Christianity 201

June 4, 2022

Pentecost Sunday: The Church Branches Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Acts.2.1.NIV When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[or languages] as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Growing up, I often heard Pentecost Sunday referred to as “the birthday of the church.” It is generally considered the ground zero moment for the Church-with-a-capital-C that Jesus said he would build.

We have a first-time writer to highlight again today. Pastor John B blogs at his self-named site and is a United Methodist pastor in the U.S. His tag line is,”Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!” Clicking the header which follows will take you to where today’s devotional first appeared.

As Faithful

Verse 6: “A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his [or her] own language.”

Acts 2 tells the story of God’s word branching out. A small group of Jesus followers are gathered for worship in Jerusalem, a city teeming with people there to celebrate Pentecost or Shavuot, in Judaism. It is a yearly festival to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. On this day a loud wind draws people from all over the world to the house where the followers were gathered. Upon each follower was the flame of the Holy Spirit – just as Jesus has promised.

As the worldly crowd gathers, the Spirit enables the followers to speak the good news of Jesus Christ in a diverse array of languages. People from all over the known world hear these Galileans speaking in their own native tongues. Many are amazed by this act of God. They know that something extraordinary is happening here. Many listen and are drawn into Jesus.

When have you had a similar experience? Maybe for you it was when the Spirit prompted you to go and offer reconciliation. Maybe for you it was a nudge to go visit a shut-in or someone who was ill. Maybe it was a whisper to engage that stranger. Maybe it was a random thought to pray for someone you know. This same Holy Spirit continues to speak and to empower followers of Jesus Christ to witness to the good news. May we be as faithful as this first Pentecost crowd, drawing others to know our Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, this day is full of opportunities. Use me as you see fit to be a sharer of the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Bonus item:

Some of you enjoy watching sermon content online. Earlier this week, it was announced that in the Fall, Andy Wood will replace Rick Warren as the senior pastor at Saddleback Church. I was curious to hear Andy preach, and this morning watched and listened to this sermon from a few months ago, about what it means to be an ambassador of Christ. (It’s part 3 in a series, but this was the message I selected earlier today.)

May 7, 2022

Eliminating Hinderances

I’m breaking our six month rule here, because I was already committed to introducing a new author here, only to be reminded we did this in January. However, that post was one that Pastor Will wrote in October of last year, and this one is from May, so in my convoluted logic, it does represent a gap of more than six months.

Besides, I think someone needs this today. He’s in a series in Hebrews and if you want more just click: Today’s Scripture. If you check the sidebar, you’ll discover that he’s been writing online longer than we’ve been here. Clicking the header below takes you today’s reading.

When We Listen

Hebrews 12:1-3 (HCSB)
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.

The greatest danger that the Jewish Christians faced was giving up in the midst of the struggles they were going through and in the face of the disapproval of their family, and turning away from Jesus and back to the rituals of Judaism. The writer of Hebrews had already pointed out the mortal dangers of such turning back (3:12-19; 6:4-8; 10:26-39). And in the Hall of Faith, he gave us a long list of those who did not turn back, but who persevered even when their goal was far off and seeming unattainable.

Now the writer encourages his readers to use those examples as models for their own lives, to persevere and stay faithful and thus stay on the path that leads to the promised reward. This perseverance includes two negative actions, things to be eliminated, and two positive actions, things to be done and embraced.

The negative actions are first to throw off everything that could hinder us in our spiritual journey. This is not talking about sin, which is next on the list. Instead, the focus of this negative action is on things that could pull us away from single-hearted devotion to God and single-minded pursuit of His calling and mission. This includes associations and partnerships that weaken our resolve or our faith, distractions that draw our minds and hearts away from God and His priorities, and any other focuses that take time and energy away from us becoming the person God has called each of us to become and from the job that He has called each of us to do.

The second negative action is to eliminate from our life sin. To many this has been deemed impossible, unattainable by human effort, and it is. However, through the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, reshaping and transforming our hearts, it is possible and essential for the man or woman of God to live without being entangled in sin which saps our spiritual vitality, and which cuts us off from God’s power to do through us all that He has called us to do. But to get to that place of victory requires acceptance of both the need to eliminate sin from our lives and faith in God’s ability to do it. It then requires focused effort on our part to ruthlessly eliminate from our lives everything that drags us down into sin, and to conscientiously avoid those situations in which we tend to compromise.

The two positive actions we are encouraged to take are both closely related. The first is to persevere in running the race, to not give up, to not allow ourselves to be sidelined by troubles, trials and persecutions, but to keep pressing forward toward the goal. In doing this, we must do the second positive action and keep our focus, not on the trials, but on Jesus, who is both our model, and our goal. Jesus Himself endured great suffering for us, and He stayed on track by keeping His focus on the goal at all times, on the prize of salvation for all humanity, and on His ultimate goal of returning to God’s side and the glory He had had with the Father when everything was accomplished.

Father, it does seem a bit strange how so many of us think about our walk with You. We believe that since You love us, we can simply breeze through our days compromising, sinning, and not giving Your agenda any but the most casual attention, and that it will all work out in the end. But the writer of Hebrews shows that for the lie that it is. You are passionate about Your agenda to save not just us, but all humanity. And our calling is not simply to get to heaven, but to live out the mission of Jesus and to pursue You agenda every waking moment with the help of the Holy Spirit and in His power. It is only as we actively pursue Your agenda that we can be empowered to run the course successfully. And it is only as we keep our focus on the goal, and on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, that we will be able to shed the distractions that cluster around us and the sins that try to weigh us down and entangle us, and to live victoriously all the way to the finish line. Thank you, Lord, for helping me to see this all so clearly. Amen.

April 25, 2022

The Father Authorizes the Son to Send the Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Christ was not deserted in death and his body was never destroyed. ‘Christ is the man Jesus, whom God raised up—a fact of which all of us are eye-witnesses!’ He has been raised to the right hand of God; he has received from the Father and poured out upon us the promised Holy Spirit—that is what you now see and hear!

~Acts. 2:31-33, J. B. Phillips translation

This verse was one that I learned in a slightly different form adapted from The Living Bible, in fact, it hung as part of poster on a wall in my bedroom:

The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit, with the results you are seeing and hearing today.

Quoted verbatim from The Living Bible verse 33 reads,

“And now he sits on the throne of highest honor in heaven, next to God. And just as promised, the Father gave him the authority to send the Holy Spirit—with the results you are seeing and hearing today.

Christ’s death and resurrection brought about a change in the relationship between The Holy Spirit and man.

  • In the first covenant, God’s Spirit occasionally rested on certain individuals, such as the prophets
  • In the time of Christ, the disciples experienced Emmanuel, God with us. The Spirit indwelt Jesus who in turn was physically present among mankind in ways unknown since the Garden of Eden, but limited by whatever physical location Jesus was present at any single time.
  • After the resurrection, God’s Spirit lived inside those who granted Him full authority, or Lordship over their lives.

Christ came to fulfill a sacrificial mandate, but also to usher us into a time when His Spirit would live through us; where instead of being centered on a single person (and therefore a single place) the Spirit of God would be present in people throughout the entire earth. Though omnipresent in both old covenant and new covenant times, the embodiment of His presence after Acts 2 was much more widespread.

Raised to new life, God pours out His Spirit on all those who believe and follow.

There is a continual progression that leads up to the verse in Acts 2 above. In John 7:37-39 we read,

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (NIV)

Then, in John 14:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you. (NASB)

And a chapter later Jesus is quoted saying,

“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.” (15:26 NLT)

And then just before his ascension, in Acts 1:3-4, we read,

To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God. While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. (NET)

Many times I’ve seen Bible study outlines with titles and headers like, “Jesus predicts his death;” but we have an equally compelling case to examine the instances of “Jesus predicts the giving of the Holy Spirit.”

Many times I’ve also heard people talk about “the gifts of the Spirit;” but one time I heard a pastor say

The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself.

With that in mind, let’s end with Luke 11:13

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (NIV)

 

 

April 8, 2022

The Future Role of the Holy Spirit

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

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

What is the Role of the Holy Spirit in Eternity?

Recently someone submitted this question:

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

The “Ontological Trinity” and the “Economic Trinity”

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

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

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

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

The Role of the Son in the Age to Come

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

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

The Role of the Father in the Age to Come

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

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Age to Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

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

God Will Do What God Did Before

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

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

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

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


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


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

 

March 20, 2022

Putting God Back Into Everything Church-Related

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
– Colossians 4:5-6 NIV

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
– Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT

 

I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here.  No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way.  Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting is a good example of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities?  What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mailout and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if the church bulletin had teaching or devotional value, not just announcements, to the point where people wanted to hang on to them beyond a single week?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.

Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse.    At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to break in, but I couldn’t find an opening.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today.  ‘I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program.’

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us.  But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen.  And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things  outside of church.   We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives.  Nah. That’s way too radical.

Years ago (13 to be exact) our friend Kathy put this on her blog:

I’m reminded of a little church my sister and I visited in the UK, in 2007. St. Leonard’s in Speeton, Yorkshire dates back at least the the 12th century, maybe even further.  It’s the tiniest church I’ve ever seen — surely couldn’t hold more than 50 people — set on the outskirts of the village. It was lovely to sit in its pews and meditate for a while; so quiet and peaceful.

But what struck me the most was the sign on the door:

Don’t you think this sign should be on every church door?

Those routine church events — from cleanup days to business meeting — have a holy, supernatural potential; and we should participate with the expectation of seeing amazing things take place.

 

February 12, 2022

Should You “Follow Your Heart?”

Today I discovered a short devotional which has a truth worth sharing, however the article didn’t specifically reference a scripture passage which is usually de reigeur for us, so let’s begin our thoughts with these verses.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. – John 16:13 NLT

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:15 NLT

Today’s thoughts are from James Young, who is being highlighted here for the first time. He writes at Keeper of the King’s Light. Click the link which follows to read this there.

Emotional Reaction ≠ God’s Will

 
Easily, one of the most over used and Hallmarked concepts is: “Follow your heart and it will never steer you wrong.” Disney has made an entire empire out of the idea of following your heart and dreams as your guiding stars. Such a mindset could not be further from the truth.
 
Our hearts are naturally deceptive and wicked. If we have a strong desire to sin and listen to our flesh, then our heart and dreams will always be to follow the path of things that are wicked I’m the sight of the Lord. A thief and a con-artist has no desire for charity or selfless giving. A liar has will never tell the truth in a court system. An individual who loves in fleshly desires will never stay pure and wait until marriage.
 
Well, what about the idea of “letting Jesus into your heart”? How can a heart be wicked if Jesus resides there?
 
Simple: the expression, like many others we pull from sources such as Benjamin Franklin, is not Biblical in origin. While may be used as a way to explain accepting Christ as your Saviour; the expression itself does not give the true meaning of coming to Christ justice. Believe me when I say I’m shocked to be typing this as much as you are reading this. This was a Sunday school question for years and until just a few minutes ago: I never questioned it. If you are interested in looking into it further; here is an article I found that is actually very compelling in explaining it further: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/is-asking-jesus-into-your-heart-in-the-bible.html
 
So, how do we discern what is the Holy Spirit and what is our own will and wanting? It sounds like a church answer, but it is so true: stick close to the scripture and be in complete openness to God when you pray. He already knows what you want and He wants you to talk to Him about it. When He answers; it will come in 3 ways: yes, no, not yet. Like a loving Father; God has our best interest in mind. He may not be after making millionaires out of us, but He wants us to live in such a way that honors Him.
 
The last website you were on? The last video you watched? The last song you sang? The last thought you had? Do any of them point to God or to yourself? When Christ left us to return to Heaven; He left in His place the Holy Spirit to guide us and to lead us. But how can The Spirit lead if our hearts are wicked and unyielding to God?
 
So, how do we know what’s right and in God’s will? Stay close to His word, stay in constant and open communication with Him, and learn to wait on Him. His timing is perfect in all His ways. As Jesus tells us, if the birds of the air don’t worry: why should we?
 


 
One of the earliest posts here at C201 very briefly looked at the 2 Timothy passage (above) with some imagery at the end of the verse describing walking along a path. Check out All Scripture Had Its Point of Origin in God’s Mind.

 

 

February 4, 2022

Out with the Old

Today we’re back at Whole Life Worship, a website we first visited four years ago. Dr. Douglas M. Lee is a pastor, teacher, conference speaker, worship consultant and seminary professor. He is currently Lead Pastor for the New Hope Missional Communities. He also serves as a Department Head for Artists in Christian Testimony International and is an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University/Seminary.

You’re encouraged to click the header which follows to read this where we located it and/or click the link at the end to subscribe to their devotions.

Transformation: Making Room for the New by Getting Rid of the Old

I had a good conversation with a friend the other day. She was really excited about some new and exciting stuff she was going to add to her life. She wanted to serve others in new ways. She wanted to do new things to improve her relationships. And she wanted to start some new spiritual practices in her life. I was excited for her, as there was a lot of good thought and reflection behind these new choices. Not wanting to squelch her enthusiasm, as a friend I needed to ask this question:

“So, what are you going to give up in order to make space for these new, exciting things?”

Silence.

Finally she said, “Hmmm. That’s a good question. I need to think about that.”

When we find something new that will change our life for the good, it will always involve getting rid of the old ways. Why? First, because we are limited: in time, in space, in energy and in focus. Second, because keeping the old ways will always short circuit our efforts in allowing the new to take root.

We’re in a series about Biblical Transformation. We’ve been looking at Romans 12:1-2 and seeing how different aspects of this WholeLifeWorship model is also God’s way of transforming us into the best versions of ourselves (if you missed the first three devotionals – no worries, just click here). This week we’re looking at how we can make room for God to transform us by getting rid of the old way of how we’re used to doing things.

The Apostle Paul put it like this:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” (Romans 12:2a)

In other places, he writes, “With regard to your former way of life, put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22). “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Col 3:5). All this points out to Jesus’ very basic teaching of discipleship, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

So, what’s behind all of this? Why is it so important to get rid of the old patterns in our lives?

1. There are active forces that are working overtime to keep us from being transformed into the image of Christ. Paul identifies these forces as “the world, the flesh (false self) and the devil” (cf. Eph. 2:2-3a). They have established some bad “default” settings in us and want to keep us there at all costs; lest we become transformed to Christ-likeness

2. The pattern of the world wants us to conform to its values. These forces seduce us with the lure of money, power, success, significance and fame to lead us down a dead-end road. They whisper messages that cause fear, anxiety, insecurity, lust and greed to keep us confined to these values. This causes us to become increasingly more self-referenced, self-righteous, and self-preoccupied.

3. The endgame of these forces is to “deform” us. They want to make our lives smaller and smaller so that we settle for a life that is based on mere comfort and existence. They want to keep us from having any lasting impact on others and in the world. They want to so shrink our souls so that the image of God within us shrivels to oblivion. They want your life and mine to become “purposeless” and “wasted.”

The Good News is that, through the power of Christ and the Spirit, we can overcome these forces, we can take steps to not be conformed (or deformed) by the world’s patterns, and we can make room for God to transform us for the good! Paul writes in Romans 6 that if we are united in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin (or the forces of darkness) because if we have surrendered ourselves to Christ. We are set from the power of sin over us!

So, what are some practical steps we can take to rid ourselves of the old worldly ways so that we can make room for the new, transformed life in Christ?

1. Take time to be silent and ask God to point out where we are conforming to the world. I believe that we already know where we are falling short, but we’re too afraid or ashamed to confront it. Being still and quiet before God allows us to be enveloped in His loving and safe presence. From there, we can receive and embrace the Spirit’s pointing out this issue in our lives.

2. Believe in God’s grace and strength to overcome the world. These areas are so ingrained in our lives that it seems impossible for us to get rid of them. We need faith and trust in God’s grace and strength to remove these psychological and emotional barriers. Remember, that we can do “all things through Him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13)

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower us moment by moment so that we can be victorious over the powers of darkness in our lives. We cannot overcome the powers of the world, flesh and the devil in our own strength or will-power. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our innermost being (Eph. 3:16). We can ask the Spirit for help every day in our personal times with Him, as well as in the moment where we are feeling the temptation to revert back to the old ways.

One of the most powerful moments of my life was when the Lord helped me overcome the power of sexual addiction. By giving into sexual temptation, I was becoming deformed by this sex-crazed world. But the Lord helped me not to conform to this any longer by following these steps I just mentioned. It was a major victory where I saw the power of God at work in my life. But more than that, this process became a spiritual rhythm that I continue to use to get rid of the “trash” in my life. By making choices each day to stop being conformed to the world’s pattern, I create the needed space in my life to be transformed by God.

So, I encourage you to step further into Biblical transformation by proactively seeking to dismantle the worldly mindsets, attitudes and activities in your life – using God’s Holy Spirit power at work within you to overcome the old pattern of life to make room for the new!

Remember, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!” (1 John 4:4)


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January 31, 2022

Our Prime Motivation

Sometimes we know we just must do something, but do we ever dig deeper to see where that seed was planted in us?

This is our fourth time at Before the Cross, written by . You need to click the header which follows to read this where we first located it.

Sometimes Conviction Is Not Enough

How many times have we been there? We’ve heard a message, watched a video, or even had a conversation with someone and walked away feeling really convicted about something. We’ll even tell people “man I was so convicted about that” and others are like “yea, me too” but then after awhile, nothing changes. Or we’re in a small group and we can go around the room and basically everyone can chime in talking about how they are convicted, but then you come back the following week to just discuss the same convictions over and over again.

We seem to feel convicted or guilty in certain moments and tell ourselves we’ve got to change something, but then nothing happens. We just go back and repeat either the same mistakes or find ourselves convicted again the next time, possibly even about the exact same thing as before!

So why is this? Surely conviction itself from the Holy Spirit isn’t a bad thing and there’s good that can come out of that, but why is it often the case that change doesn’t take place within us? Perhaps being convicted is not enough?

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 4:14-15

That word compel basically can be defined as bringing about change. It’s not our conviction that actually changes us (conviction can bring awareness and help warn us and guard us), but what actually brings about change in our lives…what compels us and motivates us to change…the love of Christ.

We no longer live for ourselves but for Him, who died and was raised again. We are reminded of our motivation as followers of Jesus that while we are convicted and still make mistakes, we now live for Jesus. Not ourselves.

Why?

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

The incredible fact here is that Jesus had no sin. Zero. And He became sin for us, meaning He paid the price of all of our past, present, and future sins…not only so that we would be rescued, but that we would become the righteousness of God. That God would view us as His children through Christ. That the Holy Spirit would reside in us and give us power and self control over our actions and our lives for His Glory and for our own good.

It’s the love of Christ that truly compels us to change.

What motivates you more?

  • Don’t do that, this is bad, this is wrong, you need to make changes.
  • You are fully free and forgiven and will never be condemned by God ever again.

I’m not saying conviction is wrong, I’m asking which one motivates you more? Which one truly brings about change? When you think about how forgiven you really are in Christ and that you are a new creation, it frees you up and gives you confidence to move forward making changes in your life.

What needs to change in your life? What is something God is asking you to stop doing and something He is asking you to start doing? When is the last time you paused for 60 seconds to reflect on the fact that if you believe in Jesus and follow Him, there is NO record of debt against you? It’s been nailed to the cross.

Christian, you’re forgiven. You’re free. Because Jesus is enough.


Second Helping:

Here’s another article at Before the Cross, this one from Heather Bost, about allowing external things to define us. What defines you?


If you’re interested in an index of topical articles at Before the Christ dealing with practical ways you can live out your faith or face challenges in your personal and family life, click here.

January 26, 2022

Only by God’s Spirit is Truth Revealed; Error Countered

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This devotional blog operates on the premise that, while some of the original material is occasionally re-purposed, the book excerpts and work of other writers only appears once. But as I looked back at old posts, I realized I wanted to bring more visibility to this book which the publisher, Harvest House, has continued to keep in print.

The gift that I felt Bob George brought to the table was illustrations, in fact, closer to the time of printing, a companion volume was released containing illustrations and analogies which could be used with Classic Christianity.

This is excerpted from an early chapter about separating truth from error. The full title is Classic Christianity: Life’s Too Short to Miss the Real Thing.


There’s a big difference between knowing what something says and knowing what it means. Millions of Christians know what the Bible says, but many do not know what it means, because that can only be revealed by the Spirit. Man’s pride rebels against the idea that he cannot understand spiritual truth on his own but this is what the Bible clearly says:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (I Cor 2:14)

The reason why is very simple, there is no human alive who can read another man’s mind and if we cannot know what another human being is thinking how much less can we ever know what God is thinking? I Cor 2:11 reminds us of this:

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

How then can God teach us his thoughts? “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (v. 12) Man does not need the enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit to understand the law; the law was given specifically for the natural man. We need the Holy Spirit to open our minds to the things having to do with the unfathomable riches of His love and grace, those things that “God has freely given us.” Those truths are described in I Cor. 2:9 this way:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

In order to understand the things that God wants to teach us regarding His grace we must have a humble, teachable attitude for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) Just as the same sun that melts wax hardens clay, the same message of God’s grace that softens the heart of the humble hardens the proud. The proud cannot receive grace because the proud will not receive grace…

That is why an uneducated but humble person will receive far more genuine and intimate knowledge of God Himself than a highly educated but arrogant theologian…

Bob George, Classic Christianity


Publishers usually impose word limits for book excerpts, and so far we’re well within that, but as I thought more about this book, I remembered a section which greatly impacted me many years ago. If we have to take this down from the website for over-excerpting that’s fine, but at least subscribers will get to see it.

Making it practical

I sometimes wonder how often a story like the one which follows is the case in the lives of people we know.


Late one night as I was drifting off to sleep, I was jolted by the harsh ring of the telephone. It was a neighbor, apologizing for the late hour, but asking for help. “What’s the matter, Sue” I asked

“It’s Stan,” she answered in a low and tired voice, “he’s drunk again please come over and talk to him.”

Wearily I climbed out of the bed and dressed. Stan again! I wondered what I could say to him tonight when, quite frankly I had already told him everything I know.

In my first two years as a Christian I became quickly involved in all kinds of ministries, from evangelism to teaching to counseling. I saw God do wonderful things in people’s lives, but Stan was a mystery to me. Sixty-five years old, Stan had been an alcoholic since his college days. He was always open to hearing about Jesus Christ and about his offer of forgiveness of sins and a new way of life. Stan had even walked the aisle of a local church to profess his personal faith in Christ. But nothing seemed to happen to him. It was as if something was keeping the message was from getting through. The drinking continued just as before, with all its degrading results.

In those days I had the tremendous experience of sharing the gospel with hundreds of people, and it seemed that most of them experienced an immediate turnaround. In the case of someone like Stan, someone who accepted the message without being changed afterwards, I didn’t really know what to do next except share the same message again and hope that it would take this time…

“Lord,” I prayed… “If I’m going to help him tonight you’ve got to put some words in my mouth… give me direction… something.”

On that night though, I knocked on the door without a clue is what to what I was going to say… There was Stan, a heartbreaking sight in his drunken condition, with the familiar empty expression, lurching movements, and slurred speech. With an attitude of total dependency upon the Lord to guide me, I sat down to talk to him.

For a long time we covered the same territory that we had discussed many times before, making no apparent progress.

Suddenly without any premeditation whatsoever, I asked Stan a question I’d never asked before. It went like this: “Stan when you accepted Christ which Jesus did you believe in?”

He looked at me with a puzzled expression. “What do you mean?”

“Did you have in mind an honorable man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived 2000 years ago in a place called Palestine? The historical man who performed miracles, made the blind to see, and the deaf to hear? The man who taught people to love one another, and eventually died on a cross? In other words, Stan, did you accept Jesus the man? Or did you accept Jesus the God who became a man who was raised again from the dead? He who is Lord and is alive today? The Lord Jesus Christ who offers to come and live inside you and gave his very life to you?”

Stan’s eyes seem to clear a little as he looked up at me intently.  He said, “I received the Jesus who was a man 2000 years ago.”

“Then the question is, Stan, are you willing tonight to put your full trust in Jesus the God? Not just accept the fact that there was once a good man who walked on the face of the earth, we are trying to imitate, but to accept the fact that this is the Lord God Himself who is alive today and wants to live in you? Are you willing to get on your knees with me right now, Stan, and accept the living Christ the One who has the power to change your life from within?”

Stan immediately responded, “Yes.” We knelt together and in his half drunken state, he trusted in the Living Christ. I looked into his face and saw a new man! After being an alcoholic for more than 40 years, Stan was totally free of his dependency that night.

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January 22, 2022

Simeon Scanning the Horizon

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back again with Rev. Kevin Rogers, a pastor in Western Ontario, Canada whose writing appears at The Orphan Age. This week Pastor Kevin was still in one concluding scene from the Christmas story in the two blog posts which follow. Click the headers below to read each one.

The Advantage of Old Age

We may have our personal thrill bucket list, but what about the fulfillment of a dream that will reshape the world as we know it? Part of the Christmas story involves an aged man who was given something that would be accomplished before his departure.

Luke 2:25-26

In Jerusalem There Was A Man Named Simeon. He Was A Good And Godly Man. He Was Waiting For God’s Promise To Israel To Come True. The Holy Spirit Was With Him. The Spirit Had Told Simeon That He Would Not Die Before He Had Seen The Lord’s Messiah.

Simeon is a reminder to us that God speaks to individuals, not just nations, churches, or tribes. The promise to Israel is personalized for Simeon. You will see the Messiah in your lifetime. It’s noteworthy here that Simeon was a devout man that longed for God to break into the world and restore hope.

There is something to be said for older men and women that live in devotion to God. When you are younger you may be pulled in many directions, but the godly saint has resigned to prioritizing intimacy with God. Joel prophesied that old people would dream dreams. What dream has God put into your heart as you get older?

Whereas the shepherds symbolized the average person on the street, Simeon represents the testimony of a wise elder who has walked with God. Part of his wisdom is seen in that he is looking for the hope of the nation, the consummation of God’s promise — “the consolation of Israel”. Saints in touch with God’s heart often await expectantly the completion of God’s promises. This revered saint is led to see what the arrival of this child means.[1]

What dream or vision has God put into your heart? Perhaps the voice of the Spirit is most heard when we pay attention to what God has promised to do.

Simeon’s raison d’être

What do people mean when they say they are being led by the Spirit or following the Spirit’s leading?

The concept of walking in the Spirit is all about God helping you to be in the right place at the right time. This was certainly a factor in Simeon’s encounter with the infant child Jesus. For a long arc of time, Simeon had been awaiting the consolation of Israel. Isaiah chapter 40 prophesied that God would comfort his people and now it had been personalized for Simeon. Sometimes the voice of the Spirit speaks and the message hangs in the air for centuries before a promise is fulfilled.

We must learn to be patient in waiting on the things that God plans and promises. But then,  there are times when something happens spontaneously, and you recognize that this is what God had promised.

For Simeon, God’s promise was linked to his own raison d’être – reason for being.

Luke 2:27-29

The Spirit Led Him Into The Temple Courtyard. Then Jesus’ Parents Brought The Child In. They Came To Do For Him What The Law Required. Simeon Took Jesus In His Arms And Praised God. He Said,
“Lord, You Are The King Over All.
Now Let Me, Your Servant, Go In Peace.
That Is What You Promised…”

The old man likens himself to a slave whose duty it has been to scan the horizon for a long-awaited visitor. Now he reports to the slave-master that his trust has been fulfilled, and he claims the privilege, his long watch being over, of going off duty.[1]

God’s salvation was not an impersonal idea, but a person. How intimate that Simeon would hold Jesus literally in his arms. That’s the thing about God’s promises—they are tangible, personal and physical.

What needs to be fulfilled in your lifetime before you can tell God that you are ready to go home?

In the Latin liturgies, verse twenty-nine is the beginning of Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis. The Latin words mean, ‘Now let your servant depart’.


[1] Zondervan Bible Commentary


Read more: 4+ years ago we shared another devotional about Simeon by Gordon Rumford.

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January 14, 2022

What if No Faith was Required?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Can you imagine an alternative reality where there is zero doubt as the to core components of Christianity, and yet, inexplicably, people might still choose to walk away? That’s the subject of today’s devotional.

Today we’re highlighting another creative person who is new to us, Liam Sass, who is a writer, podcaster, musician, and online evangelist. You can connect with his various projects at his website. You’ll also find him on a number of social media platforms.

As always, you’re encouraged to click the header which follows to read today’s devotional there instead of here. Thanks to those of you who recommend writers for us to feature.

A Issue of the Heart

Unbelief in Jesus, for most, isn’t rooted in intellectual reasoning. “That’s a bold statement Liam.” Alright, ask an unbeliever this:

“If Christianity were true, would you be a Christian?”

Assuming you all have atheist friends to ask.

Notice, most will be unsure or even be as bold to say no! Why is this? Because mankind doesn’t WANT a God. They want to BE God. Denying the existence and resurrection of Jesus Christ is impossible. Yet we watch people come up with even more ridiculous theories then the miracle itself! Some big magic trick or everyone who witnessed Jesus after His resurrection was “on something”.

They can’t accept these truths because then they would need to submit to the truth! If they admit to Jesus, they also need to admit the teachings of Jesus. They would admit that physical relations outside of the marriage between a man and a woman is unholy, that worshiping any other God is idolization, that the murder of an unborn child is an abomination, and the list goes on! (I use those examples because those are prevalent things our culture holds onto)

Now we have come to the root of most peoples unbelief in Christ. It is not a intellectual issue but rather a heart issue. Their morals don’t align with Gods morals and so they deny His existence to ease their conscious. The crazy thing is, we were told people would react this way! Even at one point in your walk, before your heart was opened, you would react in the same likeness!

“-being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools-“
Romans 1:20-22

I know this is a hard topic. We need to realize as Christians that some cannot be reasoned with. Ultimately, a heart change happens between them and God alone. If you have tried reasoning with someone and the conversation is not fruitful, DO NOT PRESS THEM! Instead be in prayer and ask that God might open their heart to Him. God is sovereign and all that He wills will come to fruition.

Take rest in that.

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January 12, 2022

A Powerful Church

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Four years ago we introduced you to the writing of Bert M. Farias, who like another author frequently featured here, J. Lee Grady, has a blog at Charisma Magazine’s website. This time however, we’re featuring some writing from his own site, at Holy Fire Ministries. Bert has a number of published books, as well as two new ones due this month.

His primary audience is Pentecostal and Charismatic readers. Note that as you read. Click the header which follows and read today’s devotional at his site.

Christ’s True Church is One of Power

The Church began as a pure and powerful free flowing river in Acts 2, but through the centuries of time that river has picked up much dirt and debris (sin, man’s traditions, doctrines of demons, carnality, and compromise, etc.) until it became so muddied and diluted of its former character, power, and authority that it devolved into a shell of its former glory and such a phantom of the original. But in the last few centuries a glorious restoration has begun in its character, power, and authority until now we stand on the precipice of the greatest awakening and move of God this world has ever seen.

The early Church was birthed in Jerusalem where Jesus commanded them to wait for His POWER (Acts 1:8), and through the early apostles this POWER was carried forth to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth at the time. Then years later the “work” that Saul and Barnabas were separated unto added to the expansion of this gospel of POWER very quickly (Acts 13).

“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the HOLY Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the WORK to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus” (Acts 13:2-4).

Most church members and saints, however, are not called to the “WORK” but specifically called locally. They have jobs, families, and relationships in their Jerusalem. Others’ sphere of influence will extend out to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world etc. This is the Lord’s divine design to add to the local churches and multiply the number of disciples and the obedience to the faith of many (Acts 6:7). It is to be the Church’s primary focus and commission.

UNITY IN THE BODY WHEN EACH FINDS THEIR PLACE

This is a simple word but profound and will create greater unity in the body when everyone finds their place. We cannot think of ourselves higher than we ought to, but at the same time, we cannot lightly esteem the lesser or weaker members either.

“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Cor. 12:18).

We often forget that this verse was written to the church at Corinth. It is in a local church setting and context. Here is another verse from another chapter:

“Do you not discern and understand that you [the whole church at Corinth] are God’s temple (His sanctuary), and that God’s Spirit has His permanent dwelling in you [to be at home in you, [collectively as a church and also individually]” (2 Cor. 3:16 — AMP)? We need more collective movement in the body and less independent movement. I’ll say more about that at another time.

THE WORK VS. THE LOCAL CHURCH

Saul and Barnabas along with three other prophets and teachers were ministering to the Lord and fasting at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), when the Lord separated them to a WORK whose sphere of influence would be far beyond the local church in Antioch. Not everyone is called, separated, and sent that way. You can’t make yourself a prophet or a teacher, or an apostle, or choose it like you would choose a secular profession, as many self appointed Facebook and social media individuals do. I’d rather hear a donkey bray in a barn at midnight than listen to some of these pseudo “apostles” and “prophets” tout their latest revelations on social media. A true apostolic anointing has Power attached to it. It is God who appoints, anoints, sets and sends.

We see the immediate impact and results of this separation and sending. Saul (Paul) immediately begins to operate in a greater POWER and authority (Acts 13:8-12).

A TRANSFER OF POWER: STEPHEN AND PHILIP

In the early church at Jerusalem we see the same principle in operation as Stephen and Philip move from serving as deacons and tending to windows into a ministry of POWER and greater supernatural influence ( Acts 6-8). What often happens, though, is Christians get excited about Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth, and they lightly esteem Jerusalem. Spirit-filled leadership will recognize callings and anointings but it’s the Holy Spirit who does the “setting apart”. You can’t just lay hands on people to receive gifts and mantles, as is so common today, without the authorization of heaven and the direction of the Spirit. That’s just treating the things of the Spirit as common and playing with them as if they’re toys. It’s childish and irreverent to make so base that which is holy. Immaturity should not be a leader of God’s people.

LAYING ON OF HANDS WITH PRAYER AND FASTING

Honestly, so much of the laying on of hands today is done in the flesh. Often there is no leading of the Spirit to do it. No faith. No reverence. No POWER.

I remember being a part of a full gospel but still traditional church that would lay hands on the sick nearly every Sunday. The pastor would call up the elders, most of whom had no anointing, give each of them a bottle of oil, and just lay hands on people with no faith, no unction, and no POWER. Never did I see anyone healed. Never was there a testimony of such. You might as well just have laid hands on a piece of wood.

Friends, these things are holy. The laying on of hands is holy whether it be for healing or setting someone apart for ministry. There is supposed to be active faith and/or a transfer of POWER with it. There should be believing effectual prayer and at times fasting attached to it.

Notice that it wasn’t until the apostles laid hands on the seven that Philip and Stephen began to move out and preach the gospel in great miracle POWER (Acts 6:8). They received a great impartation and transfer of Power from the apostles when they hands on them.

STEPHEN

“… whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:6,8).

PHILIP

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:5-7).

This is not for everyone. We have no record of the other five deacons receiving the same impartation or transfer of POWER Philip and Stephen did. Yes, we are all commissioned to preach and to lay hands on the sick and cast out devils (*Mark 16:15-18), but some are called, especially anointed, and appointed to a ministry office or function.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:27-28).

God sets in the body whomever He wills and appoints various ministry gifts. Some are called to work locally all their lives. Others will mature into greater callings of greater influence. Stay content in that and don’t push for ministry beyond the scope of what the Lord has ordained. Even John the beloved, an apostle, appears to have limited himself to mainly Jerusalem for sometime to care for Jesus’s mother Mary and help oversee the local church before ending up at Ephesus, and then confined to the island of Patmos in his later years. But he lived longer than the rest of the original apostles and became known as the apostle of love from what we glean from the gospel and epistle that bears his name.

Not every minister has an international ministry. I believe some ministries are confined to their present locale and region. The same could hold true with apostolic and prophetic ministries. Be faithful to your local church family and community as Philip and Stephen were, and if God sees fit to increase your sphere of influence let Him do it. Don’t initiate it on your own. Your overseers, if they are Spirit-filled men, will know it.

Find your place in your grace. Function in your unction. Remain in your lane.

In conclusion, read the following portion of Scripture very slowly and carefully:

“They compare themselves to one another and make up their own standards to measure themselves by, and then they judge themselves by their own standards. What self-delusion! But we are those who choose to limit our boasting to only the measure of the work to which God has appointed us—a measure that, by the way, has reached as far as you. And since you are within our assigned limits, we didn’t overstep our boundaries of authority by being the first to announce to you the wonderful news of the Anointed One. We’re not trying to take credit for the ministry done by others, going beyond the limits God set for us. Instead, our hope soars as your faith continues to grow, causing a great expansion of our ministry among you” (2 Cor. 12:12-15 — TPT).

I could say so much about these verses, but that will have to be for another time.

Stay tuned or buy the book (s) when it’s published.

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December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is our fifth full-length post from Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch and it’s only the first part of a longer article. You’ll need to click through to continue reading some of the reactions he had when he posted this. It’s a very timely topic right now, especially as people have used Covid-19 as an excuse to sever themselves from local churches. Click the header which follows.

Difficult Bible Passages: 1 John 2:27

This is another passage that is so often abused and misused. That is the main reason it can be so difficult or problematic. A subtitle to this article might be: “This Is How Cults Arise”. That is because those who mangle this verse are prime candidates for the cults or may well already be in one.

The verse says this:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This verse, and John 14:16-17, 26 and John 16:13, are so often wrongly appropriated by some believers. The texts in John’s gospel are a bit different: they refer to the fact that Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, and he wants to assure them that he is not abandoning them, but he is leaving the Holy Spirit with them to assist and guide them.

These verses are often used by those who claim that they have no need of “human” anything: human learning, human teaching, human counsel, human books, human study, etc. They imply that they have a direct pipeline to God, so are totally self-sufficient in and of themselves. They have no need of anyone else.

I just wrote about these “Holy Spirit-only” believers. At the end of the day what we have are not super-spiritual believers, but usually arrogant and fleshly Christians: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/01/26/holy-spirit-only-christians/

In a moment I will give a concrete example of this sort of twisted thinking. But first, how might we answer this? It is quite easy actually. If we simply run with the two most basic rules of biblical interpretation, we will have no problems here at all:
1) study every text in its context
2) compare scripture with scripture

As to the first, the context shows that John is dealing with some heretical, Gnostic, and/or secessionist teachers who were claiming special spiritual insights and revelations. It is THOSE sorts of false teachers that these Christians have no need of, and need to avoid.

Concerning the second, it is clear from numerous biblical passages that we DO need teachers, counsellors, advisors, overseers, etc. – all of them “mere” humans. The New Testament everywhere speaks of how God has given teachers and others to the Body of Christ to help it grow and develop.

Simply based on all these other texts, there is absolutely NO way anyone could believe that John is saying we should not have teachers. Indeed, the letters of John are ALL ABOUT teaching, instruction and helpful information to believers. Throughout the New Testament human teaching – properly understood – is NOT being downplayed, but extolled and encouraged.

I realize that these hyper-spiritual types especially dislike things like biblical commentaries, but let me quote from just a few of them anyway. While they may despise and look down upon these godly biblical teachers, I am happy to run with their Spirit-directed wisdom and insights.

One of these great Spirit-endowed men of God was John Stott. He said this about the passage in his commentary:

True, in the last resort the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church (e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28, 42; 2 Tim. 2:24) but also to specially gifted ‘teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11).

Obviously John’s epistles are full of teaching and instruction. As James Montgomery Boice puts it:

When John says that the Christians of his day “do not need anyone to teach” them, the statement must be understood in its context. It does not mean, for instance, that there is no value at all in teaching or that there is no such thing as a teaching ministry in the church. In fact, as Bruce observes, “What is John himself doing in this letter if he is not ‘teaching’ his readers?

Or as Marianne Meye Thompson comments:

While ultimately the Spirit “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.

Let me now turn to some recent remarks that came my way on all this…

[…continue reading here]

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November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 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.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

With the pandemic, it’s been awhile since some readers here have been physically present in a worship service, but for a moment, imagine you there and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation. It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, imagine that mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there could be a number of possibilities here, of which four are:

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Sometimes however, the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there. Imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.

But weeks later your life is unchanged. That would be a bigger nightmare.

What would your excuse be?


Want to further wrestle with the issue of how we see ourselves vs. how we really are? Consider the book by Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us. Here’s a link to a review of the book.

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September 16, 2021

New Beginnings: Same Old Problems

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Noah and the Flood in Genesis 6-9

by Clarke Dixon

If only we could hit the reset button and start over, everything would be great, right? We may be thinking about work, a key relationship, marriage, or about parenting. I’m just now feeling like I am getting the hang of parenting, now that we are nearing the empty-nest stage!

You might be thinking of your entire life. Can I just start over?

We may be thinking about the entire world. Let’s just start over!

A new beginning would be a great beginning, right? We’d get it right the next time, we’d do it better.

But would we?

In the Bible we find a story about a great “reset,” and the opportunity for humanity to start over. So how did it go?

I’m guessing you are familiar with the story of Noah and the flood, but have you really considered the whole story of Noah, including what happened after the flood?

The way the story of Noah and the flood is written up, we are to get the point that this really is a new beginning, a hitting of the reset button. Bible scholars point to all the parallels between the creation story and the flood, things like the call to “be fruitful and multiply” and so on.

So how did it turn out? Did humanity get off to a better start with Noah than with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel?

Well let us check out the part of the story of Noah we don’t hear as often. To summarize what happens next, Noah got hammered, as in drunk, and he passed out naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw his Dad in that state and went and told his brothers. We are not told the content of what was said, but reading between the lines, it was probably a shaming thing like “go look at Dad – what a loser!” Ham’s brothers did the respectful thing by their Dad and covered him up, walking into the tent backwards so as to not see him in such an embarrassing situation.

How did Noah respond when he woke up?

When Noah woke up and learned what Ham had done he cursed Canaan, Ham’s son:

“May Canaan be cursed!
May he be the lowest of servants to his relatives.”
Then Noah said,
“May the LORD, the God of Shem, be blessed,
and may Canaan be his servant!
May God expand the territory of Japheth!
May Japheth share the prosperity of Shem,
and may Canaan be his servant.”

Genesis 9:24-27 (NLT)

Noah lashed out with a curse, not against his son Ham, but against his grandson, Canaan, who seemed to have nothing to do with it. Perhaps Noah was hungover, perhaps he had a splitting headache, but whatever his state of mind, the state of his heart led straight to a curse.

So how is this fresh start going?

Let us remember the original reason for the flood:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. . . . Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. . . . And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them . . .

Genesis 6:5,11,13 (NRSV emphasis added)

The earth was filled with violence. Following the flood, Noah and family had a chance for a future without violence.

In fact God showed the way to a future without violence. This fresh start was one in which God promised mercy instead of judgement. As we read the following, let us consider that the Hebrew word for “rainbow” is the very same word used for the weapon “bow,” as Bible scholars point out:

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

Genesis 9:11-15 (NRSV emphasis added)

In hanging up a rainbow, the picture is of God hanging up his weapon of war. It is in God’s heart to bless and not curse.

What a contrast we see here between God and Noah. Where God renews the tone of blessing, of promise, Noah sets a tone of curse. Noah’s curse sets up one part of the family as as better than the other. Such disparity and discrimination will only lead to problems, and to violence. Great new beginning? Same old problems. Same old human hearts.

So what about us?

Anytime that we experience a new beginning, are we just setting ourselves up for the same old problems because we have the same old hearts and the same old hang-ups? Do we ever feel like every new beginning ends up being the same old?

Will we ever change? Can we ever change?

Change is possible!

We are called to change

Jesus calls us to change when he calls us to pick up our cross and follow him. We may be used to thinking of “bearing our cross” as bearing whatever suffering comes our way, but that is not the call. The call is to handle things differently, to handle things in line with the heart of God.

Notice how at his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus did not respond to violence with violence. We are reminded of God’s promise signified by the rainbow, a promise to not destroy. God came to us in Jesus and we, humanity, killed him. Yet God did not flood the earth. God could have destroyed us, but instead loves us and offers reconciliation and a love relationship. God hung up his weapon. In fact, God, in Jesus, was hung on one of ours. God responds in love.

The call is to live with hearts that reflect the heart of God. When we are offended, like Noah was by his son, or way worse, as Jesus was by everyone, we respond, not with curse like Noah, but with love like Jesus.

We are enabled to change

We have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . .

Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV)

Fundamental shifts in our character are a consequence of walking with God in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. These fruit of the Spirit are not just changes in habits, or the correction of certain behaviors, this is deep heart work.

Let us remember that Noah was the most righteous person of his day, yet his heart was not right. That is kind of the point, that even the most righteous person on earth needed some deep heart work. We do too.

In our relationship with Christ, and through the work of God’s Spirit, we are called and enabled to change so that each new beginning we face has new possibilities. Let us be mindful though, that deep heart work takes time.

In Conclusion

With Noah we see a new beginning, with new possibilities, and then we see the same old problems coming up because of same old hearts harboring the same old hang-ups. Noah’s new beginning was not a great new beginning.

With Christ we experience a new beginning, and a new heart. Therefore each new beginning can be a better new beginning in Christ.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. Click here for his blog and/or click here to watch a video of the message from which today’s devotional is based.

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