Christianity 201

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.

 

March 31, 2020

Connecting With God’s Presence

Two years ago this month we introduced you to the devotional First 15 — for the first 15 minutes of your day — from Seedbed. Today we’re back with them again. Click the header below to read this at source, where it appears along with the music video for the day or with the option of hearing an audio version of today’s reading.

  • lee esto en español: Read today’s devotional in Spanish

The Reality of God’s Presence

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139:7-8

It’s a troubling truth in Christianity today that many believers don’t know about or aren’t experiencing continual encounter with the real, manifest presence of God. The Bible contains story after story of life-changing, world-altering encounters with the reality of God’s presence. From Moses and the tent of meeting to the disciples at Pentecost, we continually read about God supernaturally encountering his people in real, transformative ways. Jesus died so that we might walk in communion with our heavenly Father not only in heaven, but here on this earth. Biblical characters modeled what it was to experience God consistently in both the New and Old Testaments. God, in his desire to have restored relationship with you, has made the reality of his presence fully available to you. Through the death of Christ there is nothing separating you from him. Before we dive into different stories of God’s manifest presence on the earth, let’s take time to focus on the biblical basis for encountering God. Open your heart and mind to the truth about God’s nearness and allow your faith to be stirred for all the ways your heavenly Father would transform your life through encounter with him.

Psalm 139:7-8 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Acts 17:26-28 says,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Scripture is clear that God is omnipresent and his presence can be tangible to us. David describes God’s presence this way: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

The sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 84:1-2, How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Then in verses 10-12 they declare,

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

There is no doubt in looking at Scripture that God’s presence is real, good, and available to us. Rest in the truth of that for a moment. You can consistently enter into the tangible presence of your heavenly Father anywhere and anytime. Have faith today that God created you to experience him. Encountering his presence is made possible entirely by his grace, so it is available apart from any good or bad thing you do. But, know that God will never force his presence on you. He only fills up what is open and ready to receive. He sweetly calls you to meet with him and waits for you to make space in your life to receive what he longs to give.

There is no more life-giving pursuit you can embark on than the pursuit of God’s presence. Spending time resting in him is meant to be the satisfaction that lays a foundation for you to live the life of abundance made available to you through Jesus. Your role in encountering God is simply seeking him. If you will make time to encounter him, open your heart, and have faith in his word, then you will discover the wellspring of life, joy, love, and transformation that is the presence of our heavenly Father.

Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “You will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Seek and find the presence of the living God today as you meditate on his word and pray.

Prayer:

1. Meditate on the availability of God’s presence. Allow your faith to be stirred up in response to God’s word.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139:7-8

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” Acts 17:26-28

2. Now meditate on the goodness of God’s presence. Allow your desires to be stirred as you read about the wonders of encountering the living God.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84:1-2

3. Open your heart to receive his presence. Ask the Spirit to make known God’s nearness. Seek his presence and have faith in his word that when you seek him you will find him.

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6


That wraps up ten years of Christianity 201. Tomorrow we begin year eleven!

January 30, 2020

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

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus then made it plain who the fools were.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

January 1, 2020

A Year of Vision

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

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

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

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

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

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

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

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

Without a Vision People Perish

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

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

God Has a Good Plan

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

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

The Holy Spirit Shows Us Things to Come

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

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

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


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

October 22, 2019

The Battle Has Been Won!

by Russell Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


 

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