Christianity 201

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.

January 12, 2022

A Powerful Church

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.

December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

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]

November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

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:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • The cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

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.

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.

July 11, 2021

The Holy Spirit Gives GPS-like Guidance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced Jenny Lee Young who lives in Randburg, South Africa and describes herself as a “former Methodist local preacher” who writes at Coffee in the Rain. I found this to be a helpful illustration. Click on the header which follows to read this at source.

Driving with a GPS

My hairdresser moved about two months ago. Her business took a serious knock due to the lockdown and she could no longer afford the rent in a small shopping centre where she ran her salon. She decided to operate from her home instead.

I have always travelled about half an hour to have my hair cut. In the past I have seldom been happy with hairdressers and once I found one I liked, I stuck with her, even though she moved out towards the West Rand about five years ago. Her prices and pensioner’s discount are also the best I’ve found.

The first time I went to her home, I got lost. I had looked at the directions on Google Maps before I left and had a general idea of the first couple of kilometers. Then it was time to switch on the GPS.

I have two cell phones. The one that is connected to the cell phone network has limited connectivity (WIFI, Bluetooth and GPS) after it was dropped on its face and repaired. My backup, which is old, has limited battery life. I stopped at the side of the road to connect my main phone. Predictably, it gave me the first instruction then lost the GPS signal. I drove straight, hoping it would regain connection but it didn’t. There was nothing for it but to call on the backup. To do that, I had to pull over again, create a hotspot on my main phone and connect the backup. I connected the backup to my phone charger because I saw there was only 20% charge left although it had been fully charged just three hours earlier. I sent a message to my hairdresser saying I was running late but on my way.

By now I was in territory totally unfamiliar to me. After about five minutes, my backup phone gave me the low battery warning and then went dead. Obviously it was losing more power than it was gaining. I couldn’t switch it on again.

I was lost.

I looked at my WhatsApp messages to see that my hairdresser hadn’t read my message. I was about to phone her when she phoned me wondering where I was. In the end she came to fetch me and I followed her home and charged my flat phone while I had my hair cut so at least I could find my way home.

If we get lost using a GPS device or app, there are three possible reasons.

  1. We think we know better and ignore the instructions.
  2. Our reception of the GPS satellite is faulty or intermittent.
  3. We run out of battery on our device.

The spiritual life is like driving using a GPS device. The signal is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13 NIV)

Romans 8:14 says, For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (NIV)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:18 NIV)

All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they accept Jesus into their lives as Lord and Saviour. However, we can still get lost on our spiritual journey. This can be for similar reasons to getting lost with a GPS.

  1. We think we know better and ignore instructions.
  2. We do not hear the Spirit’s promptings because our minds are filled with too many other things. Our reception of the signal is faulty or intermittent.
  3. We have run out of power. We have not been in the habit of plugging into Jesus for daily prayer and scripture reading. We have not spent enough time with our Lord to recharge our batteries.

There is one other reason for getting lost, both in the physical drive and the spiritual walk. We misunderstand the instructions. The voice on my phone says turn right and I turn immediately into a building site when I was meant to turn at the next road.

Spiritually, it is when God calls us to something and we try to do it in our own strength immediately and run ahead of God.

I’m happy to say I have been to have my hair cut subsequently and I did not get lost. I took precautions. I made sure my backup phone was charged 100% and I plugged it into my car charger as I left. Moreover, I had gone to Google Maps on my computer and printed instructions to my destination.

I am sure there are precautions we can take in our Spiritual walk too. By constant communion with our Lord, we can make sure our spiritual batteries are charged.

My Prayer

Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)

March 26, 2021

Understanding the Roles of the Trinitarian Godhead

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I hope the title wasn’t too scary. In 2014, we published this under the simpler “Trinity Job Descriptions: Who Does What?”

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

Today we look at the work of God. Classic writer A. W. Tozer, who helped found the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, sets this up well in the first paragraph, and describes a situation that many Christians fall into. Because we’re dealing with an older writing style, I thought we’d mix things up a bit, and use The Voice Bible (except where noted) as the base text. The cross references aren’t spelled out in the original; I’ve taken the time today (partly for my own benefit) to look them all up for you. Because the page numbers may differ in various editions of The Idea of the Holy, suffice it to say that this is the section that concludes chapter four.

O marvelous! O worshipful!
No song or sound is heard,
But everywhere and every hour
In love, in wisdom, and in power,
The Father Speaks His dear Eternal Word.
Frederick W. Faber

A W TozerA popular belief among Christians divides the work of God between the three Persons, giving a specific part to each, as, for instance, creation to the Father, redemption to the Son, and regeneration to the Holy Spirit. This is partly true, but not wholly so, for God cannot so divide Himself that one Person works while another is inactive. In the Scriptures the three Persons are shown to act in harmonious unity in all the mighty works that are wrought throughout the universe.

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13 By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The incarnation is shown to have been accomplished by the three Persons in full accord

Luke 1:35 The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Most High will overshadow you. That’s why this holy child will be known, as not just your son, but also as the Son of God.

though only the Son became flesh to dwell among us. At Christ’s baptism the Son came up out of the water, the Spirit descended upon Him and the Father’s voice spoke from heaven,

NLT Matt. 3:16 After his baptism, as soon as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down in the form of a dove. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am wonderfully pleased with him.”

Probably the most beautiful description of the work of atonement is found in Hebrews 9:14, where it is stated that Christ, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God; and there we behold the three Persons operating together.

Hebrews 9:14 then how much more powerful is the blood of the Anointed One, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself as a spotless sacrifice to God, purifying your conscience from the dead things of the world to the service of the living God?

The resurrection of Christ is likewise attributed variously to the Father

NIV Acts 2:32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

to the Son

John 10:17 The Father loves Me because I am willing to lay down My life—but I will take it up again. 18 My life cannot be taken away by anybody else; I am giving it of My own free will. My authority allows Me to give My life and to take it again. All this has been commanded by My Father.

and to the Holy Spirit

ESV Romans 1:4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The salvation of the individual man is shown by the apostle Peter to be the work of all three Persons of the Godhead,

I Peter 1:2 I am sending this letter to those who have been selected and destined by God the Father and made holy by God the Spirit that you may be obedient to Jesus the Anointed and purified by the sprinkling of His blood. May grace and peace beyond all reckoning be yours.

and the indwelling of the Christian man’s soul is said to be by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Jesus: John 14:15 If you love Me, obey the commandments I have given you. 16 I will ask the Father to send you another Helper, the Spirit of truth, who will remain constantly with you. 17 The world does not recognize the Spirit of truth, because it does not know the Spirit and is unable to receive Him. But you do know the Spirit because He lives with you, and He will dwell in you. 18 I will never abandon you like orphans; I will return to be with you. 19 In a little while, the world will not see Me; but I will not vanish completely from your sight. Because I live, you will also live. 20 At that time, you will know that I am in the Father, you are in Me, and I am in you. 21 The one who loves Me will do the things I have commanded. My Father loves everyone who loves Me; and I will love you and reveal My heart, will, and nature to you.

The Other Judas: 22 Lord, why will You reveal Yourself to us, but not to the world?

Jesus: 23 Anyone who loves Me will listen to My voice and obey. The Father will love him, and We will draw close to him and make a dwelling place within him.

The doctrine of the Trinity, as I have said before, is truth for the heart. The fact that it cannot be satisfactorily explained, instead of being against it, is in its favour. Such a truth had to be revealed; no one could have imagined it.

O Blessed Trinity!
O simplest Majesty! O Three in One!
Thou art for ever God alone.
Holy Trinity!
Blessed equal Three
One God, we praise Thee.
~Frederick W. Faber


Other Tozer readings here at Christianity 201:

 

 

October 20, 2020

Blessed with Memory, Wisdom, Skills

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today our search around the world took us to Lagos, Nigeria and the blog Closing Gaps Devotionals, written by Ada Babajide. Again, we invite you to encourage the writers we introduce here by reading the daily posts on their site instead of ours! Click the title below for this one.

Blessed with Intellectual Ability

Text: Exodus 35:30-35

Key verse: The Lord has filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. Exodus 35:31

God is awesome in wisdom, in the beginning, his omniscient powers were displayed at the creation of the world, making the galaxy, the earth, and everything in it within six days. Each creature, aquatic or terrestrial had its food web designed for its perpetual existence.

Consider the complexity of the human body, the different systems working today to sustain life; digestive, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, excretory, reproductive, skeletal, etc. God made all this without any help from any one.

This magnificent power of creation embodied in the Holy Spirit has also been given to men, by creating man in his image and likeness.

In our text, God filled men with his Spirit giving them intellectual ability manifesting as wisdom, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. The gifts came from God to man, free of charge. It is still available for all God’s children to access.

The winning mindset seeks excellence in every field of endeavor. It does not just want to be first by faith, but it backs up its work with creative competence.

He is a master craftsman, an expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and carving wood. He is a master at every craft. verse 33

What are you a master at? What are you good at working with? Do you have any skills? God desires that his children filled with the spirit should be masters at their crafts, whatever that may be.

I have been so dazed just watching videos of people do amazing designs using fruits. These creative abilities come from God.  Are you not simply blown away when you see certain designs of buildings, work of arts, or even arrangement of music and you wondered how the individuals came about such gifts. God endues these special skills to his children.

The Lord has given them special skills as engravers, designers, embroiderers in a blue, purple, and scarlet thread on fine linen cloth, and weavers. They excel as craftsmen and as designers verse 35

Excellence as a cloth designer is a gift from God, how come all of us want to sit behind a desk and be told what to do while numbing our creative gifts? Why do we consider it evil for our children to be an excellent craftsman We are willing to pay others for these services while sitting back and expecting wealth transfer from nonbelievers who have developed themselves in these competencies.

We read in history how many of the inventions came from people of faith, why have we allowed ourselves to be robbed of our God-given potential?

Your mind can receive a divine download that empowers it to have access to mysteries not known by anyone, Daniel is a proof of these, John in the Isle of Patmos was able to download the whole of the book of revelation. Do you also not wonder how Moses was able to recall the first five books of the Bible? Was he there at creation? How did he know all the dimensions of the construction of the tabernacle and the details of the commandments for worship in the wilderness?

There is more in God for us, our mind is the key to unlock new ideas that will preserve mankind just as Joseph received it. As artificial intelligence takes over in the world, are believers positioned to be at the center of it or are we going to sit back and let the devil drive it to a place of manipulative control and destruction?

Awake, child of God. The seven mountains of society will be taken by the church when we release dominion by the Spirit of God at work in us. Have you identified your mountain? Are you working daily to be fruitful, to be productive, and add value to society?  Do you seek to improve on whatever you are offered or you are content with the status quo?
God is ready to release wisdom and divine abilities if we are ready to ask, seek, and knock. The world will celebrate the Bezalel’s and Oholiabs of today the women were not left out too.

All the women who were skilled in sewing and spinning prepared blue, purple, and scarlet thread and fine linen cloth. All the women who were willing used their skills to spin the goat hair into yarn. verses 25,26

The virtuous woman of proverbs 31was not celebrated for her beauty alone, she had skills! What do you want to ask God to do about your loss of memory, lack of wisdom, and skills? What are you ready to pray about for yourself and children who are sitting idle at home?

You are too blessed to be ordinary!  Too loaded to fail! Failure is a choice. Choose well!

Blessings.

 

 

August 27, 2020

Forgiving Our Debtors Doesn’t Come Naturally

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Matthew 6:12

Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. (Phillips)

Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we ourselves
    release forgiveness to those who have wronged us. (Passion Translation)

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NRSV). It is added to “forgive us our debts” as if it is a matter of fact thing, something we have already done like it was no big deal. Forgiving someone, however, can seem like a big deal, or even an ordeal. Here are three things we may think about forgiveness which may add to the struggle.

We may think, “I am just not good at forgiving people.”

Forgiveness is not a skill. Rather, forgiveness flows out of character. Consider sailing. Without wind, all the skills and techniques of an accomplished sailor come to nothing. The sailor will struggle to sail. Without character we struggle to forgive.

Forgiveness flows out of a character marked by grace. It is not so much that we learn how to forgive, but rather we become people of grace. We experience God’s grace in Christ. Having experienced great forgiveness from God we become people who want to forgive.

We become people enabled to forgive. The Holy Spirit works in us, growing the fruit of the Spirit within us. Are we growing in our character such that forgiveness is just something we do?

If we are really struggling to forgive someone, maybe we can take a breather from trying so hard. Maybe we can focus on the offense less and God’s love for the offender more. Maybe we can focus on our relationship with the offending person less, and on our relationship with God more. Then we can go back to that person from a different place, as a more Christlike person growing in grace.

We may think “I tried to forgive and forget, but there is no way I can ever forget what they did to me.”

We have some good news; forgiveness is not tied to a superpower called forgetfulness. My Mum, who now lives in a nursing home, has that superpower. You know who is not at all worried about the pandemic? My Mum. You can tell her there is a pandemic and in five minutes she will have forgotten all about it. While I am happy my Mum is quite happy, none of us want that superpower of forgetfulness and all that goes with it.

We do not normally get to choose our memories, but we do get to choose what we do with them. When we forgive someone we may not forget the offense, but we can channel every memory of an offense into a gracious and wise response.

In some cases, it is unwise to forget the offense, good memories are necessary for health and protection.

Think of the example of a husband who abuses his wife. A wife with an unforgiving spirit might say “Though you have apologized I hope you go to hell for the hell you put me through.” A spouse with a forgiving spirit, but a “forgiveness = forgetfulness” kind of thinking might say, “since you apologized again, let us start over again as if nothing has happened.” A spouse growing in grace, but having a wise memory might say “I hope you get help, repent, and become a better man. I hope you live and die in the arms of Jesus. But if you raise a fist against me again, you will not live and die in my arms. You have apologized and I forgive you, but the past offenses are in my memory and my memories lead me to put boundaries in place for my safety.”

Forgiveness is not to be confused with forgetfulness. They are two very different things. If we struggle with trying to “forgive and forget,” perhaps we should stop trying to forget. Instead let us focus on responding with grace and wisdom when we face offense and when we remember.

We may think, I alone have difficulty forgiving others.

Notice that Jesus teaches us to pray in the plural. It is not “as I have forgiven my debtors,” but “as we have forgiven our debtors.” We are in this together.

There are many of us learning to forgive. There are many of us growing in grace. There are none of us who have arrived. You are not alone on the journey. This is why the experience of Christian community is important. We support one another on the journey. If we are struggling to forgive, let us take a deeper dive into meaningful relationships with people who are walking with Jesus and growing in the Spirit.

We thank God for forgiveness we experience in Christ. We thank God that he grows our capacity to forgive through His Spirit. Let us be so growing in our relationship with God in Christ that we pray “as we have forgiven our debtors,” and not “as we struggle to forgive others.”

(Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The message portion alone can be seen here.)


We have two articles in this series from Clarke this week. Watch for the second one tomorrow.

June 17, 2020

Drive In Service: Stuck Inside a Car, But Experiencing Freedom

Today another new author for you, and an unusual devotional format as well. Marjorie Wingert’s focus on her blog is Prayer Over Our Children. On her ‘About’ page she explains,

…As a new parent seeking to raise her child up in the Lord while recognizing the power of prayer in my family’s life, I hungered to proactively pray on behalf of my child. Oh, how my mother’s heart beat to pray against the temptations and struggles that will inevitably bombard our children as they grow. Moreover, I desired to pray in a way that would deepen my walk with our Heavenly Lord while feeding my soul with the meat of Scripture.

One evening as my husband and I were joined in prayer, the Holy Spirit whispered softly to my heart. Why not pray Scripture over her? Why not read a chapter a day from the Bible and use the content from each passage to form your prayer? My eyes popped open. What a great solution!…

So, for example, in its original formatting, following the scripture verse, today’s sample blog post begins,

Prayer Over Our Children
Call my child to You, oh Lord, and surround her with an abundance of Your joy and love. I pray that You will keep her from unbelief, sexual immorality, perversion, slander, and ungodliness. May she not grumble, boast, flatter, fault find, or follow evil desires. Instead, I pray that You will buildup in her a most holy faith and help her to learn to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Keep her in Your love, oh God, as she waits to be brought to glory. May You also help her show mercy and intercede for others. Oh Lord, keep my little one from falling but help her to stand before Your glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Amen.

Parents might want to read more prayers like this as a model for something you can do in your homes.

…Currently, Marjorie is in a series on Revelation. So I scrolled back to this post-Easter article to find you something that would work as a stand-alone devotional. Please, click the header below to read this at source, and consider subscribing to her blog, marjoriewingert.com


Jude

“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Jude 1:20-21, NIV

Living Hope

The day dawned like any other. The sun rose, people slumbered in their beds, and quiet tip-toed through the neighborhoods. Birds chirped their greetings and winds rustled the leaves clinging to tree branches. Young children scrambled to start their day while their parents groaned for more sleep. Today, however, was different. It was Easter Sunday!

My own family tumbled out of bed for the early service. To a nearby fast food restaurant, we headed. Our special Easter breakfast comprised of egg, bacon, and cheese muffins. Hash browns rounded out the meal with small cups of orange juice. Armed with an arsenal for our growling bellies and music blaring from the radio, we nibbled our way to the Easter “drive in” service.

Having participated in sunrise Easter services, never did I dream that Easter “drive in” services would also be added to my repertoire. We sat in our vehicles with one parking spot in between each car to ensure social distancing. Everyone remained in their vehicles and each radio tuned into the same low frequency airwaves. Some engines idled while others remained off.

Here, in this unlikely gathering of dusty vehicles, the Holy Spirit fell strong and vibrant upon this unconventional Easter service. Surrounded by fast food wrappers, empty water bottles on the floor, and neighboring cars instead of people in pews, our souls feasted on a message of hope. In noisy procession, geese banked high above us, raining down their honks of hallelujahs. Even sun rays which crested above the rooftop painted the perfect backdrop to the morning.

Yet, while hearty “Amens” flashed by flickering car lights and hands clapped or raised in praise, two truths unfolded in my brain. The thoughts made my spirits soar and deepened my gratitude. For although our gathering today was far from the traditional Easter service, devoid of Easter lilies, decorative bows, and fancy dresses, something new and beautiful unfolded before me.

Clothed with anonymity within the privacy of our cars, a new freedom of the Spirit emerged. No longer was I hindered by the self-consciousness of what others would think. No longer did I suppress the joyful bubblings stirring for expression. Vibrant Amens frequented my lips. Even my husband flashed multiple Amens with his flickering car lights. A new freedom in worship washed over us.

Though surrounded by rows of cars, the seclusion which our individual vehicles afforded, produced a freedom in the Spirit I had never known. Freedom to dance in my seat. Freedom to wave my hands in praise. Freedom to shout jubilations. Freedom to whoop, holler, or yell agreements and affirmations. Freedom to raise a hallelujah!

Although many of us have felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit prompt expression from the inside out, I suspect many of you are like me. We have tamped down the stirrings of the Spirit due to social etiquette and convention. We have opted not to give expression to our praise and adoration due to self-consciousness and worry of what others may think. However, here, in the privacy of my own car, I experienced the freedom to worship as the Spirit led. The freedom to dance as David danced. The freedom to let go of pride and self-restraint. The freedom to engage in authentic worship.

Interwoven amidst this dawning light, another truth spoke life. Hope. Yes, a hope that this virus will recede. A hope that someday soon we can emerge from our houses. A hope that a cure will be found. This is a good hope. This is a shared hope. However, what struck me is that we were hearing in the Easter message of a different kind of hope. This hope which bound us together and stirred in our very souls was not just hope. It was Living Hope.

A hope bound by earthly measures is not complete. It is like a cup that is half full. It awaits the richness of its potential, not fully blossomed into the abundance of its splendor. When this hope stands beside the crowning riches of eternal glory, it pales in the light of true Living Hope.

Living Hope is exactly that. It is living, it is breathing, it is palpable. It is firmed through the beatings, the blood, and the bruises. It is pounded through by nails driven deep into flesh. It was heard with the anguished yet triumphant cry, “It is finished.” It was seen in the darkness of the land and felt in the quaking of the ground. It was fulfilled with the veil torn top to bottom and the tombs of saints cracked open. It is marked by an empty tomb. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? No longer does death have a hold over us. No longer does death have the final word. It is conquered. It is defeated. It is overcome.

Unlike earthly hope, Living Hope is not grounded in the visages of this world nor is it an emotion, desire, or wish conjured from within. It is derived from the eternal truth of the sacrificial act of the One who came to save. Living Hope is found in the person of Jesus, the Son of God who clothed Himself in human flesh, was crucified, died, buried, and raised on the third day. Jesus is not dead. He is alive. He is the Living Hope. He is our Living Hope.

June 15, 2020

We Only Stop Sin by the Power of the Holy Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NLT.Rom.8v9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life[a] because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters,[b] you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature,[c] you will live.

Today we’re back again at the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor in Wales. Click the article title which follows to read at source.

Working with the Spirit

The Holy Spirit’s presence is the hallmark of a true believer; His absence should call someone’s Christian profession into question (see Acts 19:2). Christianity without the Holy Spirit is simply unimaginable; without Him there is no sanctification, and there will be no resurrection. For although our physical bodies remain mortal, and will eventually die, there is another part of us that belongs to the Holy Spirit and is suffused with His life. His supernatural power is transforming our spirits, and will eventually transform our bodies as well.

Luther said that a Christian is “both righteous and sinful at one and the same time.” We are righteous (in that we stand in a right relationship with God) but still sinful (in that sin has yet to be completely eradicated from our nature). The decisive victory over sin was won at our conversion, but there are still extensive ‘mopping-up operations’ to be done in order to overcome pockets of resistance. And this is our responsibility: we’re not passive recipients of our sanctification, but active participants in it. With the Holy Spirit inside us, we have the authority to overcome sin; but we must make the effort to exercise that authority! For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.(verse 13) We owe the flesh nothing; it is our enemy. And yet we are so accustomed to obeying it that we will continue to do so, out of sheer habit, unless we make a conscious decision to break away. We have to remind ourselves that we have received God’s gifts of the Holy Spirit and eternal life – so we have no right to carry on living according to the dictates of the flesh.

Sin is not a trivial matter. We must declare war against it – which entails repudiating everything in our lives that is incompatible with the life of the Spirit. There is no room for compromise, no space for negotiation; we must be utterly ruthless. For nothing less than our eternal destiny is at stake: if we don’t kill the flesh, it will kill us! A ‘Christian’ who does not engage in this struggle is at risk of spiritual death!

How do we put to death ‘the misdeeds of the body’? Willpower doesn’t work (not in the long term, anyway); we have to deal with sin at its source, in the mindset that is hostile towards God. In metaphorical terms, we need to cut off its blood supply, or dig it up by the roots. We can’t do this by our own unaided efforts, but only with the help of the Holy Spirit – who gives us the desire, the courage, the confidence and the resources to overcome our selfish desires and conform our lives more closely to God’s will.

Supporting Christianity 201 Financially

This is the first time we’ve ever mentioned this. You may have wondered how you are able to receive this free with no subscription fee or no pressure to donate to a Patreon account or something similar.

The answer is that there isn’t a way to give and there never will be. Given the number of articles we ‘borrow’ from other writers, accepting payment for this site would create a huge ethical quagmire. We’d be taking money for work we didn’t do. We’ve freely received, so we’re freely giving.

In return all I ask is that you enjoy the readings and feel free to share them with others. If an article particularly blesses you and it’s not by myself or Ruth, please share the material from the original source site, and follow any guidelines there for citation.


Text Footnotes:

  1. 8:10 Or your spirit is alive.
  2. 8:12 Greek brothers; also in 8:29.
  3. 8:13 Greek deeds of the body.

June 4, 2020

God’s Leadership; Our Response

by Clarke Dixon

We have all had to respond to a new abnormal. Separation from friends and family, social distancing, standing in lines, wearing masks, and haircuts by loved ones (preferably!). We have had to respond to a new normal in workplaces, working from home, or sadly for many, not working at all. There is a new normal in our concern for safety and health of loved ones and indeed, ourselves. Have had the best kind of response which will lead to the best kind of future?

Churches have had to respond to a new abnormal also. We, along with many churches, have taken to YouTube and Facebook. Our church has had a quiet online ministry for eight years through this blog where every sermon I have preached is here in a “Shrunk Sermon” form. One sermon from 2016 has come back to haunt me: What do you have to have to have a church?

Right now we don’t have what we normally would have as a church family, such as the full use of a building, or, very important at Calvary, opportunities for food together. There is good news in my 2016 “Shrunk Sermon,” which was taken from a long sermon, which actually came from a very long study series in the Book of Acts. We really only need two things; God and people. That is all the earliest of Christians had. God and people.

When we look back on the early Christian communities we don’t see building programs, extensive programming for every generation, big music productions, or people getting particularly organized into churches and denominations. We see people responding to the Holy Spirit. We see God at work in the world changing lives. We see the Holy Spirit leading and people responding.

When people look back on our day, what will they see?

They will see how we have adapted to a new normal, as churches and individuals. They will see how we have responded in very practical ways, such as taking services online. But will people see how God was at work among us and through us?

We might wonder when we will get back to normal as a church. The better question is, how do we help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love given each new normal? The answer is; in the same way we see the early Christians helping people walk with Jesus, by responding to God’s leadership through the Holy Spirit.

People will also see how we responded to the new normal as individuals. We have all been affected, we have all made changes. It is important that we continue to do so, responding to each new normal in practical ways. As we respond to each new normal, we want to be responsive to the God’s leadership in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

This may look different for each person. For some it will mean a deeper prayerfulness, for others it mean deeper and more spiritually focused discussions with others. For others it will mean letting their light shine online, or serving in new ways, or growing in generosity, or connecting with people more than ever even while social distancing.

As we we respond to God’s leadership in our lives in practical ways, let us also consider the inner work of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts is not just about God leading people, like Paul, Phillip, or Peter, here or there, to do this, that, or the other thing. It is also about God changing people, like Paul, Phillip, Peter, and all the rest, from the inside out. Though he figures prominently, the Book of Acts is not just a record of what Paul did. It is also a record of what God did in Paul.

While there is a new normal all around us, God, through the Holy Spirit, is bringing a new normal within us:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Galatians 5:22,23 NRSV

While we respond to each new normal developing around us, let us be responsive to the Holy Spirit developing a new normal within us.

While we respond to each new normal developing around us, let us be responsive to the Holy Spirit developing a new normal within us.

As we look to leaders to make good decisions for our health and economy, let us look to God to lead us through his Holy Spirit. Responding to good leadership is important in these days of a pandemic. Responding to God’s leadership in our lives is the best kind of response, and will lead to the best kind of future.


Pastor Clarke Dixon loves music, motorcycles and ministry, though not necessarily in that order. His wife and three teenage boys are currently social distancing about an hour east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

May 21, 2020

Conflict and Casting Our Pearls to Pigs

by Clarke Dixon

Needless to say, conflict is a huge problem for relationships and COVID-19 may be making things worse for many. Spouses and family members are not used to spending so much time together! Add in fear on top of stress over jobs, finances, and loved ones, and conflict can lie just below the surface. Conflict can take a lot out of us. Does Jesus say anything that can help us deal with potential conflict? Perhaps this:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

Matthew 7:6 (NRSV)

What does this have to do with conflict? This saying of Jesus is often interpreted as meaning either, “don’t be flip with the sacred” to quote Eugene Peterson’s the Message, or, more commonly, the idea of don’t waste your time presenting the good news of Jesus to people who will not listen.

Having just said “do not judge,” it would be rather strange for Jesus to immediately require a judgement, a rather severe judgement, that some people may not be worth the effort. Might there be another way to understand these words of Jesus?

We can get tripped up by the word ‘holy’ and assume that Jesus must be talking about the Gospel, or something like that. What if Jesus uses ‘holy’ here, not as the main focus, but in the same way he uses ‘pearls.’ That is, there is something really, really precious and of great value, something which ought not to be wasted. What is that precious thing Jesus is talking about? What is the focus?

Jesus has been speaking about judgement and inter-personal relationships, which we can read in verses 1-5, so let us continue that line of thought. Just as something that is holy should not be thrown to dogs, and just as pearls should not be thrown to pigs, our best should not be thrown into the judgement of others. Our best includes our time, our effort, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

As we learned last week, judgement is a two way street. If I come against you in judgement, you wIll judge me in return. The next thing you know two people have taken a stand against each other and conflict is brewing. It is like a stand off between two nations headed for war. All their best resources are called upon to make that stand. People will get hurt if no one stands down.

Likewise, those who take a stand in judgement against another will throw all their resources at the brewing conflict, including time, energy, and huge amounts of space in their hearts and minds. People will get hurt. This is like throwing something holy to dogs, or pearls to pigs. It is worse that useless. They may be torn apart by it all.

Our time and energy is important. Our hearts and minds are important. Why waste them on judgement and conflict? What can we do instead? We look back to what Jesus has just said:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-6 (NRSV)

First, we take care of the log in our own eyes before judging our neighbours for the specks in theirs. Before we go trying to fix others, we focus on your own hearts and minds. We get our own lives in order. We look for God to do a work in us, to develop and grow our character through the Holy Spirit.

Second, we realize that we are on a journey just like everyone else. So rather than taking a stand of judgement against someone, we look take a step forward in relationship. We can grow together, helping each other with our logs and specks.

There are moments where for our own safety, we may need to take a step back from a relationship. Boundaries can be important. While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against. The conflict that follows a stand of judgement is going to take too much out of us. It is like throwing what is holy to dogs, or like casting pearls before swine. It is a terrible waste and may end up destroying us.

While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against.

God shows us how it is done. God wants to move forward in relationship with us:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. . . . God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-11 (NLT)

That does not sound like someone taking a stand against us! God could be against us, we have given Him plenty of reasons to do so, however, God is for us and not against us. Throughout the Bible God shows that He wants to walk with us. Through Jesus and the forgiveness of sin, God makes walking with us a reality. Through the Holy Spirit we experience God walking with us.

Do you want to take those steps forward with God? Perhaps you have decided instead to take a stand in judgement against God. God does not want to stand in judgement against you. He wants to walk in relationship with you. We can walk with Him, and learn from Him how to walk with others, in faith, hope, and love. This is much better than giving our best to judgement and conflict, than throwing what is holy to dogs, and pearls to pigs.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 16, 2020

The Peril of Pretending

Acts.5.1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died…

Once again we’re back with John Curtis at the Exchange Ministry Blog.  Click the header below to read this at source. Are we guilty of this on any level?

When pretense is deadly

Acts 13:11  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, had conspired to sell some land, give part of the proceeds to the cause of Jesus and keep some of it for themselves.  But their story was that they were giving the entire sum, which was a lie.

First Ananias, then Sapphira, testified before Peter that they had given the entire amount.  He pronounced judgment on each of them, for they had “not lied just to human beings but to God.”  They each instantly fell down dead.

This is a seemingly radical departure from a ministry and movement that featured so much healing and blessing.  If you lie you die?  How could it be?

There was and is a practice of toy religion – human doings and sayings that supposedly win the approval and appeasement of God.  It’s commercial – you say a few prescribed words, perhaps 1000 times to really be impressive, and you get the blessing.  You pretend to be “all in” and are actually only partly “in”.

It’s very clear from the context that the pretense (or acting – hypocrisy) was the problem here – Ananias and Sapphira likely thought everyone pretended just like they had under the Law of Moses.  Not now.  Doing things just for show turned out to be fatal for them, and the fear of that being exposed “seized the whole church”.  Following Christ was not to be a sideshow to the real event – personal, secret life.

Let me know this – they could have kept part of the money and told the truth about it and not undergone the judgment. It was about being honest. Turning greed into generosity is discipleship that often takes time, but turning what is fake into what is real needs to be called out right away, and in this case at the expense of the lives of this couple.

So where am I pretending? How and where do I give only lip service to the things of God, giving part and saying it’s all (or even making that allusion), boasting (even in subtlety) or doing anything that lacks integrity? Do I sin? It’s with no pride that I say “yes”. Do I lie about my shortcomings? Well, I won’t say I advertise them, but let me be quick to confess them to any and all who ask.

Let grace define me – not just receiving it but being open that I need it. Every single day.


David Jeremiah:

Ananias and Sapphira committed a sin unto death (1 John 5:16). The undertakers might be busy in our churches today if we were judged for the motives of our hearts. When you serve the church — teaching, singing, serving in a leadership role — are you putting God to the test? It’s risky business to fake spirituality. Make your heart’s desire for God and God alone.

Augustine:

It is not the being seen of men that is wrong, but doing these things for the purpose of being seen of men. The problem with the hypocrite is his motivation.

Bert Farias:

Both Ananias and Sapphira, together with Simon the sorcerer, attempted to introduce into the glory of the early Church corrupt values that would have defiled and greatly diminished her glory. However, it was stopped at the door and the glory was protected and allowed to increase.

In like manner, the true judgments of the Lord that produce holy fear and genuine repentance, along with prevailing prayer, must return to the Church, so there can be a thorough cleansing and the glory of the Lord can be restored.  (from Cleansing the Temple.)


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. 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.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

May 6, 2020

Look, Speak With, But Don’t Hug the Post-Resurrection Jesus

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
– John 20:17 NIV

Today we return again to Good Question, a blog by InterVarsity Press (IVP) author Christopher R. Smith. This is a treasure trove of Q&A on subjects that some people find difficult or controversial.  Click the title below to read at source.

Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection?

Q. Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection because he hadn’t yet returned to the Father? Why would Jesus object to Mary clinging to him … that is really puzzling. You would think he would have reciprocated with a bear hug for about an hour, if only for her sake. What’s the connection between the return to the Father and not clinging to him?

This is indeed a puzzling matter, and interpreters have offered many different explanations for it. Personally I like the way that Raymond Brown explains it in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

Brown suggests, first of all, that when Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” we should not think he is speaking of the ascension that Luke describes as taking place forty days after the resurrection. Brown feels that that particular event, in which Jesus was seen ascending on the clouds into heaven, was intended to indicate evocatively that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus had come to an end. Brown believes that Jesus also went to be with the Father in less visible ways in between his appearances to the disciples. The first of those times would have been right after the resurrection, and Mary would have seen him, in effect, on his way there.

As Brown understands it, this timing is actually crucial to the point John is making. At the Last Supper, Jesus had said, “I will come back to you. In a little while the world will see me no longer, but you will see me.” Brown says that when Mary sees Jesus, “she thinks that he has returned as he promised and now he will stay with her and his other followers, resuming former relationships.” Jesus had also said, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Brown says that Mary is “trying to hold on to the source of her joy, since she mistakes an appearance of the risen Jesus for his permanent presence with his disciples.” But instead, by “telling her not to hold on to him, Jesus indicates that his permanent presence is not by way of appearances but by way of the gift of the Spirit that can only come after he has ascended to the Father.” (Jesus had also told his followers at the Last Supper, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”)

So Jesus is basically saying to Mary, “I’m not on my way back from the Father” (this is not what my continuing presence with you will be like), “I’m on my way to the Father” (so that I can send the Spirit, who will be my continuing presence with you). So this would be yet another place in the Gospel of John where a person mistakes a physical reality for a spiritual one and Jesus needs to explain otherwise (as in the case of Nicodemus misunderstanding what it means to be “born again,” for example, or the woman at the well misunderstanding what Jesus meant by “living water,” and so forth).

Brown argues convincingly that the present imperative used here means “don’t cling to me” or “don’t hold on to me” rather than “don’t touch me.” So this isn’t an issue of what Jesus’ post-resurrection, pre-ascension body was like and how it could or couldn’t interact with earthly bodies. Rather, the issue is that Jesus’ followers are not to “cling to” him as they knew him on this earth, but rather experience his continuing presence through the Spirit he has sent from the Father.


Go Deeper:

Because Christopher Smith mentioned Raymond Brown, I thought some of you might be interested in further research Brown did on this topic, as located at Stack Exchange. (Warning: There’s quite a range of interpretations here!)

  • Jesus’ wounds were still sore so he did not like being touched.
  • Kraft proposes that the prohibition was because it was against ritual to touch a dead body.
  • Chrysostom and Theophylact argue that Jesus was asking that more respect be shown to him. This theory is sometimes linked to the notion that while it was not appropriate for a woman to touch Jesus it was fine for a man like Thomas.
  • C. Spicq sees the resurrected Jesus as the equivalent of one of the Jewish high priests who should not be sullied by physical contact.
  • Kastner, who believes Christ returned in the nude, believes the prohibition was so that Mary would not be tempted by Jesus’ body.
  • Mary should not touch Jesus because she should not need physical proof of the resurrection but should trust in her faith.
  • Bultmann sees the phrase as an indirect way of saying that the resurrected Jesus was not at this point tangible.
  • According to Moule Jesus’ intervention is not a prohibition on being touched, but rather an assurance that the touching is not needed for he had not yet returned to the Father and was still firmly here on Earth. His use of the present tense is said to mean that he should not be touched just at this moment, but could be touched in future.
  • Some link it with the next verse stating that they should be read as one to say “don’t touch me instead go tell my disciples of the news.”
  • In John Calvin’s commentary he argues that Jesus did not forbid simple touching, but rather that Jesus had no problems until the women began to cling to him as though they were trying to hold him in the corporeal world at which point Jesus told them to let go. Some translations thus use touch for the seemingly permitted actions in Mark and cling for the action Jesus chides Mary for in this verse.
  • Barrett mentions the possibility that between this verse and John 20:22 Jesus fully ascends to heaven.

Alternative translations mentioned by Brown:

  • Some scholars eliminate the negative leaving the phrase as “touch me,” implying that Jesus is telling Mary to verify his physical form
  • W.E.P. Cotter and others argue that the text should actually read “do not fear me”
  • W.D. Morris believes it should read “do not fear to touch me”

…we see as though through frosted glass, says the scripture, so some passages are not going to be immediately clear to everyone all the time.

 

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