Christianity 201

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.

 

May 7, 2018

The Gifts of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today we’re again featuring the writing of Smith Wigglesworth. (It would be a great name for a character in a children’s TV show, but it’s real!) Smith is best known in Britain where he was a Pentecostal evangelist. He died in 1947, but he was a prolific writer and his work continues in print in a long list of books. In 2013, we did an entry on him in our quotations series which you can find at this link. The following is the July 3rd entry in Smith Wigglesworth Devotional (Whitaker House).

The Gifts of Christ

To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  — Ephesians 4:7

Scripture reading: Ephesians 4:1-16

The apostle Paul spoke about the grace and the gifts of Christ – not the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the gifts of Christ. You are joined to Christ’s body the moment you believe. For instance, some of you may have children, and they have different names, but the moment they appeared in the world, they were in your family. The moment they were born, they became a part of your family.

The moment you are born of God, you are in the family, and you are in the body, as He is in the body, and you are in the body collectively and particularly. After you come into the body, then the body has to receive the sealing of the promise, or the fulfillment of promise, that Christ will be in you, reigning in you mightily. The Holy Spirit will come to unveil the King in all His glory so that He might reign as King there, the Holy Spirit serving in every way to make Him King.

You are in the body. The Holy Spirit gives gifts in the body. Living in this holy order, you may find that revelation comes to you and makes you a prophet. Some of you may have a clear understanding that you have been called into apostleship. Some of you may have perfect knowledge that you are to be pastors. When you come to be sealed with the Spirit of promise, then you find out that Jesus is pleased and gives gifts in order that the church might come into a perfect position of being so blended together that there could be no division. Jesus wants His church to be a perfect body–perfect in stature, perfect in oneness in Him.

I have been speaking to this end: that you may see the calling that Paul was speaking about — humility of mind, meekness of spirit, knowing that God is in you and through you, knowing that the power of the Spirit is mightily bringing you to the place where not only the gifts of the Spirit but also the gifts of Christ have been given to you, making you eligible for the great work you have to do.

My purpose is not to tell what God has for you in the future. Press in now, and claim your rights. Let the Lord Jesus be so glorified that He will make you fruit-bearers — strong in power, giving glory to God, having no confidence in the flesh (Phil 3:3) but being separated from natural things, now in the Spirit, living fully in the will of God.

Thought for today: Let your whole soul reach out unto God; dare to breathe in heaven; dare to be awakened to all God’s mind; listen to the language of the Holy Spirit.

April 24, 2018

The Unrecognized Christ

by Russell Young

Who is Christ? This might sound like an unnecessary question to pose to Christians, however an understanding of who he is to the extent that his ministry can be fully accomplished is seldom appreciated.

Many years ago, through research and prayer I had sought to gain insight concerning the evolution of Canada from a country that had once elevated Christ to one that can be termed “a post-Christian.” Most Canadians would have identified themselves as supporting Christian principles and most would have identified themselves as being of this world view. Although many would accept the designation, commitment to Christian principles in life has become lacking, is often ridiculed, and for political-correctness has been discarded. Late one night, having doggedly pursued my query for most of a year, a vision came to me and I was overwhelmed with a great sense of peace. (This has been the only one that I can recall.) It was of a whiteboard with the wording printed, “They must know him.” At the time, I accepted this to represent the need for evangelism and gave it little more thought.

Recently, in prayer, while seeking knowledge of God’s will, the realization came to me that “knowing him” meant knowing him as Holy Spirit. Although I had written on the fact that eternal salvation comes through Christ as the Holy Spirit (2 Thess 2:13, Titus 3:5; Gal 6:8), I had not connected it to my earlier vision until this day. That is, “They need to know Christ, as Holy Spirit.” This appreciation is not common even among spiritual leaders.

Paul made the association clear to the Corinthians. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:1718 NIV Italics added) Paul has also made this revelation to the Colossians and to the Galatians. “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27 NIV Italics added) “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but, Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20 NIV Italics added) Note that it is Christ in the believer that is his or her hope of glory, not Christ on the cross, although his life-offering is essential.

Who is Christ? He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He not only offered his life a sacrifice on the cross to complete the covenant of the law and as a propitiation for sins (Heb 9:15), he was resurrected so that we might be given his Spirit to lead a righteous life. (Gal 3:14, 6:78; Rom 8:4, 1314)

Knowing who Christ is requires knowing him as Spirit since the fullness of his ministry is also defined by the Spirit’s ministry. It is this aspect of Christ that needs to be known. It is Christ as Spirit who enlightens (Jn 16:13), leads (Jn 10:27, 16:8; Rom 8:14), and empowers (Rom 15:13; 2 Tim 1:7) for righteousness. (Gal 5:5) The warning has been given that those who blaspheme the Spirit will never be forgiven. (Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10; Heb 10:26) Blaspheme means to sin defiantly. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native born or alien, blasphemes the LORD.” (Num 15:30 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has also revealed an “expectation of judgment and of raging fire” for those who “deliberately keep on sinning.” (Heb 10:2627 NIV) The person who would be “eternally” saved must obey Christ (Heb 5:9) and do the will of the Father. (Mt 7:21)

Knowing Christ requires recognizing his holiness and authority and honoring it. Christ said that he was the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). The Spirit is his life. It is this aspect of Christ that seems to have been missed and it is through honoring this person that commitment and self-discipline are required. Neglect of his life has resulted in Canada becoming a post-Christian nation. The power of Christ for eternal salvation and for ministry is being lost.

The Spirit was sent to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8 NIV), however tradition has carried the church in Canada more than conviction by the Spirit and without conviction truths become cast aside and are lost. Without conviction people do not contend for the faith. Without conviction the righteous requirements of God are replaced with personal interests and desires. Without conviction, the Spirit, Christ in us, will not be honored as our lord or sovereign and cannot minister for the confessor. Many accept the designation of being Christians, but do not live his life. They have hearts, attitudes, and practices that are difficult to distinguish from the multitudes that surround them; consequently, Christian values have been replaced by those of the worldly multitudes and Canada has lost its Christian identity. The power of God has been usurped by the prince of the power of the air.

Concerning the last days Paul wrote that people would have “a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2 Tim 3:5 NIV) The power of God is exercised through his Spirit. The sovereignty of God as Lord and King is seldom acknowledged, even from pulpits, and his lordship other than as a title.

Jesus Christ as Holy Spirit is the unrecognized Christ, and he needs to be honored through obedience for those seeking his eternal kingdom. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) People need to know who he is, that he is the Spirit. His reality needs to be recognized.)


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.

 

April 16, 2018

Filled With The Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Acts:13.6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Today’s thoughts are from a 2010 Zondervan book, A Certain Risk: Living Your Faith at the Edge, by Paul Richardson. To learn more about Paul, check out a story we did at Thinking Out Loud on Mustard Seed International.


In Acts we read that Barnabas and Saul were traveling together when suddenly they came face to face with a sorcerer. Luke writes that Saul was”filled with the Spirit” as he stepped forward to face the adversary. From this moment forward, Saul’s name is inexplicably changed to Paul. When I studied this event, I asked myself, wasn’t Paul already filled with the Spirit? He’d been a follower of Jesus for many years! I believe the answer is yes and the answer is no. Luke writes with the assumption that there’s a distinction between (1) being sealed with the Spirit, unleashing God’s ebb and flow of artistry in us and resulting in bearing fruit, and (2) being filled with the Spirit during certain moments, launching us into the fray to fulfill God’s chosen purposes in those moments.

Luke aligns Paul’s brazen response to the sorcerer with hundreds of other moments in the Scriptures when individuals are momentarily “filled with the Spirit.” Let’s slow down a bit and take a careful look at the following examples of Spirit-filled moments. Try not to rush through them. Instead, soak them in, allowing them to revitalize your understanding of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Notice the triangulation of God, one of his image bearers, and the world around that person. Also notice how these moments portray how God takes purposeful action, drawing men and women of faith into movement, shattering our mundane routines in extraordinary fashion. I have added italics for emphasis.

  • “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he went to war.”1
  • “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet.”2
  • “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He… advanced.”3
  • “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy.”4
  • “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me.”5
  • “Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah… He stood before the people and said…6
  • “The Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field.”7
  • “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice  to the nations.”8

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners. (Is. 61:1)

The following Spirit-filled moments can be found in the four gospels:

  • “It will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”9
  • “I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.”10
  • “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”11
  • “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert.”12
  • “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”13
  • “For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”14
  • “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”15
  • “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”16

Notice that Spirit-filled moments have three elements in common: God, image-bearer, world. God moves from within an image bearer to somehow imprint, transform or confront the world around that person.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8
A Certain Risk, pp 98-100

1 Judges 3:10
2 Judges 6:34
3 Judges 11:29
4 I Samuel 10:6
5 II Samuel 23:2
6 II Chron. 24:20
7 Isaiah 32:15
8 Isaiah 42:1

9 Matthew 10:20
10 Matthew 12:18
11 Matthew 12:28
12 Mark 1:12
13 Mark 13:11
14 Luke 12:12
15 John 14:26
16 John 15:26

June 16, 2017

The Biblical Role of Incense

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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We linked to Elizabeth Prata at Thinking Out Loud but I believe this is the first time here at Christianity 201. This article follows from another from her blog The End Time and you might want to pause in the first paragraph and click the link in order to go deeper.

In the meantime, for this article, click the link in the title below to read at source.

How is incense like prayer?

by Elizabeth Prata

Yesterday I wrote about incense, and how the LORD told Jeremiah to tell the people that their sacrifices of incense were not going to be received, because of their sin. He was going to send judgment instead. I’d said that there is a connection between incense and prayer, to be explored today.

First, let’s look at the Temple and the altar of incense, called the golden altar. (Exodus 39:38).

for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD. (1 Chronicles 28:18–19).

The Lexham Bible Dictionary explains that pure incense was manufactured from equal parts of the following substances:

•      stacte—oil of myrrh
•      onycha—an extract from a Red Sea mollusk
•      galbanum—thought to come from the gum of an umbelliferous plant
•      frankincense

This mixture was seasoned with salt (Exodus 30:34–38). The LORD raised up perfumers whose job it was to produce the incense. (Exodus 30:34-38). One of the responsibilities of the priest was to keep incense burning on the altar daily. (2 Chronicles 13:11). Not to burn it was disobedience. (2 Chronicles 29:7-8).

There’s much more to the actual incense ingredients, blending, burning, and spiritual uses, but for now, let’s turn to the main idea for today- the connection between incense and prayers.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Zechariah, in Luke 1:8-11)

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews makes a distinction between the two times incense is used in the temple.

Whereas, therefore, there was a twofold use of the altar of incense; the one of the ordinary priests, to burn incense in the sanctuary every day; and the other of the high priest, to take incense from it when he entered into the most holy place, to fill it with a cloud of its smoke; the apostle intending a comparison peculiarly between the Lord Christ and the high priest only in this place, and not the other priests in the daily. discharge of their office.

Incense both accompanies and symbolizes prayer. ( Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4). The burning of incense as a sweet smelling offering before the Lord, indicated the worshiper’s duty to present prayers or offerings that were pleasing to God (1 Samuel 2:28).

When the New Covenant came, the new way of praying came. (Matthew 6:9,) No longer needing a priest to intercede, no longer needing incense to symbolize types and shadows, we now have the Spirit in us to intercede, and resurrected Jesus next to the right hand of the Father to intercede. We can ourselves go boldly before the throne of grace.

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews lays out four ways incense is like prayer.

1.) In that it was beaten and pounded before it was used. So doth acceptable prayer proceed from “a broken and contrite heart,” Isaiah 51:17.

(2.) It was of no use until fire was put under it, and that taken from the altar. Nor is that prayer of any virtue or efficacy which is not kindled by the fire from above, the Holy Spirit of God; which we have from our altar, Christ Jesus.

(3.) It naturally ascended upwards towards heaven, as all offerings in the Hebrew are called “ascensions,” risings up. And this is the design of prayer, to ascend unto the throne of God: “I will direct unto thee, and will look up;” that is, pray, Psalms 5:3.

(4.) It yielded a sweet savor: which was one end of it in temple services, wherein there was so much burning of flesh and blood. So doth prayer yield a sweet savor unto God; a savor of rest, wherein he is well pleased.

Owen further observes:

We are always to reckon that the efficacy and prevalency of all our prayers depends on the incense which is in the hand of our merciful high priest. — It is offered with the prayers of the saints, Revelation 8:4. In themselves our prayers are weak and imperfect; it is hard to conceive how they should find acceptance with God. But the invaluable incense of the intercession of Christ gives them acceptance and prevalency.

What an inexpressible privilege it is to pray. The curtain is parted, we may boldly approach the throne of God. He not only hears our prayer, he Himself intercedes for us when we utter groanings too weak to understand. (Romans 8:26).

Do not neglect prayer, a sweet smell of our sacrifice of praise to our Lord who hears.

June 14, 2017

A Gospel Riot

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re again returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. As happened in December, I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take several minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source. It’s longer than usual, but is great reading.

Sidewalk Peddlers

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…” Acts 19:23

This chapter, if you’ve never read it is fascinating. There’s a riot going down in Ephesus. Some translations call it a great disturbance, some a ruckus; regardless, the gospel was being preached in Ephesus and it was ruffling some feathers.

A few verses earlier, in Acts 19, we are told that many people in Ephesus were turning away from their worship of false gods and confessing the name of Jesus (v 17). We have accounts of people “confessing and telling their deeds” and publicly burning their valuable sorcery books (v19). This was no small thing in a city that prided itself in the worship of the goddess Diana and to whom a great temple had been built. Enter a man called Demetrius, a silversmith who made his living crafting and selling little handmade shrines of Diana in her temple. It’s a timeless practice, if you’ve ever been to a large church or  cathedral you know how this works; people set up shop on the sidewalks or entrance and offer to sell you souvenirs. When we visited Notre Dame Cathedral with our kids one summer we walked away with a metal replica of the church and two wooden crosses simply because we couldn’t escape the onslaught of pushy peddlers who set up shop right where you are trying to get that all important family photo. It’s amusing to see this practice goes back 2,000 years. Verse 24 tells us that “Diana brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” Just like the hawking of plastic Eiffel Towers and cathedral keychains today, this was a lucrative business.

So naturally, following the very public turning away from Diana towards Christianity, these hucksters were getting ticked off. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together and riled them up so much that “the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Paul’s travel companions (v29). They didn’t even know what they were doing or saying, most of them had no idea why they had even come together (v 32). It finally took a city clerk to calm everyone down and explain to them how irrational they were being. This man wasn’t even a follower of Christ, he simply uses logic to point out that Paul and his men weren’t robbing the temple or even blaspheming Diana. What they were doing was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Paul and his team went about their business preaching and performing “unusual” miracles for two solid years in Ephesus. Diseases were healed, demons cast out, people were changed. It’s very interesting to note what Paul did when people didn’t agree with his teachings: “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (v9). 

When someone’s heart was hardened to the message, Paul departed and withdrew. He didn’t hang around to argue, fight, persuade or worry. He left. He went to where the message would be accepted. This isn’t to say he didn’t have fight in him, I’m guessing he had his arguments down pretty solidly. What he did was simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Paul knew it wasn’t up to him to pull this off. The Great Commission was to GO and leave the rest to God. If people see the miraculous and still choose to turn away, so be it.

There is a battle to fight, but we’ve got to know our strategy. Sin doesn’t like being confronted. Idols don’t topple easily. When we go out into our culture and live according to God’s Word, we will be strongly and sometimes irrationally attacked. It doesn’t mean we cower or stop speaking, but it doesn’t mean we always need to attack the idol-makers either. Paul was effective because he spoke truth and left the results up to God. He made himself a vessel and allowed himself to be used. He didn’t stress about everyone who disagreed with him because he knew the purpose of his ministry was to preach the gospel, not to placate the culture.

When the whole city is full of confusion and rushing to and fro like headless chickens, it’s our duty and our privilege to stay the course. We need to remember its not OUR truth we are promoting, contrary to what culture wants us to believe. It’s HIS truth, THE truth. We aren’t peddlers on a sidewalk selling trinkets of an idol – what we have to offer was paid for at a very great price and is free for the taking. It will cost something though, being a part of this “Way”… our own little kingdoms, our comfort zones, our people on pedestals.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…”

There will always be a great commotion where Jesus is concerned, especially if we are sticking to HIS Gospel and not our own. Popularity and trinket-selling isn’t His goal for us.

It’s not always easy to go on record for our beliefs. The idols demand allegiance, just like the wild rioting crowd in Ephesus. The world is burning, literally and figuratively. Jesus calls us to choose life, repeatedly, daily, hourly, minute by minute. If you’re following a method or a person that doesn’t swing wide an open door to Jesus or push you to fiercely want to promote and protect His Word, I suggest halting and reevaluating. We aren’t that different from Ephesus in our idolatry and group-think ways. Self promotion, self preservation is the rule of the day, and if we are honest, we see that it gets us nowhere.

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Lisa Whittle that snapped me right back to reality this morning after waking up at 5am with a zillion fears and annoyances running through my head:

“It’s time to make some heart determinations and declarations, my friends – to rise up, call out, stand firm, and walk strong. This is the time to rise up in holy anger, as Jesus did when He overturned the tables – to fight for holiness and purity and love. It’s time to fight for the freedom from the devil’s lies, which is ruining lives. It’s time to fight for the truth to be revealed about who Jesus is and how only He has the power to save so that other powerless gods will no longer be put beside or before Him. It’s time to fight for eyes to be opened about seemingly harmless distractions like social media and busy calendars and God-ish Christianity and how all of it at the end of the day keeps us from holiness. It’s time to fight for us to truly revere and honor God again. We’ve lost that, I think, that healthy fear of God. We don’t tremble before God anymore. We flaunt our independence.” 

It’s time. Cause a commotion if you need, God doesn’t mind. He has our backs. I think He probably wishes we were more stirred up. Choose your battles carefully, some are meant to win and some aren’t even meant to be addressed at all. Beware the peddlers on the sidewalk and beware the little idols, Jesus has so very much more to offer us. When the whole city is filled with confusion, be the one who rises up in love and power to fight for the truth.

June 10, 2017

Fanning the Flame

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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2 Timothy 1:6 NLT This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.

2 Timothy 1:6 CEB Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Today we have two shorter devotionals both based on the same verse. The first is from Jim Cymbala posted at World Challenge.

Stir Us Up, Lord

To the believers in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Amazingly, although the Holy Spirit is fully God, it is entirely possible for believers like you and me to hinder His work and quench His sacred fire.

Some people falsely believe that whatever God wants to do, He will do. Consider Jesus’ invitation to His own church in Laodicea: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). If He is Christ, and He wants in, why doesn’t He just come in? Why does He bother knocking and asking? That’s the mystery of God’s sovereignty and our free will. We must respond to Him or we will miss out on His planned blessing.

At one time Paul told Timothy to stir up the embers, to keep the fire going (see 2 Timothy 1:6). We need to do the same! For some of us, the embers are faintly glowing, and we need to tend to them, stir them up, breathe on them so they will burst into open flame.

We need the fire of the Holy Spirit changing our lives and our local assemblies. We need it spreading throughout our towns and cities, spreading so that Christ can be glorified. May this be our prayer today:

“Send the fire, God. Burn, penetrate, change, renovate, illuminate. Do as You promised, as we wait in Christ’s name.”

The second is from knowing-jesus.com

Fan Into Flame

As Paul neared the end of his life the wisdom he proffered to Timothy is as relevant today as the day on which he picked up his quill, to pen his final message as God’s chosen apostle to the gentiles. Having joyfully recalled his trust in Jesus as well as the sincere faith of his mother and grandmother, Paul called on Timothy to: fan into flame the gift of God, which was in him.

Christ was the final revelation to man and the God-breathed Scripture contain all that we need for life and godliness in our current generation. And though apostolic authority ceased with the last apostle, all God’s children are gifted by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit – and like Timothy we too are called to: kindle afresh the gift of God that is in us.

It is the Holy Spirit that sealed us and baptized us into the body of Christ at salvation and it is the Holy Spirit that enables and empowers us to serve the Lord as we grow in our spiritual life. It is the Holy Spirit that gives to each of God’s children the spiritual gift or gifts that each requires to fulfill the role to which we have been called and it is the Holy Spirit Who works in us all – to will and to do of HIS good pleasure. Let US kindle afresh the gift of God, which by His grace we have received – but let us do it in LOVE… for if we  function in the gifts of the Spirit without LOVE it profits us nothing… and dishonours our Lord.

Heavenly Father in the power of Your Holy Spirit I pray that I may fan into flame the spiritual gift that You have given me by Your grace, and I pray that in all I say and do – it may be done in LOVE, so that Christ may be formed in me, in Whose name I pray, AMEN


The image at the top of the screen is from an article by Shirley Swift Wilkinson (no relation that I am aware of!) from an article also worth reading: The Flames We Chose to Fan.

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