Christianity 201

January 30, 2020

Are We the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World?

You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:13-14 (NLT)

by Clarke Dixon

Are salt and light good descriptions of Christians in our Western world today? Salt is helpful. What would McDonald’s fries be without it? Light is also helpful. Don’t drive without some! Salt is also essential. Salt was used extensively as a preservative in the days of Jesus. Additionally, our bodies need a certain amount of salt to survive. Light, of course, is also essential for life. Are we essential?

Does anyone consider the Church to be essential in today’s society? Would people notice if our church closed, or indeed all churches closed? Would anyone notice if Christians kept their Christianity to themselves? There are those who would prefer that be the case. Christians are non-essential in their eyes.

Jesus followers were not considered to be essential when Jesus first spoke those words “you are the salt of the earth, . . .  you are light of the world.” “You,” as in “As for you, who are persecuted on my account” from a previous verse. Jesus followers in the early days were considered to be disposable, even dangerous by the authorities. To such maligned and disposable people Jesus says “you are salt, you are light.” You are essential.

However, though essential, there is a danger of becoming tasteless salt, or perhaps a better way of putting it, foolish salt:

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? . . . Matthew 5:13 (NLT)

The Greek word behind “lost its flavour” is a word used in antiquity for “being foolish.” Indeed, it seems that only here in this verse might it mean “tasteless.” Perhaps, therefore, we should not lose the original meaning behind the word as we hear the words of Jesus. Something like, “You are the salt of the earth, but you can be foolish salt.” Indeed, Jesus would go on to talk about doing something foolish:

No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:15-16 (NLT)

The religious authorities in Jesus day could certainly be described as “foolish salt”, their deeds were not shining in a way that would bring glory to God. They tried to make Jesus out to be the one who was a fool. After all, Jesus did terrible nasty things like heal people on a Sabbath:

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) Matthew 12:9-10 (NLT)

Jesus then made it plain who the fools were.

And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. Matthew 12:11-14 (NLT)

The religious authorities were supposed to be salt and light, but they were being foolish by being lawyers instead of lovers. They were often full of condemnation rather than being helpful. Though they would condemn Jesus for breaking a law on a Sabbath, they were plotting, on that very same Sabbath day, to kill. How foolish! In the religious leaders the salt had lost its taste, it had become foolish.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. Matthew 5:13 (NRSV)

Jesus asks how salt that has lost its saltiness can be made salty again. Technically, salt can not lose its saltiness and that is the point. It should be an impossible thing, such a foolish thing, for the people of God, having been called to be God’s people, having been rescued from Egypt, having been brought into a land they could call home, having been given the law to give them a better way, and having been given the privilege of walking with God Who remained faithful despite their failings – it should be impossible for them to not be salt and light. Why then, are the religious leaders, who should be leading the way in being salt and light, so filled with spite and condemnation when they are the people of God who have experienced such love and grace? That should be impossible.

It should be impossible for us, who are Christ followers, who benefit from the example and teaching of Jesus, who benefit from the death and resurrection of Jesus, who benefit from gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God’s Word, who have experienced forgiveness, who have experienced the love and grace of God – it should be impossible for us to not live love filled, grace filled lives. It should be impossible for us to not be good salt and shining light.

So what does it look like to be good salt and shining light? Jesus will go on tell us in the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. There we will learn what it looks like to let our  “good deeds shine out for all to see” (verse 16). As we look to the Sermon on the Mount in the weeks to come, it is important that we recognize that we are put in a right relationship with God, not by our own efforts to be salty enough salt, or bright enough lights, but by the grace of God. But as salt and light, we can become ineffective, we can be foolish. In the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, we will learn, not what followers of Jesus must do to impress God, but what followers of Jesus look like when God uses them to make an impression on the world.

Society may think that Jesus followers are not essential. But Jesus does! Society may say that Jesus followers are disposable, perhaps even dangerous. Jesus says we are salt and light, we are essential. If people don’t agree with Jesus on that, perhaps we are either being foolish salt, or we are stuck in the saltshaker.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

January 1, 2020

A Year of Vision

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Just face it. You’re going to see many, many references over the next 366 days connecting the year 2020 to the idea of 20/20 vision. So vision seemed like a good place to start.

We kick off the year with an article from a site that is relatively new and offering resources for the whole family, Minno Life brings us this brief devotional by Carlie Kercheval.

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

As we enter into a new year, many people are searching for a fresh, new start and a new vision of what God has for their life. And with it being 2020, this seems like the perfect year for vision and clarity.

In the world of optometry 20/20 vision refers to a person’s visual acuity. More specifically, 20/20 vision measures how clearly a person can see objects 20 feet away. There are limits to what we can see clearly with the naked eye.

Yet, isn’t it amazing to know that there are no limits on the vision and clarity that God brings into our lives? His omnipotence means that there are no limits or constraints to His vision, and His truth stands the test of time.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about vision and lean into His Word for wisdom to enter into this new decade and beyond.

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

Without a Vision People Perish

Where there is no vision, the people perish . . . Proverbs 29:18 KJV

One of the things that this verse makes very clear is that a vision is vital to carrying out God’s will for our lives. And without any revelation of His will, we have no way of creating a Christ-fueled vision for our family. However, when we are actively seeking God, we not only download His vision for our lives, we are able to teach our children to do the same. Our children watch everything we do and by modeling a life of seeking God, we are sowing an eternal legacy that will bless our children’s children.

God Has a Good Plan

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

The words of Jeremiah 29:11 bring a confident peace in knowing our good Father has a good plan for our lives. He promises us that we have hope and a future. Knowing this gives us a great understanding of what our future with Christ holds, and it is always good. This is so comforting as a parent as we seek to teach our children about God’s love and goodness. This verse is a wonderful way to keep God’s vision for us at the forefront of our minds, especially when circumstances are leading us to believe otherwise. It is important that we hold fast to the vision of God’s plans to guide and protect us as we raise our children unto Him.

The Holy Spirit Shows Us Things to Come

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:13 NIV

I don’t know about you, but this verse gets me really excited. Why? Because Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will show us His truth and things to come. This is especially helpful through the different stages of parenting so we can continue to trust in Jesus for our children’s future. That means when we position ourselves to hear God speaking to us through prayer, reading the Bible, and worship, that He will give us wisdom about His vision for our future. I am so thankful for this promise!

The beautiful thing about serving a mighty God like ours is that He is all-seeing and all-knowing. There are no limits to the wisdom and vision that He gives as He shows us things to come through His Word and His Holy Spirit. Be sure to keep this truth at the forefront of your heart as you enter into this new year!


Go Deeper: The website Bible in One Year offers an article on the importance of vision, the power of vision and the fulfillment of vision. Check out From Vision to Action.

October 22, 2019

The Battle Has Been Won!

by Russell Young

The time-worn phrase, “The battle has been won!” is disconcerting, and its acceptance will lead many to their destruction. Jesus has won his battle over the dominion of evil, but those who walk this earth have not. Satan is very much contesting for their lives, and their victory rests in their submission and obedience to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He is their hope, but their hope must yet be realized. To further encourage the faulty notion that the battle has been won some would loudly proclaim that believers have been “adopted” into the family of God; however, Paul wrote that adoption does not happen until the body has been redeemed (the misdeeds of the body have been put to death) and that it is being eagerly awaited. (Rom 8:23)

To assert that the battle has been won and that access to his eternal kingdom is a gift from God to those who acknowledge belief denies the on-going ministry of Christ following his crucifixion and resurrection. It also dismisses the lordship of Christ, accountability to God and the coming judgment, the need for confession and repentance for sin, and the process of sanctification that follows one’s declaration of faith.

Christ redeemed confessors so that by faith they might receive the promised Holy Spirit. (Gal 3:13−14) Christ is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3: 17−18; Gal 2:20; Col 1:27) As Spirit, he sanctifies those obedient to his commands. (Heb 5:9; Rom 15:16) Eternal salvation comes through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. (2 Thess 2:13) The “righteousness for which we hope” comes through the Spirit by faith in the power and authority of Christ as he is obeyed and that righteousness is being “awaited.” (Gal 5:5) Since the Spirit must do his work in the lives of the obedient, the war has not been won; the battle over sin must be engaged. “The righteous requirements of the law [will be] fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) The manner of the confessor’s living is important, and he or she will be judged according to “the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10)

The faith that brings eternal salvation compels cooperation and participation with Christ, who is the Spirit, and who has given both his life and Spirit to enable the believer’s survival and rescue from eternal destruction. The faith that saves is not based on sentimental religious representations and philosophical constructions but on the reality of the full ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Faith in Christ means trusting him to lead those who have hearts and ears to hear through the temptations and testing that would challenge righteous choices and actions. It means depending on him to enable the obedient to do that which they are unable to do in their limited strength and weakened hearts. God’s faithfulness to the humble and contrite of heart will provide “all that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and although he is with them, he has not unilaterally won the battles that each must fight.

The war in which Christ was engaged and through which he gained victory was for himself and indirectly for those “in him.” He destroyed Satan’s power and gained the keys of death and Hades; they are now in his possession. (Rev 1:18) Since he holds the keys, he can use them according to his grace and mercy but will make his judgment based upon the believer’s heart commitment and state of righteousness. “He will punish those who do not know [understand] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be is at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8−9) Paul admonished his “brothers” to work out (finish, complete) their salvation with fear and trembling so that they might become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation.” (Phil 2:13, 15)

Declaring that the war has been won implies that those who started their spiritual life in Christ must have remained in him. However, John chapter 15 presents that those in him might be cut out if they do not produce fruit. (Jn 15:1) and promises blessings to those who remain in him (Jn 15:5, 7); to remain in him requires obedience to his commands (Jn 15:10), which are given by the Spirit. (Rom 7:6; 8:4; Gal 6:7−8)

Care should be taken by those who present that the war has been won because such a proclamation may give license for immorality and unrighteous practices; care should be taken by those who endorse such a proclamation because neglect of the ministry of Christ, as Spirit, may lead to their destruction. The Lord spoke of the destruction that will follow “evildoers.” (Mt 7:23; Lk 13:27) Even Paul declared that he had to “strike a blow to his body and make it his slave” so that he would not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor 9:27) And he admonished Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:16) Paul was declaring that Timothy remained at risk and that his battle over sin had not been finished.

The phrase “The war has been won,” must be put in context when it is used, and its proclamation made clear according to the Scriptures.


Eternal Salvation - Russell Young - 2Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation — “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”– Really? (Lettra Press) and his writing appears here on alternate Tuesdays. Text citations above include italics added. 

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


 

September 9, 2019

Restraint and Self Control

Six months ago, on our nine year anniversary weekend, we introduced you to the writing of Tonia Slimm at the site Growing with God. Let me say that I really like what’s being presented on this site. She’s in the middle of a series from Proverbs, and while I considered one of the introductory posts, this one was too good to pass up.

Use Caution and Restraint–Proverbs 23:1-3

Proverbs 23:1-3 (NIV)
When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive.

Proverbs 23:1-3 (MSG)
When you go out to dinner with an influential person, mind your manners:
Don’t gobble your food, don’t talk with your mouth full. And don’t stuff yourself; bridle your appetite.

Proverbs 23:1-3 (AMPLIFIED)
“When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is [set] before you; for you will put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food [offered to you with questionable motives].”


“Self-control is the exercise of inner strength under the direction of sound judgement that enables us to do, think, and say the things that are pleasing to God.” ~Jerry Bridges

Restraint and self-control are synonymous. They both imply the need to control, hold back, or check oneself. They involve harnessing one’s body, emotions, and appetites.

In principle six we find Solomon giving warning for the need to be cautious and using restraint. We will find in life that there may be times in a relationship or situation that the other party involved may have an ulterior motive in “wining and dining” us.

BEWARE OF THE FLATTERER!

Solomon admonishes us that not everyone can be taken at face value. Be cautious and use restraint.

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” ~Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

Principle 6:

“When sitting down to eat with a ruler, take a moment to think about who you are with and what you are doing. If you are the type who eats too much too fast, do whatever is necessary to curb your enthusiasm for food. Also, do not eye the ruler’s delicacies, for the food may not be what it seems.” -(VOICE)

Solomon tells us that when we are invited to the home of a ruler, leader, or influential person that we need to be cautious. Consider what is before you and why. Consider the moral, ethical and spiritual precepts that might be affected by your proximity to this person in authority. Ask yourself a few questions:
1.) Why am I here?
2.) What is the motivation of the person who invited me?
3.) What are my boundary lines?
4.) Will I remain true to God’s standards?

The first two questions will need to be answered as you sit in the presence of this person. The last two questions should have already been decided before you arrived to sit at their table.

“When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, with a person of influence and power, consider diligently what is before thee, keeping in mind throughout the dinner that it is a mightier and loftier one at whose invitation one is present, and put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite, keeping the usual gluttonous appetite in leash by the strongest warnings and threats, restraining the least sign of self-indulgence. Be not desirous of his dainties, craving the finest food on the table; for they are deceitful meat, literally, “bread of deception,” it is a deceptive meal, the object of the powerful person not being to dispense free hospitality, but to make use of his guest in some manner.” ~ Paul E. Kretzmann (The Popular Commentary)

We need to notice Solomon’s warning against gluttony as well. Do not go into this situation blindly, focused only on what is immediately before you, food, and making a pig of yourself. The tasty morsels before you may in fact be a way to compel you to become obligated to this crooked leader. BEWARE! Take Caution! Use restraint.

“Therefore see that you walk carefully [living life with honor, purpose, and courage; shunning those who tolerate and enable evil], not as the unwise, but as wise [sensible, intelligent, discerning people], making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil.” -Paul Ephesians 5:15-16 (AMP)

There is wisdom in using caution and restrain. This does not mean that we should be questioning everyone’s motives. But it does mean that we need to be careful to in tune with the Holy Spirit’s leading. It does mean that we need to know where we stand, at all times, and why. It does mean that we need to be in the Word and know what God’s standards and boundaries are so that we are not over stepping them.

“If we know that the aim of the Holy Spirit is to lead man to the place of self-control, we shall not fall into passivity but shall make good progress in spiritual life. “The fruit of the Spirit is self-control” ~Watchman Nee

My Prayer:
Lord, I have fallen victim to those smooth talkers before. I have ignored the still, small voice within and rushed in to areas that angels fear to tread. Forgive me, please. Help me to learn self-control and caution. Help me to constantly listening to the promptings of your Holy Spirit and being obedient too. Give me your wisdom in all situations, so that I can stay within your boundaries, I pray.

September 1, 2019

All Types of Prayers; All Kinds of Requests

We begin today with my wife’s paraphrase of some verse from Romans 8, which is then paired with an article I wrote for our 1,600th post in 2014. (If you’re keeping score, tomorrow will be 3,440.)


by Ruth Wilkinson

…I consider that our sufferings right now are not worth comparing with the glory that we will be shown.

We know that all of creation groans together like labour pains in the hope that God’s children will be set free from the bondage of these bodies into glorious freedom.

And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit — we also groan within ourselves, eager for the redemption of our bodies.

And not only that, but the Spirit comes alongside us in our limitation, because we don’t know exactly how we should pray,
but the Spirit within us, the Spirit Himself prays for us without words.

And God, who sees the heart, knows the Spirit’s mind because the Spirit only prays for what God wants.

Romans 8:18‭-‬23‭, ‬26‭-‬27 HCSB

If your prayer list seems overwhelming, remember God knows us, he knows our name, he knows our heart, and we are not alone. (See songs below.)


by Paul Wilkinson

I know there are days in our household when the list of prayer requests seems to be balloon out in size, and we feel we must be exasperating God with so many requests. Additionally, as I type this, to even list the countries of the world that are hot-spots right now would take some time, especially if you are aware of key groups or individuals that need an extra blessing from God.

After a person has been around the church for awhile, they are often instructed that prayer is so much more than just asking for things for ourselves or on behalf of others. Using the ACTS model (acknowledgement, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) that would mean that additionally prayer should include:

  • a point of entry into conversation with God that recognizes who He is, His sovereignty over all things, His immense power, His majesty in creation, His knowing of all things, His holiness.
  • a confession of our sin, both individually and corporately
  • spoken recognition of the good things that life brings us as part of the general grace given to all of us, appreciation for blessings that might seem to be extra or undeserved

But then we are back at requests. The list seems so long. Should we do some editing? Just pray for certain people on certain days?

Scripture would seem to suggest not to hold back. In Ephesians 6:18 we read:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

The phrases I want to highlight today are all occasions, all kinds of…requests, always keep on.

Of course sometimes we do not really know what we ought to pray. Should we pray for Mike and Carrie’s relationship to be restored, or is it better that they break the engagement now before they end up in a marriage that may not succeed? Should we pray for Shelley to get the job in Ohio when really, she should look for employment closer to home so she can keep helping her sister who really needs her?

I don’t know, don’t ask me!!

In I Corinthians 14:15 Paul says,

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding…

This verse bears on the subject of praying in tongues, which I know is controversial; but the Bible does suggest there are times when human words are inadequate. We see this again in Romans 8:26:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

The KJV uses, “groanings too deep for words.”

(We hear a lot about speaking in tongues, but not so much about ‘speaking in groans,’ though I’ve been in at least two churches where this was manifested.)

The key in these verses is where Paul says, “What shall I do?” (I Cor. passage) and “We do not know what…to pray for” (Romans passage).

Sometimes we just don’t know. We throw up our hands and surrender our total inadequacy to intercede in these situations. Should we give up? I think a good place to resolve this is with our key verse again:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7 HCSB; all other ref.s NIV)


Instead of one, because it’s a long weekend here in North America we have three songs for you today, that were part of the liturgy and worship Ruth led this morning.

May 24, 2019

Urgently Wanting Something May Be a Sign of Bitterness

We’ve previously run some devotional articles by Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him, and for today’s selection, I wrestled with three equally interesting pieces. The one below I read three times and each time through I was impressed by how the Biblical text weaved in and out of the application, and how the paragraph that one might expect to come first came at the end.

But more than the writing, I wondered if there were times in my life when I was like the character in the Biblical narrative. As always, click the title below to read this at source. There’s also a bonus article and each one is accompanied by a Christian music video at his site.

Provoked by Bitterness and Bound by Sin

If you blessed to be around a newborn baby or infant eager to start crawling, you will witness periodical tantrums. Some will signal moms that it’s time to breast feed or change a dirty diaper. Prior to being able to speak, crying, fussing and screaming are signs of displeasure and unhappiness. When you examine these fits of rage from a biblical perspective, knee jerk reactions from any human being are often provoked by bitterness.

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this authority and power too, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit,” Acts 8:18-19.

There is where parenting will influence and shape the character of a child. If parents allow children to get everything they want as soon as he or she cries, the more spoiled this individual will become over time. This display of bitterness is a sign that the human flesh, known as the sinful nature is alive and well. Anyone not trained or taught to resist this urge, will be provoked by bitterness and bound to sin.

20 But Peter said to him, “May your money be destroyed along with you, because you thought you could buy the [free] gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart (motive, purpose) is not right before God. 22 So repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, this thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are provoked by bitterness and bound by sin,” Acts 8:20-23.

During a trip to Samaria, Luke records an interesting conversation between Peter and a magician called Simon. Based upon the passage above, Simon appears to have been spoiled in his younger years, normally getting whatever he wants. Subsequently, Simon offers Peter a bribe, attempting to receive the Holy Spirit through a cash exchange. However, this isn’t how God works. When motives are impure, prayer is necessary to get yourself right before God. Yet, unless you deal with bitterness and sin in a biblical manner, healing won’t occur. Fasting, prayer and seeking godly counsel are steps on the road to recovery. The best therapy to overcome the root of bitterness is meditating on the Word of God. Exercising spiritual disciplines will release you from the bondage of sin.


Here’s a bonus article by the same author:

The Synagogue of the Freedmen

A synagogue is the building or location where a Jewish assembly meets for religious worship and instruction. In biblical times, small towns and villages with less than ten men met out in the open, often along the banks of a river or sea. One of these places of worship was known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen. These individuals were of collection of freed Jewish slaves from Alexandria, Asia, Cilicia and Cyrene. Past experiences as slaves created an instant bond for these men.

However, some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, rose up and questioned and argued with Stephen, Acts 6:9.

Based upon the passage above, the members of this synagogue felt threatened by Jesus. Perhaps this community of believers was afraid of change, especially to Jewish traditions that they embraced. Thus, their reaction to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah was similar to the chief priest and Pharisees who crucified Jesus. Subsequently, the Synagogue of the Freedmen began a smear campaign against Stephen. This newly appointed apostle was bombarded by a character assassination provoked and incited by the people.

51 “You stiff-necked and stubborn people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained and delivered to you by angels, and yet you did not obey it!” – Acts 7:51-53

Stephen was put on trial, forced to give an account of the false accusations made against him. It’s unclear whether or not the Synagogue of the Freedmen were pawns urged by religious leaders or willing participants. Regardless of the motives, Stephen blames this behavior on resisting the Holy Spirit. Any type of change is difficult. However, when you make a decision to dedicate your life to Jesus, this means living by a new set of standards, the Bible. Stephen was stoned to death and other Christians were persecuted. As modern souls wrestle to make spiritual decisions today, the fear of change remains. For anyone still on the fence, may your hearts and minds embrace the Holy Spirit.

April 19, 2019

Final Words to Friends

An excerpt from Peter Marshall –The First Easter (McGraw-Hill, 1959) pp. 16-19

The eleven men who were left were very quiet. The voice of Christ was very soft and low — tender with farewell.

It was now only a matter of hours until Christ and his disciples would be separated. He wished to fill those last hours of fellowship with the tenderest and most significant of His teachings.

The most sacred… the most tender… the most heart-felt emotions… are those expressed at the end of the letter…

The tenderest caress comes just before the parting. The softest word just before the conversation is ended… before the train pulls out… before we turn away.

We seem to catch the quiet intimacy of that fellowship. Unforgettable words of parting and comfort were spoken by Jesus to His friends. Jesus has written them out for us:

  • “Little children … a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you … By this will all know that you are my disciples…”
  • “Let not your heart be troubled; … In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you…”
  • “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you…”
  • “I am the vine, you are the branches… Abide in me, and I in you…”
  • “these things I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world…”

Overcome the world? When the one who spoke was so soon to fall under the power of Caesar? Yes, for in reality we must remember that Jesus could have escaped the cross. No one compelled him to go to Jerusalem on that last journey. Indeed His friends and apostles urged Him not to go.

Watch Him, in the bitter hours that lie immediately ahead, time after time taking the initiative in deciding His own fate.

Christ had begun His ministry by telling His apostles that the Son of many must suffer many things. Must — there was no other way. It was for that purpose that He had come into the world.

“For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up .. that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

There was Light in the little room that night. But beyond the light lay a death-ridden world…

  • in the midst of the military might that was Rome where life was cheap
  • in the philosopher’s porticoes of Athens where the mind found no hope
  • in the dangerous living of the great shipping centers of Asia Minor to the disease infested alleys of old Jerusalem —

Men feared death, dodged its hideous grasp, could nowhere find respite from their fear.

But here was something new… Here was one facing death — not afraid but confident … already triumphant … already speaking about seeing His friends again … about never leaving them…

Strange words … about being with them to the uttermost parts of the earth and to the end of time.

How? Why? Because He alone knew the Father’s eternal purpose for what it was — the determination once and for all to destroy the power of death — once and for all to deliver men from their lifelong bondage to the fear of death.

Within a matter of hours, Christ Himself was to become the instrument by which the Father would — for all time — make death not a wall … but a door.

March 1, 2019

Pity vs. Compassion: What’s the Difference?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is actually our fifth time featuring resources from Seedbed, but each of the previous ones was the videos in their Seven Minute Seminary series. This time we join them in print for an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt.

On the Difference Between Pity and Compassion

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

CONSIDER THIS

Jesus went to a town called Nain. Jesus was not just wandering around the countryside. Every step he made held significance beyond our ability to even comprehend. Everything he did had profound theological significance and yet it all was insanely practical. He turned water into wine, a mystery whose theological meaning we are still discerning. All the while he was solving a major problem at a wedding celebration– the wine ran out. Watch as this same dynamic unfolds in today’s text.

So why Nain? Nain was a small town about six miles south of Nazareth in Galilee. We are about to see the clashing of movements. Jesus is followed by his disciples and a large crowd of people as they near the city gate. Just as they arrive, a funeral procession is leaving the city with a large crowd following a widow with her deceased and only son. The movement of Life is meeting up with the movement of death. Imagine the contrast between the joyfully astonished throng following Jesus and the mournfully broken crowd following the widow and the dead son. We are in for a cosmic confrontation.

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Far from easy sympathy, Jesus had compassion on this woman. I’ve heard charity described as giving someone the shirt you no longer want and compassion as giving someone the shirt off of your back. I love this translation. “His heart went out to her.” When I say, in response to some tragedy, “My heart goes out to them,” what I mean is I feel sorry for them. That’s about it. With Jesus, it’s more like his heart actually leaves his body and enters into the body of another person. This is precisely what God has done in Jesus and continues to do through Jesus in the strength of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means for one person to “be with” another person; to enter into their reality and experience so deeply that their presence cannot be distinguished from your own. In the midst of two large crowds converging at the narrow place of a city gate, Jesus “saw her.” God seeks out the brokenhearted. We know “his heart went out to her” not because he said something nice but because he made a bee line straight to her. He was not at this funeral. He didn’t know these people. He was doing something else entirely, but he went straight to her.

So many times I have been in a hospital to see a particular person. As I approach their room I walk past and see so many other people, most of whom are all alone. Something in me says just knock on their door and ask if you can help them, pray for them, get them some water. Too often, though, I reason to myself that I don’t know them, that they have “people”, that it would be an unwanted intrusion to do this and I just go on about my business. In retrospect, I think the Holy Spirit was bursting at the seams to release the heart of God in those hospital rooms but was coming up short on Jesus types to actually do it. Lesson learned.

It’s so rare for someone to “be with” us like this. It requires the kind of attention of which only Divine Love is capable and this is the amazing thing about Jesus. He naturalizes Divine Love as a fully human expression. This is how he wants us to “be with” each other and particularly the broken and hurting among us. This is who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does: He naturalizes and normalizes Divine Love in and through our ordinary lives in all our dealings with one another. It’s all at once miraculous and ordinary. And Daily Text readers, this is not just the pastor’s job. This is all of our shared privilege together. I would love to tell you a story about Brother Buddy Ratliff who does this as well as I’ve ever seen it done, and I’d love to tell you a story about a community of Africans who taught me what this kind of “being with others” looks like in the wake of tragic loss.

I need to close for the day. Jesus tells her not to cry and then he shows us all why. He walks over to the dead son and talks to him. Yes, he speaks to a corpse:

“Young man, I say to you, get up!”

And lo and behold the MIRACLE happened!

The dead man sat up and began to talk,

The life movement won out over the death movement. Sooner or later, it always does. You want to know the real miracle here? It’s in this last bit:

and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

You see, this widow had not only lost her son, she had essentially lost her life. She was completely disconnected from the community with no source of status or sustenance. She had truly joined the ranks of “the poor.” This act of Jesus giving the boy back to his mother was a profound Gospel move, restoring not only her son but her life as well. Profoundly theological. Insanely practical.

The people were awestruck. I love that they said this:

“God has come to help his people.”

That’s what we want to be said in the wake of our being with others in the midst of hardship, struggle, loss and pain: “God has come to help his people.”

Tomorrow, we’ve been invited to join Jesus for a meal in the home of a Pharisee. It will be interesting. Prepare yourself.

P.S. Some of you may have felt a little deja vu in today’s text. That wasn’t a glitch in the matrix. Jesus doesn’t miss a trick. To see what I’m talking about check out this Elijah story.

THE PRAYER

Father God, thank you for showing us what it looks like when the movement of Life overcomes the movement of Death. It’s who you are. Lord, I want to be in that number; part of that movement. Open my eyes and my heart and my faith to this awakening movement today. IN Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

What stands out to you about this story today? Why do you think it stands out to you? What does it awaken in you?


Get J. D. Walt’s latest book, THE FIRST REAL CHRISTIAN, or his new church-wide Lenten Study, LISTEN TO HIM. Subscribe to get devotionals like this in your email inbox here.

January 18, 2019

Our Need to ‘Fix’ People

The second and third sections today are only quoted in part. You’re strongly encouraged to use the links.

Earlier this week, author Jentezen Franklin wrote:

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea…and it will become calm.” John 1:12 NIV

When Jonah boarded a ship going in the opposite direction to God’s will, the crew discovered there’s a high price to pay for allowing the wrong person into your life. So what’s the point? It’s this: God hasn’t authorized you to be somebody else’s life support system. Especially if they’re running from Him, and using you to do it! With Jesus on board you’ll make it through any storm. But when you allow Jonah on board he’ll turn your life upside down, and before it’s over you’ll risk losing everything. Do you seriously think you can fix your Jonah? No. “The Lord…prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (v. 17).

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to wake them up and throw them overboard. As long as you keep rescuing them, you get in God’s way. It’s pride that makes us think we can do what only God can do! Look at Jonah—while the crew was desperately throwing stuff overboard, he was sleeping! He didn’t want to be corrected, he wanted to be comfortable! Do you know someone like that? The reason they haven’t changed is because they’re not ready to! Jonah was so stubborn that he stayed in the belly of the huge fish for three days before he prayed. If that had been you, the moment you spotted “Jaws” you’d have been on your knees calling on God, right?

This may be hard to hear, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your Jonah—and yourself—is to throw them overboard and let God rescue them.

In 2014, Jenny Rae Armstrong wrote at Red Letter Christians:

…[N]one of us really know what another person is going through. We’re all in process, and none of us are perfect yet. I remember hearing Brennan Manning speak years ago. He pointed out that that runaway teen turning tricks on the street, who falls asleep with the name of Jesus on his lips, may in fact have made a lot more spiritual progress than a milktoast Christian who came from a happy home.

It’s like Paul Hiebert’s evangelism paradigm, bounded sets vs. centered sets. Maybe one person seems closer to Christ than another, but what is their trajectory? Are they moving toward Christ or away from him? Are they stagnant and complacent?

We should be helping people move toward Christ, not shoving them into the position we think they should inhabit.

Second, it’s not our job to change, convict, or transform people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

I think parents can be especially guilty of this mindset, because we want to raise our kids well, instill healthy habits and beliefs. But that wears thin after twenty years or so, and attempting to police someone’s speech, behavior, and lifestyle can push them further away,  because who wants to be manipulated and controlled?

We also need to look at our motives for pushing people. While we may worry about destructive choices, oftentimes, a good part of our concern is about how WE want people to live their lives, how their choices make us feel. We’re worried about how their behavior reflects on us, and our attempts to change them are motivated by shame. C O – D E P E N D E N T. We can’t love freely when our self-worth is tangled up in someone else’s free will.

We need to get better at loving people where they are at, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Love should never include disclaimers.

So should we just let people do whatever they want to do, live however they want to live? …

It’s not our job to fix people’s behavior. It is our job to love them, pray for them, and point them toward Christ, in whatever way we can.

In order to do that, we’re going to need to offer a lot of grace. And in order to offer grace, we need to let go of the shame, perfectionism, and fear that drives us and accept that grace for ourselves.

Finally, to those of you in leadership or currently walking alongside a “Jonah,” in an undated article at Rick Thomas’s blog, Fernando Serna writes to biblical counselors, pastors, parents, missionaries, and teachers:

[T]he sting of not seeing results can be even sharper as we are ministers of God’s Word offered into the lives of people, and we expect change and a demonstration of the effective Word of God.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

So, what is the deeper learning and formation made available to us through the pointed experience of limitation and even apparent failure in ministry?

One of the elements that attracted me to chaplaincy ministry is what is called a ministry of presence.

Presence has to do with availability at the level of the heart and mind, deep listening, empathy, connection, coming along side, walking with, and accompanying.

My theology of ministry is informed by Trinitarian theology that accentuates mutual relationship and respectful, non-coercive presence…

My point is that the primary element in biblical counseling and other forms of ministry is to be an agent of God’s presence to the other person, rather than an agent of our own anxious agenda to fix the other person…

…This fix-it mentality has a dimension of coercion and subtle violence that is not of God. It is success oriented rather than Spirit oriented. This requires humility and sobriety on the part of the counselor or minister.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Mark 10:45 (ESV)

As counselors we are mere servants of the Word, and our measure of success is not the world’s. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has a different logic and grammar…

The Divine Physician is the one who completes, who fixes, who brings to completion the shattered and broken human heart. We have been given the dignity to be called into ministry by the Spirit and to be ambassadors of Christ.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.2 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV)

There is good news here: we do not need to be God! The dignified service God has given us, His sons and daughters, is to plant and water the seed of His Word in the lives of others, and He will give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

This is a liberating message that frees us to be present to others in ministry, not for our sense of accomplishment, but for the love of the Father, whose Spirit will blow when and as it wills, over the lives of the those who He has placed in our path.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.John 3:8 (ESV)

 

January 13, 2019

Examples of True Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is taken from the first three paragraphs — we’ve formatted it differently — of a much longer article at a blog which was new to us, The Millennial Christian. You can link to it at the title below, or we’ve included the link toward the end for those of you who start out reading it here.

True Worship

We have been called back to our original purpose, which is to worship God, and out of our worship the love of God flows through our mind like a cool summer breeze. Removing the character flaws of our earthen past, it instills in us the true character traits of who we were prior to our physical birth. Our spiritual age is undetermined along with the many things that will be revealed to us upon our death or resurrection. To receive our revelation we must understand that the Holy Spirit only descends upon us while we are in worship, and out of our worship our service to others is revealed. Our ministry was set before God prior to the foundations of the earth and is given to us while our mind is full of the glory of God.

Examples of true worship can be found in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation. In Isaiah 6:1-3 we read,

“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

They are worshiping our awesome God in joyous celebration.

In Ezekiel 1:1-28 we are treated to some of the events of the throne room, and a personal description of God. All of God’s creations are in continuous worship of their Majesty, and in Revelation we read,

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created. And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13)

It really makes us humans look totally pathetic in the way we treat our God, our Father.

When we get down on our knees, alone in private, we use these Biblical examples to guide us through the process of true worship. We imagine the atmosphere of heaven, the colors and sights we see in our mind’s eye. We focus our attention on the One who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb of God. Joyous noisy worship explodes from the disciples, for they cannot hold back their love for Him anymore.

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen.

The crowd detonates in glorious praise saying,

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38)

Some of the Pharisees complained to Jesus about the crowd, demanding that He quiet His followers, and Jesus said, “

I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

Worship is as important to us as food and water yet we starve our soul to death without our spiritual blessing…

continue reading here


By the same authors: How to Worship God

December 11, 2018

The Holy Spirit: In Us, Helping Us, Glorifying Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re returning to a website we visited in 2014, All About Reflections.

Who Is The Holy Spirit

Who is the Holy Spirit – God in Us
Who is the Holy Spirit? Consider these two verses:

“‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ — which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

“Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:6-7).

The disciples of Jesus Christ, undoubtedly, never fully comprehended that it was actually God in human form who walked among them, taught them, communed with them, and loved them. Yes, they saw Him perform miracles, saw Him heal the sick, saw Him raise the dead. They even heard Him forgive the sins of many who came to Him, to the outrage of the Jewish leaders of His day. They saw the wind and the waves obeyed Him and that He spoke with eloquence, authority, and wisdom beyond that of the scribes. But God? How could they have understood the God who created the universe had actually come to fellowship with them and had called them into His service? As soon as they began to grasp this truth, however, He began to speak of leaving them, of suffering, and dying. They were filled with grief and sorrow at the thought of His departure.

Jesus comforted them by disclosing an even greater miracle. If it was an enormous thing that God should come in a body and walk among men, how much greater stretch of faith for the disciples to believe that God would actually and literally dwell in man?

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

The promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of truth — was a two-fold blessing. First, unlike Jesus, who would go back into heaven to return to the Father, the Holy Spirit would be with the disciples, forever. Secondly, He would be in them.

Who is the Holy Spirit – The Spirit glorifies Christ
The Holy Spirit was sent to earth when Jesus took his place at the right hand of the Father. He was manifested on the day of Pentecost.

“Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

Jesus, God in the flesh, dwelt on the earth for thirty-three years, being intimately involved with the disciples for three years. Jesus Christ had come to manifest and glorify the Father, to make Him known to the disciples. Jesus Christ never spoke His own words or performed deeds of His own choosing. No. He only did what He was instructed to do by the Father.

“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:49-50).

Jesus assured the disciples that the Holy Spirit would also interact with them in the same way, only the Spirit would bring glory to the Son. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (John 16:13-15).

What a wonderful depiction of the three-fold yet inseparable manifestation of the Godhead; who can really comprehend it? But this was God’s plan, to bring many sons into fellowship with Himself. And so, as Christ came to earth to show mankind the personality and glory of God, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within man, making the things of Christ real and alive to him. When a person accepts Christ into their life, Christ enters into them in the person of the Holy Spirit. The body becomes the temple of the living God, now sanctified for the master’s use.

Who is the Holy Spirit – God as our Helper
The Holy Spirit is God, our Helper. This is the ultimate goal of His indwelling. In the ancient language the word for Holy Spirit which is alternately translated, ‘counselor’ or ‘comforter’ actually signifies “called to one’s side.” Therefore the Holy Spirit is He who was called along side of us, to help us. But the Holy Spirit is God, the Creator, the Sovereign; it is He, Himself, who is our helper. He does not simply give us help, He is our Help.

How does He help us? The Holy Spirit teaches us; the Holy Spirit guides and leads us; the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit appropriates the righteousness, peace, and joy of the Lord to us. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the deep things of God, things previously hidden to man. We have power now that the Holy Spirit has come to us. He is the Spirit of God and Christ; He is made everything to us and His indwelling is the guarantee of our future inheritance which surpasses even the wonder of our relationship to God, today. Perhaps the greatest thing of all is that by the Spirit, we cry, “Our Father.” The Spirit makes us know instinctively that we are the children of God. Even in our weakest moments that cry cannot be stilled as we call to Him, “Oh, my Father, help me.”

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:15-17).


Bonus article: We had another article from a new source we had hoped to bring you this week which we could not publish because another organization has first rights. It’s about finding the Advent story in the Book of Jonah. If that interests you, click here to read.

November 13, 2018

Convincing Witnesses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com. Click the title below to read this one at source.

Full of the Spirit

But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said ‘Go stand in the Temple courts and proclaim to all the people the words of this life.’  Acts 5:20

This is what has stuck with me throughout this week, along with a few other thoughts.  It was the apostles that got tossed into jail for telling about Jesus and new life in Him.  The religious leaders were filled with jealousy, which is what 5:17 tells us.  It wasn’t any complicated scheme–just jealousy.  Anyway, an angel let them out and told them to go back to the Temple court and keep teaching.

What catches me is that the angel told them to teach about ‘the words of this life.’  The whole first few chapters of Acts are flooded with the accounts of the Early Church–about how the Holy Spirit has come and landed on them like tongues of fire.  And how when they prayed the place where prayed shook with power and everyone was filled with boldness.  And then there was so much Holy Spirit power that people brought the sick and they passed by Peter’s shadow and they were healed.

So when they went back to the Temple Courts, they talked about Jesus being risen from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand as a Founder and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are witnesses of these events and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.  

I’m sure the apostles didn’t just mumble a sorry testimony and invite them to Temple too.  No, they were convincing witnesses about the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Go on to Acts 6 and read about Stephen.  He was described as being “full of the Spirit,” “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” and “full of grace and power, who was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”  Now that’s an eye-catcher.

People are looking for something to fill the holes in their empty lives, something big enough to occupy the space that they’re filling with things like their fascination with technology, the NFL, materialism, sex, drinking and other addictions.  If we offer a wimpy version of the Christian life, it is no more appealing than picking up an old textbook, or visiting their grandmother’s church.

But if you show them the real Jesus, and the “life that is truly life,” as 1 Timothy 6:19 says, or the abundant life that John 10:10 talks about.  And 1 Corinthians 4:20 it says that the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but in power.  

Last Sunday night I was at our County Jail for Bible study.  There were six Native American women and another jail chaplain and myself.  We talked for a bit to catch up on how they were doing, and as I began the study, there was a male inmate calling out loudly the whole time.  I stopped and asked what that was.  The women said it was a man in the holding cell. They felt bad for him and said he had been yelling out all day in about ten different voices.

I asked if any of them had been at church with me the last summer when one of the women did the same thing and we stopped and prayed–and she stopped yelling out.  The women immediately begged me, “Please stop and pray.  Please pray.”  So we stopped.  The other gal with me prayed out loud first and me second.  We prayed that the spirits that were oppressing him would be bound and that the peace of the Holy Spirit would rest upon him.  Within one or two minutes the man was totally quiet.

I said, “Hey, do you hear that?”  And they said, “Hear what?”  I said, “My point exactly. It’s dead quiet out there.  Jesus did that.  He hears our prayers and has the power to work.  He will do that in your life.”  We got back into the Bible study and the jailers were stirring up a mighty commotion out in the hallway.  I mean it was like a circus out there.  It went on and on.

Finally I stopped and said, “I’m praying again.  This circus has to stop.”  I prayed that God would silence the commotion in the hall and that it would be so quiet that they could hear a pin drop.  Again, within a minute the noise stopped.  And again, I said: “Do you hear that?  Jesus did it again.  That’s what He wants to do for you.”

Today I met with a Native American gal that just got out of jail and treatment.  She came to church and is resolute about “doing the next right thing.”  She is making a break from the bonds of meth and alcohol.  I told her the story of what happened in jail last week.  Her brother is in prison, but God has gotten a mighty hold on him and he is a living, walking evangelist everywhere he was been incarcerated.

She told me about when he was back at the County jail and was with a guy I’ve known since he was a kid.  He was telling this other guy about Jesus and the other guy kept saying that he was a Native and believing that.  Her brother was telling him that it wasn’t helping his life and that  Jesus is the only way, and that He’s real and wants to save him too.

The guy said, “Well, if Jesus is real, I’ll pray for something sweet.”  Maybe he was being sarcastic, because it was 10 at night and he knew it wasn’t going to happen.  But they prayed that S— would get something sweet and that S— would see that God is real.  Not even 5 minutes later a jailer came to their pod where 5 other guys were, at 10:00 at night and said, “S— I have a cupcake for you.  I just thought you’d like it.”

This guy S— got down on his knees and started sobbing and said, “I believe, I believe.”

Now that’s proclaiming the words of this life!  Words of power, words that aren’t just words, but are about life changing abundance that people can grab onto and say, “Yes, He is real and can do things in my life.”

Now, I have to go stand in the town courts and speak words of this life…


Want more? Check out this article by Martha: A Stripped-Down, Boring Jesus.

October 6, 2018

What Comes Out of Your Heart?

For the third time, we’re highlighting the writing of the man with the unusual name, Smith Wigglesworth, a Pentecostal evangelist who died in 1947. In 2013, we did an entry on him in our quotations series which you can find at this link. The following is the April 14 entry in Smith Wigglesworth Devotional (Whitaker House).

What Is In Your Heart?

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.
(Matthew 12:35 NLT)

Scripture reading: Matthew 12:25-45 (click here for NIV passage)

God’s mercy never fails. When Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he set his face to go to the cross for you and me. When He came down from the mountain, there was a man there who had a son whom the Devil had taken and thrown down and bruised. The man cried out, saying, “Lord come and help me. Here is my son; the Devil takes him and tears at him until he foams at the mouth. I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not help him.” (See Mark 9:17-18.)

May God strengthen our hands and take away all our unbelief. Jesus said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?…Bring him to Me(v. 19), and they brought him to Jesus, who cast out the evil spirit. But even in the presence of Jesus, those evil spirits tore the boy and left him as one dead until Christ lifted him up. (See verses 20-27.)

Just think of that satanic power. The Devil goes about to kill, “seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), but Christ said, “I came to give life, and life more abundantly” (John 10:10). May God keep us in the place where the Devil will have no power and no victory. I pray God that the demon powers that come out of people in today’s churches will never return again.

Oh, if I could only show you what it means to be delivered by the power of Jesus and what it means to lose your deliverance through your own foolishness! I know of a case like this. A man possessed by demonic power and sickness and weakness came to Jesus, and He cast the evil spirit out. The man was made whole. Then, instead of the man seeking the Holy Spirit and the light of God, he afterward went to the races. God save us! The healing power is for the glory of God, and it appears that this man was like the teaching that Jesus gave in Matthew 12. His house was “empty, swept, and put in order” (Matt. 12:44), but he did not receive Christ and the power of the Spirit. So the evil spirit went back and found he could gain an entrance again because the man had no other inhabitant in him. He took with him other evil spirits, and the man’s case was worse than before. (See verses 43-45.)

We must make sure that the power of God comes to inhabit us. Are you willing to so surrender yourself to God today that Satan will have no dominion over you?

► Thought for today: If you want to be healed by the power of God, it means that your life has to be filled with God.



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

September 28, 2018

“That Convicts Me” vs. “That Offends Me”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is another post from Daily Encouragement by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Their online ministry reaches around the world (probably several times around!) and for local ministry they are workplace chaplains in central Pennsylvania.

The Blessing Of Conviction Of Sin

“When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8).

About ten years ago I served as an interim pastor of a small country church. One Sunday I preached a sermon and the next week was informed that a college student who had come with a friend was very upset with me and would not be returning to the church. She told her mom, a regular attendee, that my subject matter had offended her and a friend she had brought, both of whom attended a “Christian” college in our area that is severely compromised.

The offensive point was on marriage and sexual morality and both had bought in to Satan’s lies regarding the subject. A message proclaiming Biblical truth was offensive to them. Amazingly, illustrating the hastening departure from a Biblical worldview and standards that follow, this message would not have even been controversial ten years earlier!*

I just read an interesting quote that describes this well: “One of the greatest downfalls of the Modern Church is we’ve replaced ‘that convicts me’ with ‘that offends me’.”

We tend to use the word conviction in a theological context in two ways:

  1. Your convictions are your core set of beliefs; that which you will not compromise. Sadly there are many who at one time spoke of having a conviction on a black and white matter dealt with in Scripture but, due to the trends of the world and political correctness, forsook their conviction.
  2. The other sense is the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting us of sin; He makes us aware, remorseful, and leads us to repentance. In this sense we use the phrase, “being under conviction”. This is the type of conviction we are using in this message.
When confronted with sin we have two choices:
  1. Being Convicted: When David was boldly approached by the prophet, Nathan, concerning his adulterous sin with Bathsheba he said, “I have sinned against the Lord”. He was convicted of his sin and repented, though he still faced serious consequences the rest of his life.
  2. Being offended: Herod, on the other hand, when approached by John the Baptist concerning his sin, was offended and had him beheaded. Herod attempted to silence the voice of the prophet whom God was using as a conviction from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, in His final teaching before He went to the cross, spoke of the coming Holy Spirit. “When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8).

Conviction of sin is a blessing. It may be uncomfortable, it may be politically incorrect, it may cost us, and it will humble us. But when we acknowledge sin we place ourselves on a path of blessing.

Daily prayer: Father, in the Scriptures we know that obedience brings blessing and disobedience bring discipline and eventual judgment. The writer of Hebrews tells us that You are treating us as Your children when we undergo discipline, that You are showing Your love to us. You want to bless us and make us a blessing as we live out our lives here on earth. Therefore You convict us of that which dishonors You and the kingdom of God. Your desire is that we enter the eternal dwelling place You are preparing for those who walk in Your ways. With the help of the Holy Spirit we will not turn away from conviction of sin, but instead we will turn away from that which is sin. Enable us to do so in the powerful name of Jesus we pray. Amen.


* It occurs to me that sadly, now some ten years later after I preached that message, that it would be rare to hear this type of message in many churches since so many preachers have been muzzled in fear of offending someone. Furthermore at the direction we’re heading in ten more years (or likely sooner) such a message will be “hate speech” and will subject the preacher to a different type of conviction. (See 2 Timothy 3)


The Webers recommend this article for additional reading on this topic:

June 5, 2018

God’s Requirement of a New Creation

by Russell Young

Much is made of the fact that the confessor is a “new creation,” but what is meant by that? Paul told the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.” (2 Cor 5:17) A new creation is an “original formation” according to translation from the Greek. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #2937) He or she has become something that they were not before. They have been cleansed from sin and are now in possession of the Holy Spirit whom they did not have in their previous birth. That is, they have the same advantages in Christ as he had. Paul wrote, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15) The need for this newness has been revealed in Genesis. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that the inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6) The new creation is needed to destroy evil inclinations and by doing so to conform a person to the likeness of Christ. Although the creation is new, conformity or refinement must yet be achieved through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

How do people become a new or an original formation? To be “in Christ” they must first have been cleansed of any existing sins. The writer of Hebrews has stated that they “have been set free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15) But, in their new formation they now possess the Holy Spirit, who is Christ in them (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3:17, 18) The whole purpose of the believer’s redemption was so that he or she might gain the Spirit. “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14 Italics added) Being a descendant of Adam, humankind possess the natural or evil spirit that entertains sinful practices and fills God’s heart with pain. It is freed from the encumbrances of past sins that bring death and it houses the Holy Spirit. Although confessors still have the flesh and the spirit from their natural birth to contend with, they have been given all that is necessary for life and godliness through Christ’s presence in them (Col 1:27), the Holy Spirit.

Being a new creation, possessing the Spirit, does not mean that the believer has been renewed however. The new creation is a new birth, a new beginning. The Spirit must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col 3:9─10 Italics added) Paul also wrote, “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; to be made knew in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22─24) The confessor has something to do, to put off his or her old self; they must live in obedience to the Spirit’s leading. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14) A person who is being led is an obedient follower.

The “renewal,” refining, or “conforming to the likeness of Christ” is not done instantaneously. It often requires discipline, punishment, and hardships. (Heb 12:5─7, Rev 3:19) A new birth is the first stage of the creation that God requires, but it begins with incorruptible parentage providing better hope. The new creation through a new birth makes the confessor into a new spiritual baby. He or she must mature to become the person or offering that God requires, sanctified by the Spirit. (Rom 15:16) Hebrews cautions about “falling away” during this process. (Heb 6:1-12)

Many take the believer’s transformation as being a unilateral act of God, a gift of grace; however, the believer’s –a confessor makes the pledge of Christ’s lordship, but a believer lives it out–transformation is an exercise of his or her will, or of their choices. The Spirit is a helper only. He enlightens, leads and empowers, but must be obeyed. Those who thwart, deny, or quench him will not enjoy the hope of God’s heavenly kingdom. These are the hypocrites who blaspheme the Spirit—”sin defiantly.” (Num 15:30) They will never be forgiven. (Lk 12:10)

Peter wrote, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet 4:13) Christ suffered when he was tempted (Heb 2:18) and believers are to join him in his suffering. Further, John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) The mature new creation will be a revelation of Christ as he is willed to live in the body of the believer.

(Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are quoted from the NIV)


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

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