way the Message puts it, “Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate.”

Even though I live in the freedom of Christ, I have to stop and do a self evaluation on myself as I consider in what ways I might be enslaved. Enslaved to what? Yes, we know the obvious—the things that cause addictions, but what about other less perceptible activities, thoughts, ideologies? Might I be enslaved to my emotions? Might I be enslaved to what others think about me? Is it possible that I am enslaved? If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.

I’m going to stop here—give you some space to think deeply and allow the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart.

-o-o-o-o-

…So if I’m enslaved by my emotions—if I think I have to act on everything I feel, what then? If I find that I can’t just have one of something or one better of something—a drink, a food, a car, a phone, anything that causes me to want more, I am enslaved. Now what?

Fortunately, Paul doesn’t just bring this up without giving us a way out. Run! Yes, he actually said this. He tells us to run from whatever is holding us in bondage. He’s speaking to those who have already accepted the salvation that Christ offers and he reminds us that before Christ we used to walk that walk of indulgence. But we realized that living that life led us away from the freedom that God always had in mind for us. It led us away from Him.

His reminder that living a life of using and abusing others disqualifies us from any share we might have in the Kingdom of God. His reminder is the impetus to get us to break free from the chains of whatever has held us in its grip. We were cleansed; we were made holy; we were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and living in the power of His Holy Spirit. This is the how. This is the wherewithal upon which we can draw to break free.

November 16, 2021

Being a Living Sacrifice: 5 Characteristics

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
  – Romans 12:1

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” – source unknown

Hopefully the opening verse of Romans 12 is a recurring theme in your reading and study. It reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote lyrics which offer a physical posture to indicate a surrendered heart and will:

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I always find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you to say. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:2 NLT

He gave himself to rescue us from everything evil and to make our hearts pure. He wanted us to be his own people and to be eager to do right. – Titus 2:14 CEV

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the LORD’s decree will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 CSB

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

November 12, 2021

Wash. Cleanse. Repeat.

This is our third time with Mark Stephenson who writes at Fire and Light who is co-pastor of Horizon Church in Towson, Maryland. After we’ve confessed our sin nature to God and recognized only He can save us from it, we still need to confess the subsequent times we “miss the mark.” Someone has described this as “keeping short accounts with God;” or what Mark describes below as “the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.”

Click the header below to read this where we sourced it.

Washing Feet – Revisited

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 

John 13:6-15

I love when the Lord shows me something new in a passage of scripture I’ve read a hundred times. I read the above passage the other day and felt like the Lord showed me something new. We tend to think of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet as an act of humble service whereby He then instructs His disciple to do the same for each other (that is, serve each other). But consider that there’s more that Jesus is addressing here.

We know that Jesus isn’t just talking about personal hygiene. And I believe He’s talking about more than just service. When He’s talking about taking a bath, He’s really talking about baptism/salvation. He’s talking about the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus says, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

And when Jesus is talking about washing feet, He’s talking about the regular cleansing that we need even after we are saved. Jesus said, Those who have had a bath (been saved) need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” Meaning, we who are followers of Jesus have already been forgiven of all of our sin, and yet we still need a regular kind of cleansing because of our regular contact with sin and the contaminants of the world. We’ve been cleansed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out (our spiritual bath), yet we still get the muck and grime of the world on us simply by walking daily in the world. After we have had a “bath” we don’t need to get saved over and over again, but we do need a different kind of cleansing. We do need a foot washing.

We see this same kind of “dual cleansing” demonstrated by the priests at the Temple. First, they offered the sacrifices of animals to account for their sin. The spilling of blood addressed their guilt from sin. Yet, the priests also had to wash in the wash basin before entering the Holy Place. The washing with water addressed anything they may have had contact with that made them “unclean.” And these wash basins were made from bronze mirrors. They would have literally seen a reflection of themselves as they washed away the contaminants of the world with water. I don’t think it was an accident that a time of reflection accompanied this time of cleansing.

Jesus introduces a new kind of “dual cleansing” for the new priesthood of believers. First, baptism represents the full and total cleansing of our life from sin. Jesus’s blood is what would enable the Holy Spirit to come and bathe us in righteousness from the inside out. Then, a foot washing, which represents the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.

Not only do we need a spiritual “foot washing,” a regular kind of repentance and cleansing, but this cleansing is something we believers can offer to each other. Jesus commands, “…you also should wash one another’s feet.” We not only are called to serve each other humbly, but we are called to participate in helping each other stay clean. The cleansing water is the Holy Spirit, and He does what only the Spirit can do. Yet, we can participate in this by metaphorically washing each other’s feet.

I have seen the reality of this kind of cleansing happen over and over in the prayer ministry we have at our church. People come in for prayer with the muck of sin and the muck of the world caked on them. They feel ashamed and defeated. They feel oppressed and depressed. They know there is more to this Christian life than what they are experiencing but they just can’t seem to tap into it. They are followers of Jesus who have been bathed in the waters of baptism, but they still need a foot washing for their soul.

Then we start praying, and the increased Presence of the Holy Spirit begins to be poured out. We as prayer ministers bend low to wash feet and the cleansing power of the Spirit does His work. I watch as time and again people get set free from sin, free from shame, free from unforgiveness and hurt, free from the heavy weight pressing down on their shoulders, free from the heaviness on their chest that keeps them from taking a full breath. As the cleansing water of the Spirit is poured out, the Light comes, lightness is felt, freedom is experienced, hope returns, and a cleansing takes place right in front of us.

When Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet, I do think he had in mind humble service. But I also think He had in mind ministry that brings freedom and cleansing, ministry that one believer can offer to another. We have the honor of ushering in the cleansing power of the Spirit for each other if we are willing to bend low. This ministry of cleansing is the ministry of washing feet and inviting the Holy Spirit to come and wash souls.


Second Helping: Here’s an invitation to read more from the same author, this time on a very different subject. Mark writes, “People are dabbling in the spirit realm and then finding themselves bound by darkness and harassed by demons. They don’t need convincing that the spirit realm and the supernatural are real. They are fully convinced that the spirit realm is real because they experience the dark side of it daily.” Click here to read more.


What have others written about “keeping short accounts with God?” We looked at that in this article from February, 2013.

October 22, 2021

Jesus: Inside or Outside the City?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been nearly a year since we last connected with veteran Christian musician and author John Fischer who is still writing faithfully at The Catch. This time around, there were two consecutive devotionals which were somewhat related, so I’ve taken the liberty of including both. Click on the headers which follow to read these where they originated.

Note: We usually offer bonus devotionals from some authors after you’ve finished reading, but if you want some earlier posts based on these same verses in Hebrews before you get started, click here and here.

Where grace meets disgrace

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. Hebrews 13:12-13

What happened?

According to this verse there is something disgraceful about meeting Jesus outside the camp. Did we miss something? Do you feel like you are walking around in a state of disgrace? I think we are trying everything we can to avoid disgrace.

Have we so bought into the American myth of success that we are attempting to “market” Christianity as helping make you wealthy, healthy, and successful, when none of that is guaranteed in the Bible? In fact, the truth is more likely to call us into failure in order to learn how to depend on Him. Failure is a far better teacher than success.

I think some of this grows out of our culture. We’ve tried to make Christianity cool thinking we could attract people to Christ. I remember in the early years of my ministry I used to like making Christianity cool because then I could be cool, too. But Jesus was never cool, and following Him guaranteed nothing except a wild ride and eternity.

But ultimately, following Him was all about disgrace. Why is that? Because of the way it ended. He took on my sin, and when I meet Him there outside the camp, I realize it was my sin that did it. So a large part of my disgrace is my sin that crucified Christ, but if I continue through the cross to the other side, I am met with His grace. Jesus meets my disgrace with His grace, and nothing can take that away.

So this is where we live, where grace meets disgrace. A guarantee that grace remains fresh. It’s not that my story is: 20 years ago, Jesus saved me. It’s more like 20 minutes ago, or 20 seconds ago. I live and walk in my deliverance. And my disgrace — His disgrace — plays an important part in that. And believe me, when you’ve been met on the other side of the cross by His grace, you have to tell the whole world about it!

No enduring city

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

Outside. Everything happens outside. Jesus died outside the camp. We go to meet Him outside the camp where He meets our disgrace with His grace. Once that’s happened and that grace has turned us outward toward others, why would we want to go back inside? Everybody’s out here. People inside already know, and they’re pretty much just sitting there. Outside is where the action is.

Jesus is outside the camp, but most people who don’t know Him don’t know that. They think He’s inside some building because that’s what we’ve told them (“This is God’s house”); we’ve even invited them into the building to meet Him. Now of course that isn’t necessary because He is already outside the camp. We only need to introduce Him to people. But it’s important that we know how to do this. Positioning is everything. Are we looking down on people when we introduce them to Jesus? No. Are we looking across at them? No. We are looking up to them. We are looking up to them because that’s what grace does to us. It puts us with the lowest of the low. Like the publican on his knees crying out for God’s mercy, while the Pharisee is thanking God he is not like that poor miserable man. Until I realize that I am that poor miserable man, I do not know what grace is.

But once you know, how beautiful is this? You look up to everybody! Everybody looks good to you. No matter who they are, you’re looking up to them and telling them about God’s grace that’s bound to reach them because, lo and behold, it reached all the way down to you. So, as Marti says, you love them like no other.

And so the reason for our existence is not to stay inside and win some spiritual look-alike contest, but to turn grace outward to all those within our sphere of influence who have yet to know who Jesus is and what He has done for them. Otherwise, why are we here? We’re not here to set up camp, but to go outside the camp. That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “For here we do not have an enduring city.”

Your city — the city you are living in right now — will not endure. Everything here is temporary. That isn’t to say we abandon all responsibilities here on earth and wait for eternity. It’s really all about perspective. We have responsibilities to our address here in our city, but we need to remember this is not an enduring city. Our life does not end here. Turn up the fire under us! We are preparing for and helping prepare others for the enduring city that is to come.

October 12, 2021

The True Measurement of Holiness

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

Jesus Came to Her

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

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

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

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

And this is how Jesus replies,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

all scriptures ESV

Bonus devotional from the same author

A Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 8, 2021

Filling our Lives with Good

A year ago we introduced you to Michael Wilson who writes at Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will take you there to read this, and then take some extra time to explore other articles.

Do We Want to See Good Days?

I must embrace life. I want to see my days fill up with good stuff.

God’s goal for us is to be honest. So, here is what I must do. I must say nothing evil or hurtful. Oh, the times I have said something and at once wished I could take it back. The better way is to not say evil and hurtful things.

I must cultivate discipline in my speech. I must be uplifting and encouraging. Then my days will fill with good.

For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Master [Lord] are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Master [Lord] is against those who do evil.
English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Peter 3:10–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Peter quoted these statements from Psalm 34:12–15, so it would be profitable for you to read the entire psalm. It describes what God means by “good days.”

  • They are not necessarily days free from problems, for the psalmist wrote about fears, troubles, afflictions, and even a broken heart.
  • A “good day” for the believer who “loves life” is not one in which he is pampered and sheltered, but one in which he experiences God’s help and blessing because of life’s problems and trials.
  • It is a day in which he magnifies the Master Jesus, experiences answers to prayer, tastes the goodness of God, and senses the nearness of God.

We must deliberately decide to love life. This is an act of the will: “He who wills to love life.” It is an attitude of faith that sees the best in every situation. It is the opposite of the pessimistic attitude expressed in Ecclesiastes 2:17: “Therefore I hated life … for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

  • We can decide to endure life and make it a burden, escape life as though we were running from a battle or enjoy life because we know God is in control.
  • Peter was not suggesting unrealistic psychological gymnastics that refused to face facts.
  • Rather, he was urging his readers to take a positive approach to life and by faith make the most of every situation.

We must control our tongues. Many of the problems of life are caused by the wrong words, spoken in the wrong spirit. Every disciple of Jesus should read James 3 regularly and pray Psalm 141:3 daily. How well Peter knew the sad consequences of hasty speech! There is no place for lies in the life of a saint.

We must do good and hate evil. We need both the positive and the negative. The Old English word “eschew” means more than just “avoid.” It means “to avoid something because you despise and loathe it.” It is not enough for us to avoid sin because sin is wrong; we ought to shun it because we hate it.

We must look for and pursue peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

  • If we go out and seek trouble, we will find it; but if we seek peace, we can find it as well. This does not mean “peace at any price,” because righteousness must always be the basis for peace.
  • It simply means that a disciple of Jesus exercises moderation as he relates to people and does not create problems because he wants to have his own way.
  • “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Sometimes it is not possible! We are also admonished to work hard to achieve peace. It does not come automatically.

“But what if our enemies take advantage of us?” a persecuted disciple of Jesus might ask. “We may be seeking peace, but they are seeking war!” Peter gave them the assurance that God’s eyes are on His people and His ears open to their prayers. Peter learned that lesson when he tried to walk on the water without looking to Jesus. We must trust God to protect and provide, for He alone can defeat our enemies.

The next time you think you are having a “bad day,” and you hate life, read Psalm 34 and you may discover you are really having a “good day” to the glory of God!

September 22, 2021

I am Changed from Glory to Glory

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded… – Exodus 34:34

Many times a phrase from scripture becomes, for lack of a better term somewhat enlarged through propagation in hymns or modern worship choruses and then finds its way into preaching. This is especially true when phrases rendered in the unique styling of the KJV become common in church life. Sometimes they can become part of the Christianese verbal landscape. Such it is with the phrase we’re looking at today.

The King James Version of 2 Corinthians 3:18 reads:

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

First of all, the key focus in the context of this passage is not changed or glory, but rather the idea of the veil. This begins in verse 7 of that chapter, but because the imagery is unfamiliar to many of us, I want to look at verses 12-18 in four translations; two of which add additional words to bring clarity.

First, here’s The Voice Bible (added words in italics, as is that translation’s custom)

12 In light of this hope that we have, we act with great confidence and speak with great courage. 13 We do not act like Moses who covered his face with a veil so the children of Israel would not stare as the glory of God faded from his face. 14 Their minds became as hard as stones; for up to this day when they read the old covenant, the same veil continues to hide that glory; this veil is lifted only through the Anointed One. 15 Even today a veil covers their hearts when the words of Moses are read; 16 but in the moment when one turns toward the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 By “the Lord” what I mean is the Spirit, and in any heart where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is liberty. 18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

Next, we have The Amplified Bible (added meanings in brackets, as is that translation’s custom.)

12 Since we have such a [glorious] hope and confident expectation, we speak with great courage, 13 and we are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites would not gaze at the end of the glory which was fading away. 14 But [in fact] their minds were hardened [for they had lost the ability to understand]; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed [only] in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil [of blindness] lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns [in repentance and faith] to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom]. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit.

Third, we have the Common English Bible.

12 So, since we have such a hope, we act with great confidence. 13 We aren’t like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites couldn’t watch the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were closed. Right up to the present day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. The veil is not removed because it is taken away by Christ. 15 Even today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But whenever someone turns back to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom. 18 All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Finally, Here’s the full passage in The Message:

7-8 The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets, had a dazzling inaugural. Moses’ face as he delivered the tablets was so bright that day (even though it would fade soon enough) that the people of Israel could no more look right at him than stare into the sun. How much more dazzling, then, the Government of Living Spirit?

9-11 If the Government of Condemnation was impressive, how about this Government of Affirmation? Bright as that old government was, it would look downright dull alongside this new one. If that makeshift arrangement impressed us, how much more this brightly shining government installed for eternity?

12-15 With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—and they didn’t notice. They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.

16-18 Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

I was going to look at the one verse only and present about a dozen different renderings of it, but decided to go more in depth with these four translations. By now you have a clear picture of the imagery here — in reference to Moses — but you see that a more permanent situation is hoped for. The classic Albert Barnes commentary points us to this:

This is said in contradistinction probably to Moses. The splendor on his face gradually died away. But not so with the light reflected from the gospel. It becomes deeper and brighter constantly. This sentiment is parallel to that expressed by the psalmist; “They go from strength to strength” Psalm 84:7; that is, they go from one degree of strength to another, or one degree of holiness to another, until they come to the full vision of God himself in heaven. The idea in the phrase before us is; that there is a continual increase of moral purity and holiness under the gospel until it results in the perfect glory of heaven. The “doctrine” is, that Christians advance in piety; and that this is done by the contemplation of the glory of God as it is revealed in the gospel.

We won’t spend more time here, but to say that in understanding various types of imagery like this one, we are really learning more about the ways of God and the desire of God for our lives. Here’s a modern worship song which uses this phrase:

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

June 28, 2021

Spiritual Formation is Becoming Like Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Jesus: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” – John 14:12 NLT

Today we’re again highlighting the writing of a new-to-us author. Jamin Bradley is an author and a pastor in the Free Methodist Church denomination in Michigan.  You can read more at his eponymous blog, or click the header below to read this one there.

Yes, You Can Be Like Jesus

Because Jesus is God-in-flesh, we often act as though it’s impossible to live up to his example whatsoever and so we should all just get used to living in grace. This seems to be the feeling of many Christians as Barna Group has found that, “Among people who believe Jesus was a real person, 16 percent claim they make the ‘greatest possible effort’ to follow His example; 10 percent claim they come ‘very close’ to following His example.” (Barna, George. America at the Crossroads. p. 67.)

The theological difficulty for many is that Jesus feels, as Paul Wallace says,

a lot like Superman: he’s an alien, an immigrant from an unearthly realm sent to us—yes, by his father—from the heavens. He looks like one of us but is not really one of us. Like Clark Kent, his humble exterior is merely a cover for out-of-this-world powers. He’s essentially distinct from the general run of earthly creatures. He is the Messiah of Steel.

Paul Wallace (Stars Beneath Us: Finding God in the Evolving Cosmos. p. 114.)

When I was younger, Jesus was unrelatable to me because of his miracles. I thought I could never be like him in that regard. But the more the Holy Spirit revealed himself to me over the years, the more I started to see miracles happen through the church, my friends, and even myself at times. I was now confronted with the fact that people I knew could prophesy, heal, perform miracles, cast out demons and much, much more. And in that revelation, I learned that Jesus didn’t do miracles simply because he was God-in-flesh—he did miracles because He was empowered by the Holy Spirit, just like we are.

Yes, of course, there are some things Jesus did that we’ll never be able to do. We’re not God-in-flesh, nor are we the Messiah and we’re not going to save the world from sin. We’re also not going to die without ever having sinned, but we certainly can be more like Jesus than our standard Christian upbringing taught us.

And we can be like Jesus not just in the supernatural ways of the Holy Spirit, but in human ways as well. For when we memorize Jesus, we realize that we’re a lot more like him than we thought we were. After all, he had friends and siblings; he had parents he obeyed; he grew and learned, asked questions and didn’t even know a few things; he fasted and was hungry; he was tempted; he worked a job; he paid taxes; he celebrated holidays; he got angry and frustrated; he was troubled in soul and spirit, cried, and was sorrowful; he had friends die and go back on their word; he was mocked; he was rejected, denied, betrayed, abandoned, and even felt abandoned by God; and he even died.

We can relate to Jesus in all of these characteristics and we must learn how to handle such human experiences in the ways that he did. He is the ultimate example of what humanity can be like when empowered by the Holy Spirit and he is therefore the ultimate role model of the Christian faith. Said another way, he is the true image of God that humanity is to image themselves.

The idea that it’s impossible to be anything like Jesus and so we shouldn’t even try is antithetical to the gospel; for when the resurrection comes, we will be made exactly like him. Being like Jesus is, indeed, the ultimate goal to which we are headed. And since resurrection life has already begun now in the “already, but not yet,” we should (by the grace and growth of the Holy Spirit) start becoming more and more like Christ everyday, here and now.

June 20, 2021

God’s Honor and Our Spiritual Welfare

This is an excerpt from The Root of Righteousness by A. W. Tozer, as posted by a Presbyterian Church in Singapore, 9 years ago. If you’re not familiar with the co-founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, this video devotional we posted 7 years ago contains a link to a biographical article.

The Sanctification of Our Desires

In nature it is easy to watch the activity carried on by desire. The very perpetuation of the various species is guaranteed by the presence of desire, and each individual member of each species is sustained and nourished by the natural operation of desire. Every normal creature desires a mate, and so the perpetuation of life is achieved. Every creature desires food and the life of each is supported. Thus desire is the servant of the God of nature and waits on His will.

In the moral world things are not otherwise. Right desires tend toward life and evil ones toward death. That in essence is the scriptural teaching on this subject. Whatever a man wants badly and persistently enough will determine the man’s character. In the Pauline epistles the gravitational pull of the heart in one direction or another is called the “mind.” In the eighth chapter of Romans, for instance, when Paul refers to the “mind” he is referring to the sum of our dominant desires. The mere intellect is not the mind: the mind is intellect plus emotional tug strong enough to determine action.

By this definition it is easy to understand the words of Romans 8: 5-7,

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

When our dominant desires are bad the whole life is bad as a consequence; when the desires are good the life comes up to the level of our desires, provided that we have within us the enabling Spirit.

At the root of all true spiritual growth is a set of right and sanctified desires. The whole Bible teaches that we can have whatever we want badly enough if, it hardly need be said, our desire is according to the will of God.

The desire after God and holiness is back of all spirituality, and when that desire becomes dominant in the life nothing can prevent us from having what we want. The longing cry of the God-hungry soul can be expressed in the five words of the song, “Oh, to be like Thee!” While this longing persists there will be steady growth in grace and a constant progress toward Christlike-ness.

Unsanctified desire will stop the growth of any Christian life. Wrong desire perverts the moral judgment so that we are unable to appraise the desired object at its real value.

As Christians our only safety lies in complete honesty. We must surrender our hearts to God so that we have no unholy desires, then let the Scriptures pronounce their judgment on a contemplated course. If the Scriptures condemn an object, we must accept that judgment and conform to it, no matter how we may for the moment feel about it.

God is always glorified when He wins a moral victory over us, and we are always benefited, immeasurably and gloriously benefited. The glory of God and the everlasting welfare of His people are always bound up together. The blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse not only actual sins which have been committed, but the very inward desires so that we will not want to sin. Purified desires will tend toward righteousness by a kind of gently moral gravitation. Then it can be said that we are “spiritually minded.” A blessed state indeed, and blessed are they that reach it.

 


Other Tozer readings here at Christianity 201:

April 25, 2021

He Formed Us and is Still Forming Us

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Psalm 139: 13, 14a

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 NIV

And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18b NLT

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13

Earlier today I had a sense that today’s devotional should center around the “fearfully and wonderfully made” phrase from Psalm 139. I knew that many are already familiar with the Psalm and was hoping to find some insight I had never considered before. I was very quickly and unexpectedly rewarded.

I met Syd Hielema once while he was chaplain of Redeemer University. He wrote the devotions which appear below for Today, a publication of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada and the United States. I don’t if he was thinking the same thing that I got from reading them, but these appeared on consecutive days, in the same order you see them below! (Click the headers below to read them at Today.)

Wonderfully Made—and Remade

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . . Search me, God. . . . See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. — Psalm 139:14, 23-24

These verses from Psalm 139 remind us that while each one of us is a beautiful creation of the Lord, there are also offensive ways inside us that need to be dealt with.

After the fall into sin (described in Genesis 3), we human beings continue to live as precious works of the Creator while also needing to be redeemed from sin and brokenness. So in his great and amazing love for us, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sin and to give us new life forever with him. And now the Spirit of God lives in us, guiding us to become like Jesus. He leads us “in the way everlasting.”

The apostle Paul describes it this way: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), giving us one of the clearest statements in the Bible about dying to live.

The fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made—and remade—leads to some of the most glorious announcements in Scripture, like this one: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Prayer

Thank you, Father, Son, and Spirit, for your gifts of creation and redemption. Continue to search us and to lead us in your way ever­lasting. Amen.

Refined Toward Wholeness

We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. — 1 John 3:2

The word lavish doesn’t occur very often in the Bible, so its use here in 1 John 3 is striking: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us . . . !” This is where our salvation begins: with the overwhelming, overflowing love of God.

John then continues by contrasting what is now (“we are children of God!”) with what will be: “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And this describes the finished project, the good work in us that God is bringing to completion (Philippians 1:6). Now we see “only a reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12), but when we see Christ as he is, we shall be like him.

“All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure,” says John. Hope in Jesus is the bridge, the link between the love lavished on us now and becoming like him when he appears. This is love that is determined to bring us home. This hope is not wishful thinking; this is active hope, purifying hope—that is, hope that surrenders to the purifying fire of the Spirit of God as he burns away every part of us that is not pure and good.

It’s a good habit to look back over each day, give it up to God, and pray some words like these:

Prayer

Lord, use your purifying fire to burn away the parts of me that hurt and dishonor you and others. Help me to die to those things so that I can really live, filled with the wholeness of Jesus. Thank you, Lord, for the good work you have begun in me. Keep purifying me each day. Amen.

March 14, 2021

“Set Apartness”

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2 TNIV)

For the grammatical purists out there, “Apartness” is not a word, but it’s a better choice than what I really wanted to use, “Apartedness.”

…When this life ends, I don’t picture the next one including having casual conversations with the maker of the universe, but I can indulge my imagination for a moment, I can imagine someone walking up to God and saying, “Did you really care if people wore garments weaved from two different types of fabric?”

And of course God will answer, “Why would you want to mix a checkered pattern with plaid?”

No, seriously, in my imagination God answers as you might expect, “I was simply giving my people rules that would set them apart from the surrounding nations; I was helping them to learn to live with a unique identity.”

In the Brian Doerksen worship song, Refiner’s Fire*, holiness is equated with separating oneself from the world.

Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You My Master
Ready to do Your will

God wants us to be different, but different in a good way. Some people struggle to fit in. Brant Hansen wrote a book titled Blessed are the Misfits, and while it’s true that those who, like Hansen, are somewhere on the autism spectrum, or have some other mitigating physical or mental challenge; that they have a place in God’s Kingdom, we shouldn’t go out of our way to be odd or quirky, while at the same time we should go out of our way to stand out from the crowd; to have that distinct identity that God yearned for Israel to have.

I guess a lot depends on what you mean by distinct identity. I Peter 2:9 in the KJV rendering many learned states,

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (Italics added)

For many, personal holiness is measured by the things we don’t do. By the outward conformity to certain behavioral metrics. Sounds easy, right? It’s effortless to not do things. But in fact it involves great effort.

A 2013 devotional here quoted Charles Price,

The alternative to holiness is that we are available to anything that happens to attract our attention at the time. To be available to whatever is convenient, comfortable and compatible with our own selfishness is to live an unholy life. We are called to holiness, called to live in step with Jesus, called to unite our interests with His and our agendas with His. As Peter wrote, ‘In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord’(1 Peter 3:15).

In a 2010 devotional, I considered the Amish as an example of a people set apart:

While everybody else in Christendom has suffered the fate of slowly being dominated and shaped by the spirit and culture of the world, these people have managed to truly understand what it means to be “set apart;” what it means to not ‘give in’ to the dominant culture and its ways of seeing the world,

What got my thoughts going in this direction is waking up this morning and realizing the extent to which my thought processes have been slowly shaped and conformed to the ‘spirit of the age;’ the world’s way of looking at everything. I’ve been absorbed into the dominant culture’s way of seeing the world.

Instead of simply staring at the Amish, we should be engaging them; asking them, “Hey, what’s the secret to all this?” “How do you manage not to be trapped into the contemporary mindset?”

In a devotional which appeared twice in both 2014 and 2017 I wrote that God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity goes dramatically and radically beyond not mixing fabrics or not eating pork. In Exodus 11:6-7 we read:

There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (italics added)

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.” (NCV)

In Romans 1:1, Paul’s very first words introduce the letter by saying he has been set apart.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God (NIV, italics added)

In Hebrews 7:26, Jesus, our great High Priest, is described in similar terms:

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (NIV, italics added)

So the question to ask yourself is: How do you rank in terms of “set apartness?” Or as one person said it, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”


*The song, Refiner’s Fire with Brian Doerksen and the Toronto Worship Project:


Tomorrow marks devotional #4000 here at C201. Still not sure what it will look like!

 

 

 

February 15, 2021

The Two Temples

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We have another first-time writer here to introduce: Irm Brown.  She describes herself as a “librarian, writer, blogger, follower of Christ.” Her blog is called Meditations from Zion where she has been writing since March, 2007. (How have we not met up with here before?) This article appeared in January. Click the header which follows and enjoy this on the site where it first appeared.

Look From the Temple Within

In recent days, I have been practicing Lectio Divina again** with some regularity and have found it profoundly illuminating. Partly, I believe it’s because of the familiarity of the Christmas season scripture passages. Most of us know them well, and it’s often difficult to hear/read something new from them. This practice is perfect for a renewal and discovery in God’s Word.

I found a lovely app for my phone called “Ritual” and on it, a daily Lectio podcast presented by theologian, Kathleen Cahalan. The other day, she read a passage about Simeon and Anna from Luke 2. The part about Anna struck me the deepest [Luke 2:36-38]:

“There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” [emphasis mine]

In the past, I simply found her devotion admirable albeit somewhat extreme, and moved on. Or, how lovely for Mary and Joseph to have received two prophetic utterances on the same day, etc. But on this day, I was captured by the Temple itself and the conundrum of the temple within and the temple without. After all, scripture is clear, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” [I Corinthians 3:16, NKJV] And all I could think about was the wonder of never leaving the Temple within. If I could really remain in the holy place, dwell there, and from that vantage point, look out, wouldn’t my view of others and the world around me be transformed?

So, with the help of my “Monk Manual” [MonkManual.com], I was drawn to this idea and have embraced it as my theme for the month of January. There’s no real “doing” in this theme, there’s no success or failure, no comparison, no wrong or right. It’s a small globe of thought on which I want to rest each day and allow myself to wonder again and again: I am in the temple of God and the temple is in me; I am not alone there.


**Lectio Divina is a contemplative way of reading the Bible. It dates back to the early centuries of the Christian Church and was established as a monastic practice by Benedict in the 6th century. It is a way of praying the scriptures that leads us deeper into God’s word. We slow down. We read a short passage more than once. We chew it over slowly and carefully. We savor it. Scripture begins to speak to us in a new way. It speaks to us personally, and aids that union we have with God through Christ who is himself the Living Word.  –From the Anglican Communion.org


Read more from this author: Ever tried to tell a child not to do something? Maybe that’s how it is with us when we’re told to “Fear not.” Check out: Fear Not? I Don’t Think So.

 

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

…each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

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